Mishnah/Seder Zeraim/Tractate Berakhot/Chapter 1/3
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Seder Zeraim, Tractate Berakhot
Chapter 1, Mishnah 3
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The verse that mandates the recital of Shema, וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ (“when you lie down and when you arise”), can refer to either certain time periods (as explained in the previous two mishnayot) or to the postures one should adopt during the recitation. This mishnah records a controversy on the subject.
- בֵּית שַׁמַּאי אוֹמְרִים:
- בָּעֶרֶב כָּל אָדָם יַטּוּ וְיִקְרְאוּ, וּבַבֹּקֶר יַעַמְדוּ,
- שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: "וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ".
- וּבֵית הִלֵּל אוֹמְרִים:
- כָּל אָדָם קוֹרֵא כְדַרְכּוֹ,
- שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: "וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ".
- אִם כֵּן לָמָּה נֶאֱמַר "וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ"?
- בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁבְּנֵי אָדָם שׁוֹכְבִים, וּבְשָׁעָה שֶׁבְּנֵי אָדָם עוֹמְדִים.
- אָמַר רַבִּי טַרְפוֹן:
- אֲנִי הָיִיתִי בָא בַדֶּרֶךְ,
- וְהִטֵּיתִי לִקְרוֹת כְּדִבְרֵי בֵית שַׁמַּאי,
- וְסִכַּנְתִּי בְעַצְמִי מִפְּנֵי הַלִּסְטִים.
- אָמְרוּ לוֹ: כְּדַי הָיִיתָ לָחוּב בְּעַצְמְךָ,
- שֶׁעָבַרְתָּ עַל דִּבְרֵי בֵית הִלֵּל.
- The school of Shammai says:
- In the evening all people should recline and recite [the Shema], and in the morning they should stand,
- since it says [in the verse (Deut. 6:7)], “When you lie down and when you arise.”
- But the school of Hillel says:
- Each person may recite it in his usual way (posture),
- since it says (ibid.), “When you walk on the road.”
- If so, why does it say “when you lie down and when you arise”?
- —[It means:] at the time when people are lying down, and at the time when people are arising.
- Said Rabbi Tarfon:
- “I was once traveling on the road,
- and I reclined to recite [the Shema] in accordance with the view of the school of Shammai,
- and [by doing so] I put myself in danger of [attack by] bandits.”
- They [the other Sages] said to him: “You would have deserved to be guilty for your own fate,
- since you went against the view of the school of Hillel.”
In his usual way — i.e., in whatever posture he happens to be in at the time: sitting, standing, lying down, riding, etc. (Thus, for example, if a person happens to be reclining when night falls, he may recite the Shema in that position.) The halachah follows this view.
I reclined to recite [the Shema]: Rabbi Tarfon was traveling on a donkey (the usual means of transportation in ancient times); when the time came for reciting the evening Shema, he got off the donkey and reclined [presumably on the ground], in keeping with the view of the school of Shammai. The extra delay in doing so put him at risk of attack by bandits. (According to the commentary of Melechet Shlomo, he actually was attacked by bandits and robbed of his possessions; the extra delay put him at risk of bodily harm as well.)
There are several approaches in the commentaries as to why Rabbi Tarfon was condemned for going beyond the letter of the law (given that the school of Hillel agrees that one may recite the Shema in the manner prescribed by the school of Shammai, just that this is not required):
- According to the school of Hillel, there is nothing at all to be gained by following the opposing opinion (since they explain the verse as not referring to bodily posture at all). Hence, there was no “stricter opinion” to follow. (Vilna Gaon, Shenot Eliyahu)
- Rabbi Tarfon put himself at unnecessary risk to follow the view of the school of Shammai. Had there been no risk involved, he would have been correct in doing so. (Rishon LeZion)
- The split between the schools of Hillel and Shammai had been of long standing (due to historical circumstances during the century before the destruction of the Temple, which prevented the Sages from assembling as a body to resolve the many points of contention between these two schools), and had only recently been resolved (generally in favor of the school of Hillel). Hence, it was extremely important to demonstrate unequivocally that this verdict was final and that the opinions of Shammai’s school were not accepted. Thus, when Rabbi Tarfon chose to act according to the school of Shammai, this constituted not an act of personal piety but rather one that could potentially subvert this hard-won consensus. (Mesillat Yesharim)