Sukkah 46

Science and Health

We live in a world that seems obsessed with efficiency. Read any business magazine and you’ll encounter discussions of boosting, scaling, streamlining, diving deep, doing more with less, magic bullets, silver bullets, taking things to the next level, trimming fat and fighting that most terrifying of all enemies: friction. Today’s daf offers an important counterpoint to this modern discourse. 

The sages taught: If one had several mitzvot before him to fulfill, he recites: “Blessed (are you, Lord our God) who has sanctified us with his mitzvot.”

Rabbi Yehuda says: He recites a blessing over each and every one in and of itself. 

According to the sages, a person fulfilling multiple mitzvot can say a single catch-all blessing that covers all of them. Rabbi Yehuda disagrees — the person must recite an individualized blessing for each and every mitzvah.

We can imagine that this question would be especially relevant on Sukkot, when there are so many mitzvot that can be fulfilled one after the other — waving the lulav and etrog, sitting in the sukkah — on top of the usual mitzvot performed on any Jewish holiday (Hallel, Torah reading, plus blessings on wine and bread, and Grace After Meals). 

So, majority rules? Should we say the catch-all blessing, as the sages recommend? Not so fast!

Rabbi Zeira said, and some say that it was Rabbi Hanina bar Pappa who said: The halakhah is in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda.

Stopping and marking every mitzvah with its own blessing takes time, energy and spiritual intention. Why can’t we save time and move on to other things?! Just think about how many more pages of Gemara we could learn if we weren’t taking so much time saying blessings! The daf explains that Rabbi Yehuda’s reasoning is also connected to time. 

What is the rationale for the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda? It is as it is written: “Blessed is the Lord, day by day.” (Psalms 68:20) The question arises: Is it so that one blesses (God) by day and does not bless him at night? Rather, the verse comes to tell you: Each and every day, give the Lord the blessings appropriate for that day. Here too, with regard to each and every matter, give him blessings appropriate to that matter.

Rather than trying to save time and be more efficient, Rabbi Yehuda’s reading of the verse in Psalms insist that we must take the time, and mark the time, to praise God for each and every mitzvah that we perform. 

In response to our culture of efficiency, a new “slow” movement has emerged in the last 30 years. The slow food movement pushes back against fast food, slow fashion pushes back against fast fashion and, most relevant to my own life, slow teaching challenges us to reshape education toward a deeper and more reflective engagement with ideas. Today’s daf reads as though it is adding another element to the slow movement — slow mitzvot. 

Each of these slow movements challenges us to be intentional about where we allow efficiency to take priority and where choosing to do things more slowly will lead to higher quality, more sustainability and deeper connection and meaning. And that’s certainly worthy of more blessings.

Read all of Sukkah 46 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on August 22nd, 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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