ט״ז באב ה׳תשע״ב (August 4, 2012)

Berakhot 3a-b: Praying on the Road

On today’s daf the Gemara relates a story about how Rabbi Yose once entered the ruins of an old, abandoned building in Jerusalem in order to pray. While in the midst of his prayers, he noticed that Eliyahu HaNavi came and guarded the entrance until he finished his prayer. In the ensuing conversation, Eliyahu inquired as to why Rabbi Yose had chosen to pray in a ruin, and Rabbi Yose explained that he did not want to be disturbed by others. In response Eliyahu told him that he should have recited an abbreviated prayer, which was instituted for just such circumstances.

From this exchange Rabbi Yose concludes:

At that time, from that brief exchange, I learned from him, three things: I learned that one may not enter a ruin; and I learned that one need not enter a building to pray, but he may pray along the road; and I learned that one who prays along the road recites an abbreviated prayer so that he may maintain his focus.

Beyond its simple meaning, there is a deeper message conveyed in this story. Rabbi Yose was engrossed in thought and meditation, and as he entered a ruin among the ruins of Jerusalem, began to ruminate over the destruction of Jerusalem and Israel’s resultant exile. He began to think of the Temple, praying that it would be rebuilt and that Jerusalem would be restored. In the midst of these prayers, Rabbi Yose was interrupted by Eliyahu, who rebuked him and said that one should not become preoccupied with thoughts of destruction as that is a distraction from the task at hand. It is preferable to pray a brief, general prayer.

In his vision, in the minor prophecy that Rabbi Yose experienced in the ruin, he was told that the pain over the exile is not limited to Israel alone. Israel’s pain in exile is God’s pain as well, and one must hope that God will rebuild His sanctuary for His own sake as well as Israel’s.

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