Wordplay, Moral of the Story: Daf Yomi #6

The reading today, Berakhot 7a-7b, opens with R. Yohanan saying in the name of R. Yosei: “How do we know that the Holy One, Blessed be He, says prayers?” Based on wordplay in Isaiah 56:7: “Because it is not said ‘their prayer’ but ‘My prayer’ —

And l will bring them to my holy mountain,​
and make them joyful b’veit t’fillati
— in my house of prayer [or in a house of MY prayer]
their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon My altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
וַהֲבִיאוֹתִים אֶל-הַר קָדְשִׁי,
וְשִׂמַּחְתִּים בְּבֵית תְּפִלָּתִי–
עוֹלֹתֵיהֶם וְזִבְחֵיהֶם לְרָצוֹן עַל-מִזְבְּחִי:
כִּי בֵיתִי, בֵּית-תְּפִלָּה יִקָּרֵא לְכָל-הָעַמִּים

See also Zemirot Database for several additional versions of this tune plus another, faster tune.

This verse highlights wordplay as one of the ways the ancient sages argued, learned, and made decisions.

The Moral of the Story

We then read about Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha entering the innermost part of the Sanctuary to offer incense and finding “Akatriel Yah” [יָהּ ה׳ צְבָאוֹת, LORD of Hosts] seated upon a high and exalted throne.” God asks Rabbi Ishmael for a blessing, and he responds:

“May it be Your will that Your mercy overcome Your anger,
and may Your mercy prevail over Your other attributes,
and may You act toward Your children with the attribute of mercy,
and may You enter before them beyond the letter of the law.”
— Sefaria (adapted Davidson translation)

To this, God nods God’s head.

And this teaches us — קמ”ל, abbreviation for וְקָמַשְׁמַע לַן: “you should not take the blessing of an ordinary person lightly.”

I love the “moral of the story,” so to speak, but I am not sure I really understand how it is reached. I am not sure I can easily extract what I’ve been calling “sources of decision-making” here. I have long found this story moving, bizarre, and provocative, but I have never had the opportunity to study it in depth…

and I guess this is one more place time where that isn’t happening — a hazard of Daf Yomi is moving on so quickly. Leaving this here for now.

So Much More

Don’t want to close today’s note without mentioning that, in addition to the idea that God prays and wears tefillin — explored throughout 6a-b and 7a-b (and in the MJL essay for Berakhot 7 — we have in 7a one of my all-time favorite midrashim: When God shows Moses God’s “back” (Exodus 33) what Moses is shown is the knot of God’s tefillin. This, too, seems to call out for much more exploration into how creative interpretation is employed.
Barbie and knot

Daf Yomi: Exploring Methods” has more on Daf Yomi, including some background, external links, and a link to all posts in this category here.

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