Berakhot 45

Exalting God together.

Today’s daf offers a new mishnah for discussion. Here’s the first part:

Three people who ate together are required to form a zimmun and recite Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals).

The word zimmun (זימון) refers to the invitation that one diner gives to fellow diners to recite the blessing that follows a meal: Birkat Hamazon. The point here is that if people dine together (in groups of three or more), they should also recite Birkat Hamazon together.

Now the Talmud begins a flurry of inquiries in which the animating questions are: What is “togetherness”? Can we be in the same space, in the same conversation, expressing total agreement and yet not truly be together?

To answer these questions, it is natural for the rabbis to turn to the Torah. Rav Asi suggests that Psalm 34:4 is the source of the requirement for praising God communally. It reads, quite simply: “Praise God with me, and we will exalt His Name together.

Rav Hanan bar Abba then teaches that this same verse from Psalms prohibits anyone answering “amen!” to a blessing from raising their voice above the person speaking the blessing: that would not be together, and God’s name must be exalted “together.” Even if we are in the same space, both focused on praising God for the food we have shared, we are not truly together if my voice overpowers yours. If we are together, then we should be together in equal volume.

Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi takes the concept further, suggesting that even God does not overpower the voices of others. At Sinai, when “Moses spoke, and God responded in a voice” (Exodus 19:19), Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi asserts, that voice of God was no louder than Moses’ speech.

Togetherness often requires contraction. At Sinai God could have used an earth-shattering voice, but instead, God modeled togetherness, contracting so that God and Moses could share space and message. In no conversation or encounter are two parties equal in every way, but true togetherness requires them to carefully listen to each other and to themselves, and adjust, with humility. Togetherness requires effort. Today’s daf teaches us that this difficult togetherness is the togetherness required to exalt the name of God.

Read all of Berakhot 45 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 17, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

Discover More

What Does L’dor Vador Mean?

An emotional Jewish catchphrase explained.