July 17, 2009
A Profound Disagreement on How to Live Jewish Lives –By Rabbi Hyim Shafner
The Mishna in Berachot (53b) states: “With regard to one who ate a meal and forgot to say the bircat hamazon (grace after meals), Bais Shamai says they must return to their place and say the grace, Bais Hillel says they should say grace in the place they are when they remember.”
The Talmud on this Mishna comments: “We learned in a Berita (an uncannonized Mishna), Bais Hillel said to Bais Shamai, “According to your opinion, if one ate on top of a hill, are you saying they would they have to climb back up to recite the grace after meals?” Replied Bais Shamai to Bais Hillel, “If someone forgot their wallet on top of a hill would they not climb back up for it? If one would return up the hill for their own honor, for the honor of heaven how much more so should they.”
This is an interesting and surprising argument between Bais Shamai and Bais Hillel. Isn’t Bais Shamai right? If we would go back up the hill for ourselves, should we not return to say the grace after meals for God? What is Bais Hillel’s reason for disagreeing with Bais Shami’s opinion?
The following piece of Talmud (Betza 15a) may shed some light: “They say about Shami the elder that all his days he would eat in honor of the Shabbat. If he found a nice animal one day he would say, “This one is to eat for Shabbat.” The next day if he found another one that was better than the first he would put aside the second one to save for Shabbat and eat the first animal. But Hillel the elder had a different path, all of his deeds were for the sake of heaven, as it says in the verse, “Bless god each day.”
Though Hillel and Shami were both great sages they had very different takes on how to live a Jewish life. To elucidate I will rewrite the preceding two arguments in the form of a conversation.
Bais Hillel: You can bench (say grace after meals) wherever you remember.
Both opinions are the word of the Living God, but the halacha (the law, the path) follows Bais Hillel, (Aruvin 13b).