“You Didn’t Build That” Ben Zoma Style

“How hard did the first person have to struggle to toil before he could eat a piece of bread: he seeded, plowed, reaped…But I arise in the morning and find all these foods ready for me….How hard did Adam toil before he could put on a garment…How many skilled craftsmen are industrious and rise early to their work. And I arise in the morning and all these things are ready before me.” (Y. Berakhot 9:2)

This musing, part of a longer teaching on gratitude, is found in the Jerusalem Talmud (AKA “Yerushalmi” or “Palestinian Talmud”). It is attributed to ben Zoma. Judith Abrams explains that ben Zoma “had the ability to look at the tiniest of details and learn great things from them.”

Ben Zoma is one of the four who (later, presumably) entered Pardes, the one who “looked” and went mad as a result. It is, in fact, a fine detail that sends him over the edge. In the passage above, however, awareness of details seem to contribute to what Abrams calls “an elevated state of awareness of all the gifts one has while one has them, almost as if he sees everything through a microscope.”

— from The Other Talmud: The Yerushalmi: Unlocking the Secrets of The Talmud of Israel for Judaism Today by Rabbi Judith Z. Abrams (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2012)

Note: The same story appears in the Babylonia Talmud, Berakhot 58a.

Developing Gratitude

In addition to the passage from ben Zoma, Abrams includes prayers that several ancient rabbis whispered during the “modim” blessing of the Amidah in her selections from the Yerushalmi. The “Thanks” blessing is the second of the three final blessings (See “Goodbye,” Part 1), and the tradition has long been for participants to whisper private prayer while the leader is reciting this blessing.

Abrams writes:

From a practical standpoint, the Yerushalmi is validating people’s license to say their own blessing of thanks, to themselves, during the repetition of the Amidah. In other words, the bare bones of the Amidah are not enough to express one’s gratitude.
The Other Talmud, p. 97

The section on “Giving Thanks” — pages 95-98 — is available in the on-line preview offered at Jewish Lights (link above). If you’re able to get your hands on an actual copy of the book, however, I heartily recommend doing so: The different perspectives on prayer are only one of the many topics Abrams explores in an inventive and readable fashion.

Four posts in 19 days is obviously closer to “less” than “more” in terms of daily posting. Still, this meager contribution is partly inspired by “National Blog Posting Month.”


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Virginia hosts "Conversations Toward Repair" on We Act Radio, manages WeLuvBooks.org, blogs on general stuff a vspatz.net and more Jewish topics at songeveryday.org and Rereading4Liberation.com

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