י״ב באלול ה׳תשע״ב (August 30, 2012)

Berakhot 29a-b: Will a Righteous Person Remain Virtuous Until His Death?

On today’s daf the Gemara discusses the blessing regarding heretics and describes how – in the days before written prayer books – Shmu’el HaKatan had difficulty remembering the language of the blessing and was given time to recollect the blessing. The Gemara explains that since he penned the blessing he was not suspected of avoiding its recitation. This story leads to a discussion about whether a righteous person may become a transgressor later in life.

The Gemara asks:

And does he not become wicked? Didn’t we learn in a mishna: Do not be sure of yourself until the day you die, as Yoḥanan the served in the High Priesthood for eighty years and ultimately became a Sadducee. Even one who is outstanding in his righteousness can become a heretic.
Abaye responded: He is Yannai he is Yoḥanan. In other words, from its inception, the entire Hasmonean dynasty had the same positive attitude toward the Sadducees, and there was no distinction between Yohanan Hyrcanus and Alexander Yannai. Yoḥanan the High Priest had Sadducee leanings from the outset.

Rava disagrees with Abayye. The Gemara explains that according to Rava:

Yannai is distinct and Yoḥanan is distinct. They did not share the same position in this regard. Yannai was wicked from the outset and Yoḥanan was righteous from the outset.

This dispute with regard to Yannai and Yoḥanan alludes to the general assessment of the entire royal house of the Hasmoneans. In this passage, Yoḥanan the High Priest symbolizes all the Hasmonean kings who served as High Priests for approximately eighty years. Ultimately, the degree to which they distanced themselves from the Pharisee tradition and drew closer to the Sadducee tradition became more and more evident, culminating in the reign of Alexander Yannai. The dispute here focuses on whether their dynasty was flawed from its inception or whether it deteriorated over time.

The Gemara explains that according to Rava, it was only because Shmu’el HaKatan began the blessing before becoming confused that he was not suspected of being a heretic.

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