QUESTION: In the Mishnah, Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel argue concerning the
text of the blessing on fire. Beis Shamai says that the text is, "Bara
Ma'or ha'Esh," and Beis Hillel says that the text is, "Borei Me'orei
ha'Esh." The Gemara explains that everyone agrees that one may say "Bara"
or "Borei." The argument is whether one should say "Ma'or" or "Me'orei."
If everyone agrees that one may say "Bara" or "Borei," why were the two
differing terminologies used in the Mishnah?
ANSWER: The VILNA GA'ON (in SHENOS ELIYAHU) explains that there are two
types of fire for which we thank Hashem. First, there is the *concept* of
fire, which Hashem created after the first Shabbos of Creation. Second,
there is the physical fire that we can have in front of us. The original
concept of fire that Hashem created is simply singular, colorless energy.
On the other hand, the fire that we see before us can be described in terms
of the different colors that it radiates.
Beis Shamai says that the blessing we say on Motza'ei Shabbos is a blessing
on the original concept of fire. Therefore, Beis Shamai maintains that the
text of the blessing should be "Bara" (in the past tense, since Hashem
created the concept of fire only once in the history of the world) and
"Ma'or" (a *single* fire, because the concept of fire as "light" is
Beis Hillel says that the blessing that we recite is even on the actual
physical fire that we hold before us, which appears as different colors and
which we can create whenever we want. Therefore, the text of the blessing
according to Beis Hillel is "Borei" (He *created* the original fire and He
*creates* every new flame) "Me'orei" (the different colors that appear in
the physical flames). That is what the Gemara means when it says that the
argument does not revolve around the definition of "Bara" and "Borei," but
that it revolves around which fire we are thanking Hashem for on Motza'ei
Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel argue concerning the text of the blessing over
the flame on Motza'ei Shabbos (see previous insight). Beis Shamai says that
the text is "Ma'or," and Beis Hillel says that the text is "Me'orei." This
argument may be a reflection of a more general difference in their
approaches to Halachah.
The ROGOTCHOVER GA'ON (in TESHUVOS TZAFNAS PANE'ACH #50) writes that TOSFOS
(52a, DH v'Rebbi Yehoshua) tells us that the number students of Beis
Hillel, of the academy of Hillel, was greater than the number of students
of Beis Shamai, of the academy of Shamai. On the other hand, the students
of Beis Shamai were intellectually sharper than their disputants in Beis
Consequently, the students of Beis Shamai thought that the Halachah should
be in accordance with their opinion because from the perspective of
knowledge and intellectual acumen, they were greater than Beis Hillel, even
though they were less numerous than Beis Hillel. Beis Shamai's approach was
to focus on the "Tzurah," the essence. Therefore, they emphasized that the
Halachah should be in accordance with whichever academy is greater in
*essense*, that is, in wisdom, and not in *numbers*.
Beis Hillel's approach was to look at the "Chomer," the actual physical
appearance of an entity. In physical appearance, Beis Hillel was greater,
because of their larger numbers. This difference in approach is expressed
in many of the arguments between Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel:
(a) For example, in Chagigah (12a), Beis Shamai argues that "Shamayim," the
heavens, were created first. The heavens (which represents the spiritual
aspects of creation) are the *essence* of creation, the most essential and
purposeful part of creation (the "Tzurah"). Beis Hillel maintains that the
"Aretz," the land, was created first. The land represents the physical
appearance of creation (the "Chomer").
Applying the Rogatchover's words to our Sugya, the argument between Beis
Hillel and Beis Shamai can be explained to be a reflection of their
different approaches. Beis Shamai says that the blessing should be made on
the *essence* of fire, the original concept of fire that Hashem created
(see previous Insight). Beis Hillel says that the blessing should be made
on the physical fire that appears before us.