God illuminates the earth for those who dwell on it, with compassion; and, in God’s goodness, continually renews the work of creation every day.
These words are said as part of the blessing that precedes the recitation of the Shemaduring the weekday morning service. As we learned in Tractate Berakhot (9b), the ideal time to say this blessing coincides with the rising of the sun as a new day opens and the world is filled with light.
As part of a discussion about the qualifications that make one eligible to lead the blessings of the morning service, a mishnah on our daf presents the following makhloket (difference of opinion):
One who is blind may recite the introductory prayers and blessing before Shema.
Rabbi Yehuda says: Anyone who has not seen the luminaries — the sun, moon and stars — in his life may not recite the introductory prayers and blessing before Shema.
Must one have the ability to see the heavenly bodies through which God brings light to the Earth in order to be able to recite these words on behalf of the community? Rabbi Yehuda says yes, the Tanna Kamma (the anonymous first opinion) says no.
Rabbi Yehuda’s opinion, which would exclude people blind from birth from saying this prayer, is challenged in a beraita (another early source not found in the mishnah):
Many have seen enough with their mind to expound upon the divine chariot, although they have never actually seen it.
The first chapter of Ezekiel describes the prophet’s vision of God’s supernatural chariot, a touchstone for early Jewish mysticism that is discussed at length in many ancient Jewish texts. This beraita points out that plenty of people who have never witnessed the divine chariot with their own eyes still provide commentary on it. So why should one be required to have sight in order to lead blessings extolling God’s creation of light?
Rabbi Yehuda responds by doubling down on his view: Blessings about the sun are different. While anyone can derive insight from Ezekiel’s heavenly vision, only those who actually benefit from God’s light can lead the blessing praising it. Since the blind do not make use of the light, he argues, they are not eligible to lead the blessing.
Rabbi Yehuda’s view is not the final word on this matter as the Gemara cites another beraita in the name of Rabbi Yosei:
All of my life I was troubled by this verse, which I did not understand: “And you shall grope at noon as the blind man gropes in the darkness.” (Deuteronomy 28:29) I was perplexed: What does it matter to a blind person whether it is dark or light? He cannot see in any event, so why does the verse speak about a blind man in the darkness?
I continued to ponder the matter until the following incident occurred to me: I was once walking in the absolute darkness of the night, and I saw a blind man who was walking on his way with a torch in his hands. I said to him: My son, why do you need this torch if you are blind? He said to me: As long as I have a torch in my hand, people see me and save me from the pits and the thorns and the thistles.
Rabbi Yosei reminds us that each of us benefits from the world in our own way. Those who do not have the ability to see light with their own eyes can still benefit from the vision of others. And so, they too should be able to take their turn in blessing God for the gift of the light that sustains us.
May the light of Rabbi Yosei’s teaching brighten the worldview of Rabbi Yehuda and inspire us to build a world in which everyone is given an opportunity to lead the community in prayer and express gratitude for the unique way in which they experience the glory of God.
Read all of Megillah 24 on Sefaria.
This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 5th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.