In the breaks [between sections of the Shema and its blessings] one may offer a greeting out of respect and return a greeting.
In the midst of a section one may give a greeting out of fear and return it — the words of Rabbi Meir.
Rabbi Judah says: In the middle one may give a greeting out of fear and return it out of respect, in the breaks one may give a greeting out of respect and return greeting to anyone.
— Mishnah Berakhot 2:1
The theme of today’s daf is respect. It opens with a discussion introduced in the mishnah about when it’s permissible to interrupt the Shema and its blessings in order to greet someone: When should you pause your prayer to greet a newcomer? And when should you answer someone who greets you?
There’s a neat matrix we could construct to help navigate this question, but for now the essential parameters are: How important is the section of the Shema you are reciting? How important is the person you are potentially offending by not responding? And how necessary is it to interrupt the Shema to show respect to those around you?
The discussion around the laws of interruptions leads to the main theme of today’s daf, which is how to integrate a level of respect and honor into our recitation of the Shema, and into our prayers generally. So for example, Rav criticizes anyone who says hello to their friend before saying hello to God — i.e. praying. Rav Idi says that anyone who conducts business before praying is doing it all wrong — prayer must begin the day, not come as an afterthought. Rav Idi even promises that if we start our day with respect for prayers, that will lead God to respect our needs and wants. The basic idea is that if we show respect to God and our fellow human beings, we can expect respect in return.
The daf concludes with the declaration that even basic physical actions like going to the bathroom and washing our hands allow us to develop respect for the Shema. If we ignore those needs, we are not just disrespecting our bodies, but disrespecting God who created those bodies. Tomorrow’s daf will further explain how we can create a deep atmosphere of respect with simple physical actions.