Today’s daf wraps up the discussion of the second mishnah in Berakhot. Let’s review quickly:
Just as the first mishnah in Berakhot gave time parameters for reciting the evening Shema, the second mishnah gives time parameters for reciting the morning Shema. One may say morning Shema as soon as one can distinguish between the colors white and blue in the early pre-dawn light (though according to Rabbi Eliezer, it’s between blue and green). Essentially, once the light is strong enough to distinguish colors, it is acceptable to recite morning Shema.
The deadline for reciting the morning Shema, according to the mishnah, is the end of sunrise — but Rabbi Yehoshua sets a looser deadline at the end of the third hour of the day.
Naturally, the Gemara adds to the possibilities for recognizing the beginning of the morning. Maybe the time for reciting the morning Shema is when one can distinguish a wolf from a dog? Or recognize an acquaintance standing at a distance of four cubits?
By the bottom of today’s page, some conclusions are reached: It is ideal for a person to say Shema at sunrise, and this was the practice of the vatikin, the ancient righteous ones. But realistically, a person may say it within the first three hours of the day — that is, during the first quarter of daylight hours.
Most of the discussion on today’s page, however, has almost nothing to do with the timing of the morning Shema. The rabbis take fanciful flights into the inner lives of several Biblical characters, including King David, the prophet Isaiah, King Hezekiah, and the remarkable Shunamite woman. They also include two stories of a truly unusual woman named Beruriah. The wife of one of the greatest sages of his generation, Rabbi Meir, Beruriah was even more brilliant than her husband. Here’s her story, in slight paraphrase:
It happened that there were hooligans in Rabbi Meir’s neighborhood and they wrought so much havoc that he prayed for their deaths.
His wife Beruriah chastised him for this prayer. She asked, “Do you base your actions on Psalms 104:35: Let sins cease from the land? Is it written there ‘let sinners cease’!? No, it is written ‘let sins cease’! Moreover, the end of the verse reads: …and the the wicked will be no more. So rather than pray for them to die, you should pray to God that they will repent their ways.”
Rabbi Meir listened to his wife and prayed for the hooligans to repent.
And they did — the hooligans became better people. If only it always worked that way.
There’s another great Beruriah story just below this one. You can read it for yourself on Sefaria.