Berakhot 53

Remembering and returning.

On today’s daf, the Gemara expounds on a disagreement between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai over what to do if you forget to say the blessing after the meal. Beit Hillel says that when you remember, you should recite the blessing no matter where you are. But Beit Shammai, taking a more stringent approach, says you should return to the place where you ate the meal to say the blessing.

The Gemara then cites a teaching in which Hillel and Shammai explain their reasoning:

Beit Hillel said to Beit Shammai: According to your statement, one who ate atop the Temple Mount, God’s chosen place of residence, and forgot and descended without reciting a blessing, must he return to the top of the Temple Mount, God’s chosen place of residence, to recite a blessing? Beit Shammai said to Beit Hillel: Why not? And according to your statement, one who forgot his purse atop the Temple Mount, God’s chosen place of residence, would he not ascend to retrieve it? If one ascends in deference to his own needs, all the more so he should ascend in deference to Heaven.

Shammai’s argument is that if you would climb a mountain to retrieve your money, all the more so should you do it to thank God after eating a meal. The metaphor is powerful and resonant — but fairly impractical. What if the restaurant has closed or the airplane has pushed back from the gate? What if there’s a mountain in the way? Have we lost our chance? Or might there be another way to return to the place to express our gratitude?

The author Toni Morrison describes a concept she calls rememory — a kind of remembering, largely informed by place, but which isn’t limited to the people who experienced what happened there. In Beloved she writes: “If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place — the picture of it — stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world.”

Morrison’s concept of rememory offers a way to bridge the opinions of Hillel and Shammai. Though we may not always be able to return to the specific place of a forgotten blessing, we can make an emotional return, connecting in our hearts with a place we cannot physically reach and expressing gratitude for the blessings we enjoyed there. In that way, the act of remembering becomes a blessing in itself.

Read all of Berakhot 53 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 25, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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