Tefillat Beit Midrash

Berachot (4:2) | Yisrael Bankier | 6 months ago

The Mishnah (4:2) discusses the tefillot that R' Nechunya ben Hakana would recite when entering and leaving the Beit Midrash. When he would enter, he prayed that no error would occur and when he exited, he would thank Hashem for his portion in learning. The Gemara elaborates on the text of these tefillot. The tefillah of thanks when leaving makes sense. Put simply, we are very fortunate to be able to learn Torah and that tefillah elaborates on that point. The tefillah when entering however requires thought.

The Gemara (28b) includes the text of the tefillah and a longer version is found in the Tur (OC 210). The following is the version printed in the front of the Gemara:

May it be Your will, Hashem... that no mishap transpires because of me, and I will not err in matters of Halacha and that my friends rejoice in me. And I will not declare that which is impure as pure, nor pure that which is impure. I will not declare permitted that which is forbidden, nor forbidden that which is permitted. And my friends should not err in matters of Halacha and I will be happy with them. "For Hashem grants wisdom; knowledge and discernment are His decree" (Tehillim 2:6) "Open my eyes, that I may perceive the wonders of Your teaching" (Tehillim 119:16)

Previously (1(3)) we have focused on the request not to err and how that section of the tefillah should be punctuated. Is the expression "that my friends rejoice in me" a request that they should not rejoice in my errors (Tifferet Yisrael) or is it a separate request that one should rejoice in his friends learning (Maharsha)? In this article however we will pose a different question. After requesting that one should not make any errors in learning, why does the tefillah continue with request not to make mistakes in tumah and tahara or issur and heter?

The Maharasha explains that the continuation is simply elaborating on the request not to err. The Pirchei Kehuna however asks that if that was the case, the elaboration should have come immediately after the request not to make a mistake. In truth however the request regarding rejoicing is placed in between. The Pirchei Kehuna therefore explains that these are two different requests. The first is regarding matters that are dependent on logic, about which there is a risk that other will rejoice in his failure. The second is regarding matters of tradition, laws that one received from their teachers.

Perhaps we can suggest a different explanation based on the comment of the Tifferet Yisrael. Why are we learning about this Mishnah now? The Tifferet Yisrael explains that it is based on the teaching that if one goes directly from shul to the Beit Midrash -- from tefillah to learning -- he merits to receive the divine presence. Since the previous Mishnah discussed the time for daily prayers, it therefore makes sense that it is followed with this tefillah.

The Tifferet Yisrael continues that the flow of the Mishnayot contain the key to spiritual growth. The shul is the place of emotional connection, which is directed to Hashem, while the Beit Midrash is where one engages their mind. If one goes directly from the shul to the Beit Midrash they will be successful in their growth, since they engage both these elements -- the heart and mind -- which is the entirety of man.

Perhaps with this explanation we can understand the tefillah. When entering the Beit Midrash there are requests regarding protection or help for both the intellectual (errors) and emotional (simcha). If there is an imbalance the effects can be devastating. Intellectual excellence without an emotional connection can lead to a distortion of purity and impurity, while emotional ecstasy without intellectual grounding might be well intended, yet lead to confusion of the permitted and forbidden. This second part of the tefillah is a request for the critical balance and reminder that without it one's perspective is lost.

Finally, this then explains the addition of the two pesukim. The first, focus on the granting of wisdom, knowledge and discernment. The focus is on the intellectual and that it is Hashem that grants it. The second is about the perception of wonders and a request for Hashem assisting in connecting on that plane. Consequently, when entering the Beit Midrash we recognize that necessity and pray from help in directing both our mind and heart toward Hashem and His Torah.

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