It’s Tuesday, and we have a TuesdayTorahTutorsTidbit hot off the WebEx class!
Real Torah, from real TorahTutors sessions.
A TorahTutors student learning Mishna discovered recently that Berachot 5:1 says not to interrupt while saying the Amidah: “Even if the king greets him, he should not respond; and even if a snake is wrapped on his heel, he should not interrupt.”
This line in the Mishna is a great example of the importance of going further and deeper in learning, and not just stopping with brief, apparently categorical statements – because of course, things aren’t so simple. After all, ignoring a royal greeting could have deadly repercussions, as could a snake. Are we really supposed to risk our lives for the sake of not interrupting prayer? That’s not one of the “big three” sins for which the Talmud says elsewhere one must not violate even on pain of death!
Because the Mishna’s statement is so surprising, the tutor brought in a Talmudic passage that takes the Mishnaic principle and offers more clarity for practical halakha: “Rav Yosef said: They taught this only regarding a Jewish king [who would presumably understand and respect the reason the person isn’t responding]; but with a king of the nations of the world – he interrupts” (Berachot 32b). And regarding the snake, “Rav Sheshet said: They taught this only regarding a snake; but a scorpion – he interrupts” (ibid. 33a). Commentators explain that the Mishna is speaking of something which is either not venomous, or unlikely to bite if not provoked – but clarify that if there is any danger, certainly one should interrupt one’s prayer to get to safety.
Of course, the text also gave rise to other discussions – like whether one could actually maintain focus on prayer and resist the urge to get away from even a nonhazardous creature on one’s ankle.
Jewish texts are full of all kinds of wisdom, challenges, and opportunities for further analysis and thought, and we’d love to engage in that adventure with you!