Multitasking: The gold standard in efficiency or a fast track to utter distraction? Today, the rabbis weigh in.
In today’s daf, the rabbis are again considering what happens when an ordinary Friday afternoon meal extends into sundown and becomes a Shabbat meal. As we learned back on page 100, Rabbi Yehuda holds that you simply say Kiddush and continue with your meal — eventually completing the meal with Birkat Hamazon (the Grace After Meals).
Rabbi Yosei, however, requires that you say Birkat Hamazon to end the Friday afternoon meal and then make Kiddush in order to start a new meal for Shabbat. Two days ago, this led to a rather uncomfortable situation when both Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yosei found themselves at a Friday afternoon meal that extended into the evening.
On today’s page, the Gemara returns to that debate but with a new question: can you use the same cup for Kiddush and Birkat Hamazon? (Today, most Jews don’t make Birkat Hamazon over a cup of wine, but the rabbis did.) In other words, can you make that cup of wine multitask?
At first, the Gemara apparently makes the case for efficiency: Since we have two blessings that are back-to-back and require wine, why not just make it one glass of wine for both?
Not so fast:
Rav Huna said that Rav Sheshet said: One does not recite two sanctifications over one cup. What is the reason? Rav Nahman bar Yitzhak said: Because one does not perform mitzvot havilot havilot — in bundles.
Rav Sheshet and Rav Nahman bar Yitzhak waltz in to dismantle our dreams of efficiency. Their reasoning is powerful and instructive. Though our inclination might be to combine obligations, we are not permitted to do so. There is a sympathetic psychological reading here: that generally when trying to go from place A to place B, we take the quickest possible route — or, if we are doing work, we calculate the most economical way to achieve our ends. The mindset for performing mitzvot, these rabbis remind us, should be different, and we must recalibrate. Only in taking each mitzvah individually are we able to develop a better sense of its place, meaning and relevance.
Kiddush and Birkat Hamazon are functionally distinct, as the Gemara will go on to explain. Kiddush comes at a specific time each week and connects to themes of creation and freedom. Birkat Hamazon is recited whenever specific types of meals are eaten and offers thanks for the food, land, Jerusalem and God’s goodness. The rabbis want us to honor each of these with the intentionality — and the cup — it deserves.
Multitasking might accomplish more at once, but it can cause us to miss the uniqueness of individual moments. When we pause and focus on individual mitzvot, we can learn to see the world in a sharper way — one full of experiences, scents, individuals and more that we can cherish for what makes them unique.