Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tuesday's Thoughts on the Daf - Berachos 27

Today's daf continues the discussion of the proper times to say various prayers including Shacharis, Mincha, Maariv and Mussaf. Towards the bottom of 27b, the gemara gets into a discussion about whether Maariv is obligatory or optional. As part of this discussion, the gemara digresses to talk about how R' Gamliel was removed from his position as Nasi due to his tormenting of R' Yehoshua.

The gemara begins by telling a story about a student (who we later learn on 28a is R' Shimon Ben Yochai) who asked R' Gamliel whether Maariv was obligatory. When R' Gamliel said that it was obligatory, the student said - but R' Yehoshua said that it is optional! This caused R' Gamliel much consternation and he demanded that R' Yehoshua address whether he took a position contrary to R' Gamliel. After he admitted that he did take this position, R' Gamliel required that he stand in the Beis Medrash while R' Gamliel continued to teach. This caused those assembled much consternation and they reviewed all the times that R' Gamliel had unfairly treated R' Yehoshua before finally concluding that R' Gamliel must be removed from his position as Nasi.

The gemara then discusses the method used to choose a new Nasi and the eventual selection of R' Elazar Ben Azarya. After they asked him to be the Nasi he told them that he must discuss it first with the members of his household (meaning his wife). The gemara reveals that when he broached the subject with his wife, she had numerous concerns including R' Elazar Ben Azarya's age. One of the concerns his wife raised was that due to his tender years, he did not have gray in his beard and he would not be a respected lecturer. The gemara states that the same evening he grew 18 rows of gray in his beard. The next reference is to the famous line from the haggada about R' Elazar Ben Azarya saying that he was like 70 years old, because in fact he was not advanced in age.

Although I have learned this gemara many times before, the story triggered a memory of a story from Yaffa Eliach's Chassidic Tales of the Holocaust. In the book, there is a story about a baker who told a story about when his sister was captured by the gestapo. The man went to beg for her to be released and the German soldier said - only if you grow hair on the palm of your hand. The man opened his hand and it was covered with thick black hair. The German soldier called him all sorts of names but released the girl to him and the two ran from the gestapo. The baker explained to the person telling the story that when the baker was younger his hand was injured in an industrial accident and they grafted skin from another part of his body. The baker concludes, they say that hair should not grow as a result of the surgery, but my hand did not go to medical school...

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