Avodah and Accepting the Yoke of Heaven – Different Paradigms

The first Mishna of Maseches Berachos (which is the first Mishna of Shas according to our tradition) starts by stating the time at which Keriyas Shema should be said at night (when the first three stars appear in the sky). The Gemara immediately asks two questions:

  1. how do we know that we are obligated to read Keriyas Shema at all?; and
  2. why is it that with regard to Keriyas Shema we are told first about the obligation of Keriyas Shema at night but for the berachos which are said before and after, we are told about the day obligations before those of the night.

The Gemara gives two answers:

  1. the passuk in Keriyas Shema states “beshochbecha uvkumecha” so night time for Keriyas Shema comes first, and then since we have started talking about the day we continue in the berachos of the day before returning to talk about the berachos of the night; and
  2. the psukim speaking of the creation of the world always put night before day when speaking of the day therefore night comes before day in general in Halachah (Tosafos there state that the second part of the first answer, that we then simply continue talking about daytime prayers is obviously necessary here as well because otherwise we should have continued the berachos of night).

It is the second answer that I would like to talk about. It is not totally accurate that the Halachah always assumes that the night comes before the day. In the world of sacrifices we assume that the day comes before the night; we both eat the sacrifices (often) and finish the burning of sacrifices the night after and that is not considered for these purposes a separate day (Tosefta Zevachim 6, 15). Furthermore, in the fifth perek of the Maseches Berachos we hear first about the prayers which come in the morning first, and only afterwards afternoon and night (Mishna Berachos 5, 1). The difference for davening is easy to explain, since the obligation for davening is partially derived from the obligation for sacrifices (Gemara Berachos 26b) so it makes sense that the obligations would be expressed in this sense differently. However, that does not explain the basic difference between these different institutions. Why is it that instead of the simple and seemingly sufficient local answer for why the Mishna was expressed the way it is, the Gemara chose a far more global answer, and what does that teach us about the nature of Keriyas Shema as an obligation?

I heard from Rabbi Dr Avi Walfish once that the relationship between kodesh and chol is a central topic of perek Oso Ve’es Beno in Chullin. There we find the following Mishna:

משנה מסכת חולין פרק ה משנה ה

יום אחד האמור באותו ואת בנו היום הולך אחר הלילה את זו דרש שמעון בן זומא נאמר במעשה בראשית (בראשית א) יום אחד ונאמר באותו ואת בנו (ויקרא כב) יום אחד מה יום אחד האמור במעשה בראשית היום הולך אחר הלילה אף יום אחד האמור באותו ואת בנו היום הולך אחר הלילה:

He explained this Mishna based on that contention. There was a need to explain that Oso Ve’es Beno would apply to the general day of creation and not the specific day of sacrifices since the entire world of shechitah seems to derive in large part from the world of sacrifices. This time is the time of the creation of the world. The time depicted here is cosmic. On the other hand, the time of sacrifices where the night follows the day is human time, it is the time of human experience. We experience a day not as night and then daytime but as the time from when we get up in the morning until when we go to sleep at night once it is already dark. In human experience the night follows the day.

If the time of Keriyas Shema is determined by cosmic, objective time, a statement is made. Keriyas Shema is a reaction to the cosmic order. When one sees the wonderful world that G-d has created, that He rules over, the natural reaction is to proclaim His  kingdom and accept the yoke of His service. That is the very essence of Keriyas Shema (Mishna 2, 2). On the other hand, sacrifices are not necessarily an instinctive reaction to the creation of the world. They are crucial precisely because they have a certain artificial feel. Not only is the initial, instinctive, awestruck reaction important. The follow-up, the continuation, which will of necessity be contrived, must also occur. Without that, the initial reaction will not have staying power. This then, is the task of davening. First we express our awe at G-d’s creation, and then we follow up with the hard work of maintaining that sense of awe for the rest of the day.

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