Berakhot 29

Praying in the face of danger.

Let’s dive right into a heated debate on today’s page, starting with the mishnah under discussion:

Rabban Gamliel: Everyone is obligated to recite the eighteen blessings [Amidah] every day.

Rabbi Yehoshua: An abridged version is adequate.

Rabbi Akiva: If one can recite the eighteen blessings fluently, one recites the entire prayer. Otherwise, one recites an abridged version.

Naturally, the Gemara wonders what an abridged version of the Amidah might look like:

What is the abridged version? 

Rav said: One recites an abridged version of each and every blessing.

Shmuel said: “Grant us understanding, Lord our God, to know Your ways, and sensitize our hearts so that we may revere You, and forgive us so that we may be redeemed, and keep us far from our suffering, and satisfy us with the pastures of Your land, and gather our scattered people from the four corners of the earth, and those who go astray shall be judged according to Your will, and raise Your hand against the wicked, and may the righteous rejoice in the rebuilding of Your city, and the restoration of Your Sanctuary, and in the flourishing of Your servant David, and in establishing a light for Your Messiah, son of Jesse. Before we call, may You answer. Blessed are You, Lord, who listens to prayer.”

Abaye would curse anyone who recited “Grant us understanding…” [Shmuel’s abridged prayer].

The Amidah — all 18 blessings — takes a good ten minutes to say, especially if you’re trying to concentrate on the words and not just spit them out. Rav suggests abridging each and every blessing, and then Shmuel shows how it can be done; his version combines the prayer’s 13 middle blessings into essentially one long sentence.

The debate over whether it is acceptable to regularly make use of this “quickie” version of the Amidah spans generations. In the mishnah, two notable Tannaim are more lenient about allowing people to recite the abridged version (for various reasons) and the later Amoraim Rav and Shmuel also appear lenient on this issue. But in the mishnah Rabban Gamliel is more strict and in the Gemara Abaye sides with him, insisting that the abridged version should only be said in extreme circumstances — like moments of danger.

Speaking of danger: The rabbis knew prayers designed especially for dangerous situations, and several are quoted on the second side of today’s page, including one especially for travel — a notoriously dangerous activity in antiquity (wild animals and robbers being the chief dangers on the road). Rav Hisda’s prayer for travel, which he considered obligatory at the outset of a journey, closely resembles the version included in most prayer books today:

May it be Your will, Lord my God, to lead me to peace, direct my steps to peace, and guide me to peace, and rescue me from the hands of any enemy or ambush along the way, and send blessing to the work of my hands, and let me find grace, kindness, and compassion in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see me. Blessed are You, Lord, who hears prayer.

You can read the contemporary version, which is very similar, here.

 

Read all of Berakhot 29 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 1, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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