BERACHOS - Chapter I
1. Nightfall (2a-b)
The Mishnah tells us that the time for reciting the Shema in the evening
(Deut.6:4, 11:19) begins when the kohanim can begin to eat their offerings
(terumah). If a kohen becomes impure, he is forbidden to eat terumah until
he has immersed himself, U-VA HA-SHEMESH ("the sun has come") VE-TAHER
("and become pure") (Lev.22:6-7). "The sun has come" means that it has set,
and "ve-taher" means that the daylight has been cleared away (and the stars
have become visible). "The sun has come" could have meant that it has risen
(the next morning), and "ve-taher" could have meant that the man has become
pure by bringing a sacrifice to atone for his impurity; but a sacrifice is
not required in order to eat terumah.
The Talmud (Shabbos 34b) gives several opinions about the duration of
twilight. Here only R.Yosi's opinion is mentioned: That twilight lasts only
for an instant, and cannot be detected.
2. The Watches of the Night (3a-b)
The Mishnah tells us that, according to Rabbi Eliezer, the time for
reciting the evening Shema ends at the end of the first watch. R.Eliezer's
view is that the night is divided into three watches of four hours each. He
mentions watches rather than hours to teach us that the watches are
observed even in Heaven, and at each of them, G-d cries out (see Jer.25:30)
"Woe is Me that I destroyed My house and exiled My sons".
R.Yosi once went into a ruin in Jerusalem to pray. Elijah, the prophet, met
him there and rebuked him. He learned from the rebuke that one should not
go into a ruin, that one may pray on the road, and that one who prays on
the road may recite a short prayer.
While in the ruin, R.Yosi heard an echo ("bas kol") moaning like a dove
"Woe is Me that I destroyed My house and exiled My sons". Elijah told him
that this happens three times every day; and that whenever Israelites
gather for prayer or study and say "May His great Name be blessed" ("Y'hei
Sh'mei Rabbo..." - the response in the Kaddish), G-d nods His head and
says "Fortunate is the King who is praised thus in His house! Why did the
Father exile His sons? Woe to the sons who were exiled from their Father's
A person should not go into a ruin for three reasons: Because he may be
suspected of misbehavior, because of danger from falling objects, and
because of evil spirits.
R.Yehudah ha-Nasi says that the night is divided into four watches (of
three hours each); R.Noson says, into three watches. Gideon's troops
attacked "at the beginning of the middle watch" (Judges 7:19); this
suggests that there are only three watches. David sang praises to G-d at
midnight, "before watches" (Psalms 119:62,148); this suggests that there
are four watches, but it may mean that David got up eight hours before
kings usually arise (see Berachos 9b), or it may mean "before 1-1/2 watches".
In the presence of the dead one should discuss only things that are related
to the dead. Some say that this applies only to Torah matters, but others
say that it applies even to worldly matters.
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