It was taught in a baraita: We don’t have the people of Beit She’an, nor the people of Beit Haifa, nor the people of Tivonin, lead services – because they pronounce alef as ayin and ayin as alef [and thereby distort the meaning of the prayers]. (B. Talmud 24b; translation based on the Steinsaltz version at Sefaria)
As the Gemara’s discussion continues, we find that Rabbi Chiya similarly had trouble with certain letters – letters that could even imply blasphemous meanings if exchanged in particular words. Yet, Tosfot note that despite this concern, Rabbi Yehuda haNasi is known to have asked Rabbi Chiya to lead prayers. How could he lead communal prayers if his pronunciation might alter them so drastically? Tosfot answer that perhaps it was simply a question of focus: When he put his mind to it, Rabbi Chiya was able to pronounce the Hebrew letters correctly; when there was a good reason to have him lead, he was asked to do so and he made the effort. (Check out the story in Bava Metzia 85b to see what the reason was to have Rabbi Chiya lead prayers!)
This discussion offered a great reminder to TorahTutors students that even great scholars have struggles, and that like Rabbi Chiya, their efforts in learning can also yield valuable fruits – even when the challenges seem ingrained and impossible to overcome.
A Tuesday TorahTutors tidbit: real Torah, from real TorahTutors sessions.