• Rav Ezra Bick


Introduction to the Study of Talmud

Megilla: 05: 21b

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Last week, we began the gemara on the reverse side of daf 21.

The convention in Hebrew is to write the first side of a daf with one period following the number of the daf, and the reverse side with a colon. Thus, we learned דף כ"א. last week; and this week we shall learn דף כ"א: . The usual convention in English is to write 21a and 21b.

We now continue in the gemara, first once again returning to the mishna (which is found back on 21a) 

Where the custom is to recite a blessing, one recites a blessing, and where (the custom) is not to recite a blessing, one does not recite a blessing.

מקום שנהגו לברך יברך, ושלא יברך לא יברך.

The subject of the mishna, as you will remember, is the reading of the megilla. The mishna appears to be stating that the recitation of a beracha over the megilla is optional, a matter of custom. This will strike many of you as odd, as there is a general obligation to recite a beracha over every mitzva, and the reading of the megilla is a mitzva. The gemara immediately addresses this question. We now turn back to the gemara on 21b, where we left off.
(Line 8 on the printed daf).

Where the custom is to recite a blessing, one recites a blessing:
Abaye said: This applies only after (the beracha), but before it one is commanded to recite a blessing,

for Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel: One recites a blessing before ("עובר") the performance of every single mitzva.

How do we know that "עובר" means "before"?

Rav Nachman b. Yitzchak said: The verse reads, "Achimaatz ran by way of the plain and passed ("va-yaavor") before the Cushite."

Abaye said: From here, "And he passed ("avar") before them."

And one can also say: From here, "And their king shall pass ("va-yaavor") before them, and God at their head."

מקום שנהגו לברך יברך:

 אמר אביי: לא שנו אלא לאחריה, אבל לפניה מצוה לברך,

דאמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל: כל המצות כולן מברך עליהן עובר לעשייתן.

מאי משמע דהאי "עובר" לישנא דאקדומי הוא?

אמר רב נחמן בר יצחק: אמר קרא, "וירץ אחימעץ דרך הככר ויעבר את הכושי."

אביי אמר: מהכא, "והוא עבר לפניהם. "

ואיבעית אימא: מהכא, "ויעבר מלכם לפניהם וה' בראשם."

To Abaye it is clear that one is obligated to recite a beracha before reading the megilla, and this is not merely a matter of custom. The reason is that there is a general obligation to recite a beracha before every mitzva, as he proves from the statement of Rav Yehuda in the name of Shemuel. Therefore, he explains that the mishna's relegation of the beracha to the realm of custom refers to the beracha after the reading, but not before.

Most mitzvot have a blessing before their performance, but not after. In fact, the gemara (Berachot 44b) states as a rule that mitzvot do not have a beracha after them. There are certain exceptions though, for instance hallel, and, as we remember from Purim, the reading of the megilla.

There is a basic difference between the two types of blessings, those before and those after. The blessing before a mitzva, including hallel and megilla, is called a birkat hamitzva, and has the characteristic structure of, "baruch ata HaShem... who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to do x=the mitzva." It is true that, despite the extremely inclusive language of Rav Yehuda in the name of Shemuel ("One recites a blessing before the performance of every single mitzva" - כל המצוות כולן), there are in fact many mitzvot that do not have a birkat hamitzva before them, such as tzedaka (charity), prayer, or kriat shema. The Rishonim advance several possible rules to explain why certain mitzvot do not have birkot hamitzva, but there is no source in the Talmud for any of them. In any event, as a rule it is still true that mitzvot should be preceded by a beracha. Many assume that the reason for this beracha is to aid in preparing one to have the intention of fulfilling the mitzva, and other explanations have been suggested as well.

After the mitzva there is no need for a beracha. If there is one, as in hallel, it is not a birkat hamitzva, but rather a birkat hashevach, a blessing of praise. Certain recitations, such as hallel and kriat shema, are embedded in a larger recitative framework of berachot, which basically extend their contents, in one way or another. Our misha, according to Abaye, states that adding a birkat hashevach to the end of the megilla is optional and dependent on the prevailing custom.

Now the gemara asks a textual question. R. Yehuda's statement utilized an unusual word - "עובר" - which I, having read on in the gemara, have translated as "before." The gemara  asks what is the source for understanding "עובר" in this way. In answer, the different amoraim cite Biblical texts. In all three cases, the word means actually "to pass," but in each case, someone passed before another, and this apparently provides the source for the later meaning of "over" not as a verb meaning "to pass" but as an adverb meaning "before."

This halakha, that a mitzva should be preceded by a beracha, has many ramifications which our gemara does not go into. Most of you are familiar with at least one famous exception. Netilat yadayim, the washing of hands before eating bread, is performed before the blessing. This exception is not mentioned explicitly in the gemara. Rather, the gemara (Pesachim 7b) lists one exception - tevila (immersion in a mikve). The reason given by the gemara is that אכתי גברא לא חזי - the person is not fit to make a beracha before the immersion.

There is a disagreement how to exactly interpret this statement. Rashi (ad.loc. s.v. "d'akati") claims that it is referring to a person who is purifying himself from the ritual defilement of a seminal immission (baal keri), who is not permitted to pray - or recite a beracha - until he is purified. In fact, the accepted halakha is that he is permitted to do so, but the gemara  in Berachot records a controversy about this question, and Rashi interprets the statement of the gemara in Pesachim according to the more stringent opinion. Rashi then concludes that "because of that immersion, they instituted the blessing of all immersions at the end." Since the need to recite a beracha is a rabbinic ordinance, in this case the original ordinance for immersions in general was for a beracha after the performance of the mitzva, since at least some of the cases of immersion must be done that way for lack of an alternative.   

Tosafot (ad.loc. s.v. "al") quote the Rach as explaining the statement of the gemara as referring to the immersion of a convert (conversion is performed through circumcision and immersion), who cannot recite the blessing before the act since he cannot say "who has commanded us to immerse ourselves. Before he completes his conversion, he is not commanded. not obligated. Tosafot also adds, like Rashi, that in wake of the immersion of a convert, all immersions follow, even though the reason does not apply to them. Presumbly, the source for both Rashi and Tosafot on this matter was the custom of women to recite the blessing after immersion in the mikve. Tosafot adds, unlike Rashi, that the same rule of treating all immersions alike applies to netilat yadayim as well. One who is washing his hands after being in the bathroom cannot recite the blessing until after he has washed his hands; hence, in all cases of washing one's hands the beracha  is postponed. This is admittedly strange, as the gemara lists one exception and Tosafot claims another, but Tosafot would, I assume, claim that since the reasoning is identical, it was not necessary for the gemara to explicitly list netilat yadayim.

Tosafot gives another reason why one may recite the beracha after netilat yadayim. Since it is halakhically necessary to dry one's hands after netilat yadayim before beginning to eat, reciting the beracha after the washing but before the drying is considered to be "over la'asiyatam." Accordingly, netilat yadayim  is not really an exception at all.

Back to the gemara (Megilla).

What beracha does one recite before it?Rav Sheshet of Katarzia came before Rav Ashi and blessed MN"Ch.

What beracha does one recite after it?

Blessed are You... (the God) who fights out fights, and judges our judgements, and takes our vengeance, and draws recompense for us from our oppressors, and pays back to all our enemies. Blessed are You HaShem, who draws recompense for Israel from all their oppressors.

Rava said: The God who saves.

Rav Papa said: Therefore, we should say them both - Blessed are You HaShem, who draws recompense for Israel from all their oppressors, the God who saves.

לפניה מאי מברך? רב ששת מקטרזיא איקלע לקמיה דרב אשי ובריך מנ"ח.

לאחריה מאי מברך?

ברוך אתה ה' אלקינו מלך העולם (הא-ל) הרב את ריבנו והדן את דיננו והנוקם את נקמתנו והנפרע לנו מצרינו והמשלם גמול לכל אויבי נפשנו. ברוך אתה ה' הנפרע לישראל מכל צריהם.

רבא אמר: הא-ל המושיע.

אמר רב פפא: הילכך נימרינהו לתרוייהו - ברוך אתה ה' הנפרע לישראל מכל צריהם הא-ל המושיע.

The gemara asks, firstly, what is the blessing before the megilla. This question would appear to be strange, since the gemara has just declared that the statement of the mishan  that the beracha is optional cannot refer to the beracha before the negilla, since before a mitzva we all know one must recite a birkat hamitzva. Hence it should be clear what the blessing before the megilla is.

The gemara's answer provides a clue to the rationale of the question. The answer is מנ"ח. This of course means nothing to us, but should not be taken as a riddle. Someone, and not necessarily the author of the gemara but conceivably simply the printer, has decided to use an abbreviation. Luckily for us, Rashi knows what those letters stand for.

Question: How does Rashi know?

For once, I will not give the answer to this question. The answer is actually very simple, though perhaps not in the expected manner.


Rashi s.v. "MN"Ch"

    Al mikra megilla, and she-asa nissim, and she-hechiyanu.

Or - with better graphics to highlight the far from obvious abbreviation

    Al Mikra megilla, and she-asa Nissim, and she-heChiyanu.

Surprisingly, the answer to the question what is the beracha that precedes the megilla is not one beracha but three. The first (Al mikra megilla) is a regular birkat hamitzva ("asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav ve-tzivanu al mikra megilla"), but the other two are not. This, I think, helps us understand the question. The gemara is expecting that there is a requirement for more than a single birkat hamitzva here, and that is why it asked what one blesses before. Why, you will ask, does the gemara suspect that more than a single birkat hamitzva is called for? The answer is, in my opinion, because we have just ruled that, unlike most other mitzvot, the megilla has a beracha after its reading. That means that there is a special obligation to attach blessings of praise to the reading of the megilla. The gemara therefore suspects that there will be birkot hashevach before the reading as well, so as to transform the entire reading process into one of praise of God. This is indeed the answer - there is a special blessing of she-asa nissim, thanking and praising God for the miracles He has performed.

The second question of the gemara concerns the final beracha. There is one answer, but there is a disagreement concerning the chatima, the closing part of the beracha.

The first answer in the gemara is: "Who draws recompense for Israel from all their oppressors."

Rava suggests: "The God who saves.

What, in your opinion, is the essential difference between these two formulations?

Based on your answer to that question, you should understand the logic of Rav Papa, who suggested combining the two formulations into one, which is, in fact, what we do.

Once again, I leave it to you to answer this question. Think of it as homework.