Megillah 18

Limitless praise?

Once in a blue moon, someone can do something so nice for us — so selfless and life altering — that we can never stop thanking them. And if this is the way we feel about actions that humans do for us, how much more so do we want to thank God for all the blessings of this beautiful world: the sky and the earth, water and fire, love and celebration, the precious people who make our lives meaningful and worthwhile? Logically, the human instinct might be to attempt to praise God endlessly. 

But today’s page of Talmud warns us against doing this. Have you ever thought about heaping more blessings of praise onto the nineteen blessings of the Amidah? Don’t, say the rabbis:

Declaring the praises of the Holy One, Blessed be God, beyond (the Amidah blessing) is prohibited.

Rabbi Elazar follows up this statement by citing Psalm 106:2, which rhetorically asks, “Who can utter the mighty acts of Adonai? Who can declare all God’s praise?” No one is capable of extolling God adequately for all that has been given, and so to even attempt it is not allowed. The Amidah, as scripted, must suffice.

Rabba bar bar Hanah joins the conversation stating that Rabbi Yohanan warned:

One who excessively declares the praises of the Holy One, Blessed be God, is uprooted from the world, as it is stated: “Shall it be told to him when I speak? If a man says it, he would be swallowed up.” (Job 37:20)

This creative reading of Job implies that a person would be swallowed up for the hubris of even implying that they were capable of expressing enough praise for all of the blessings God has brought forth.

Finally, the Gemara relates the words of Rabbi Yehuda (some say he was from Kefar Gibboraya and some say he was a man of Kefar Gibbor Chayil) who cited Psalm 65:2 which says “For You silence is praise,” which he understands to mean that it is better to praise God silently than aloud. To drive the point home, the Gemara shares an insight from Rav Dimi who says this is like a popular saying he knows of:

In the west, they say a word is worth a sela (coin), but silence is worth two! 

Sometimes overdoing praise is a mistake. The best way to give thanks when the usual channels have been exhausted is to be silent and hold unending gratitude in your heart. Silence is indeed golden, even when it comes to praising God beyond the requisite blessings of the Amidah.

Read all of Megillah 18 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on December 30th, 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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