Not Your Father's Talmud

Rabbi Adam Chalom of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in suburban Chicago explores the Talmud from a Humanistic perspective, one page a day.

Location: Highland Park, Illinois, United States

Rabbi Adam Chalom is the Rabbi of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in suburban Chicago. He is also the Assistant Dean for the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Peace Between Students - Berakhot 39

As we have seen before, lessons of halakha (religious law) can be taught in the Talmud through legal reasoning, but also through anecdote and personal example. One such case is brought to illuminate what one is supposed to do if various foods are served at once. Two students of Bar Kappara (200-220 CE) once sat with their teacher waiting for a meal, one was given permission to bless the poultry, plums and cabbage, and when he blessed the poultry his fellow student laughed at him.

The Talmud draws the lesson that while everyone knows the blessing on both poultry and cabbage should be “[general formula – barukh atah…] by whose word all things exist,” these students disagreed on which should be blessed first – the more nourishing or the more tasty dish. I prefer to draw a lesson from Bar Kappara’s reaction to each student. He turns first to the laugher and says, “I’m not mad at the blesser, but at the laugher – if your friend (haver) acts like he’s never seen meat before, why would you laugh at him?” Then he turns to the blesser and says, “I’m not mad at the laugher but at the blesser – if there is not wisdom here, is there not age here?” In other words, if you don’t know, ask someone with experience! Do not mock the less fortunate or less worldly, and rely on expertise if you don’t know – two very useful lessons for any age.

This page continues the discussion of which blessing applies to which food in what combinations – if you have beet or turnip broth with flour in it, what is the blessing? We also learn that beet broth is considered good for the heart, the eyes, and the bowels, as long as it’s left on the stove until it goes “tokh tokh” (i.e. boils) - more on "Talmudic medicine" in tomorrow's page. And we find a third answer to the problem of Bar Kappara – how to handle student disagreements. When one has a broken and a whole loaf to bless, a Tanna named Shalman (related to shalom – peace) teaches that one places the broken piece under the whole loaf, breaks the loaf, and gives the blessing. And Shalman is praised: “You are peace (shalom) and your Mishnah is perfect (shleyma), for you made peace between the students.” As any teacher knows, that is high praise indeed.

Rabbi Adam Chalom