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Introduction to Berachos

Berachos 2


QUESTION: Why does Maseches Berachos, the first Masechta of Shas, begin with the Mitzvah of Keri'as Shema?


(a) The VILNA GAON (Shenos Eliyahu) writes that Shas begins with the Mitzvah of Keri'as Shema because the first Mitzvah that a person is obligated to perform is Keri'as Shema. Since the Jewish day begins at nightfall, when a young man becomes Bar Mitzvah at age thirteen, the first obligation that the Bar Mitzvah boy encounters is Keri'as Shema.

(b) The RI'AZ (on the Rif) explains that Shas begins with Keri'as Shema because Shema is the acceptance of the total dominion of Hashem and the expression of one's fear of Him. "Reishis Chachmah Yir'as Hashem" -- "the fear of G-d is the beginning of wisdom" (Tehilim 111:10), and therefore it is appropriate to begin one's quest for wisdom in Torah by learning about Shema, the expression of the fear of G-d. "If a person's fear of G-d precedes his wisdom, his wisdom will endure" (Avos 3:9).

(c) REB TZADOK (Tzidkas ha'Tzadik #3) adds that not only is Keri'as Shema the expression of the acceptance of Hashem's dominion, but all blessings as well express this concept -- "Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, the King of the universe...." While the Shema expresses our acceptance of Hashem's dominion in a general sense, each blessing expresses it in a specific sense. We accept Hashem's dominion over everything from which we get pleasure and before every Mitzvah that we perform by reciting a blessing. This is why the first Maseches in Shas is the one that discusses blessings. Indeed, as Reb Tzadok points out, these three themes are all part of one master scheme: every action we do begins with the acceptance of Hashem's dominion (by reciting a blessing), every day begins with the acceptance of Hashem's dominion (by reciting the Shema), and one's obligation in the performance of Mitzvos when he becomes Bar Mitzvah begins with the acceptance of Hashem's dominion (as the Vilna Ga'on wrote).

We could add that the Torah itself starts with the acceptance of Hashem's total authority -- "Bereishis Barah Elokim Es ha'Shamayim v'Es ha'Aretz;" the declaration that Hashem is the Creator is the expression of His total dominion over the world. This is also alluded to in the word "be'Reishis," which is alluding to the "Reishis Chachmah" of the verse quoted earlier, or Yir'as Hashem.

The year starts with Rosh Hashanah, as the Torah says, "m'Reishis ha'Shanah" -- "from the beginning of the year" (Devarim 11:12). Rosh Hashanah is also a "Reishis." It is the time when we accept upon ourselves the total authority of Hashem. In addition, through the blowing of the Shofar we express that Hashem is our King. As with all beginnings, on Rosh Hashanah we start the year by acceptance of Hashem's dominion.

OPINIONS: The Mishnah states that the time for Keri'as Shema is after Tzeis ha'Kochavim. RASHI (DH Ad Sof) cites a Yerushalmi that asks why it is common practice to Daven Ma'ariv and recite the Shema before Tzeis ha'Kochavim.
(a) RASHI (ad loc.) quotes the answer of the Yerushalmi that says we recite Shema early in order to say Shemone Esrei after having recited words of Torah. We do not fulfill our obligation to recite the Shema at that time, though, and we must recite it again later after Tzeis ha'Kochavim. Rashi says that reciting the first paragraph of the Shema before we go to sleep is sufficient to fulfill the obligation.

The ROSH (1:1) adds in the name of Rav Amram Ga'on, the Riva, and the Ritz Ge'as that even though we do not fulfill the obligation of Keri'as Shema when we recite it early, we may still recite the blessings before and after the Shema.

(b) RABBEINU TAM (cited by Tosfos DH me'Eimasai) explains that we *do* fulfill the obligation of Keri'as Shema when we recite it before Tzeis ha'Kochavim. There is an argument between Rebbi Yehudah and the Rabanan (26a) regarding the time for reciting Minchah and Ma'ariv. Rebbi Yehudah maintains that one may recite Minchah until "Plag ha'Minchah," or 10 3/4 hours into the day (1 1/4 hours before nightfall) and recite Ma'ariv after that point. If the time for Ma'ariv begins 1 1/4 hours before nightfall, the time for Keri'as Shema also begins then. We rule that one is permitted to follow the opinion of Rebbi Yehudah, says Rabbeinu Tam, and therefore we may recite the Shema before Tzeis ha'Kochavim.

(c) The RI (cited in Tosfos ad loc.) and the ROSH disagree with Rabbeinu Tam. They explain that the reason we recite the Shema before Tzeis ha'Kochavim is because there are several different opinions cited in the Gemara regarding the earliest time to recite the Shema, and we rule in accordance with the opinion that says the earliest time to recite the Shema is when the day becomes sanctified on the eve of Shabbos, or when people eat on Erev Shabbos, which is before Tzeis ha'Kochavim (see Chart #1, Berachos 2b). It follows that Ma'ariv may also be recited at that time.

HALACHAH: The Rosh writes that one should not rely on the Ri except in extenuating circumstances, because the proper time for Keri'as Shema is not until after Tzeis ha'Kochavim.

What does one do when he finds himself in a place where the Minyan for Ma'ariv is early? The Mishnah Berurah writes three options.

(a) He may Daven with them and recite the Shema again later, after Tzeis ha'Kochavim.

(b) Some prefer not to recite the blessings of the Shema without fulfilling the obligation of Keri'as Shema. They therefore Daven *Shemone Esrei* with the Minyan and recite the Shema with its blessings later.

(c) The Vilna Ga'on (cited in the Bi'ur Halachah 235:1, DH v'Im ha'Tzibur) rules that it is better to *Daven alone* after Tzeis ha'Kochavim than to daven before Tzeis ha'Kochavim with a Minyan.


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