What is Talmud Tweets?

What is Talmud Tweets? A short, personal take on a page of Talmud - every day!

For several years now, I have been following the tradition of "Daf Yomi" - reading a set page of Talmud daily. With the start of a new 7 1/2 year cycle, I thought I would share a taste of what the Talmud offers, with a bit of personal commentary included. The idea is not to give a scholarly explanation. Rather, it is for those new to Talmud to give a little taste - a tweet, as it were - of the richness of this text and dialogue it contains. The Talmud is a window into a style of thinking as well as the world as it changed over the centuries of its compilation.

These are not literal "tweets" - I don't limit myself to 140 characters. Rather, these are intended to be short, quick takes - focusing in on one part of a much richer discussion. Hopefully, I will pique your interest. As Hillel says: "Go and study it!" (Shabbat 31a)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Berachot 11 - Light and Darkness

Back to the main discussion of the tractate – the prayers. Specifically here, the words rather than the time or the actions of prayer. There is a discussion on this page about the first of two blessings said before the Sh’ma – that is, in our prayerbook, the blessing after Borchu. In the morning prayers we recite a quote from Isaiah 45:7, praising G-d who “forms light and creates darkness. . .” (in Isaiah, the statement is in the first person: “I [G-d] form light and create darkness”). But, the question comes, since this is a morning prayer, why not say “forms light and creates brightness” ? After all, it is daytime! No, the argument returns, we are simply quoting the text as is. However, comes the counter argument, we modify the next half of the sentence, changing it from “makes peace and creates evil” to “makes peace and creates all.” If we can change one half of a sentence, why not the other?! That last change, comes the reply, is a euphemism (perhaps so we don’t dwell on the evils that befall us.) Or, as Raba tells us, the whole point is to bring out the distinctive difference between light and darkness, mentioning darkness during the day and light at night – as in the evening version of the blessing “rolling light away from darkness and darkness from light.”

Left out of this discussion is a philosophical note found in the ArtScroll siddur (p. 85) which points out that the Isaiah quote is intended as a statement G-d’s unity, at a time of divided divinity:  light and darkness, good and evil all come from the same singular source – not a deity of pure good and  a counter-agent of evil. G-d is One. Darkness and light, good and evil: one is not meaningful or comprehensible without the existence of the other.

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