One Who Was Reading in the Torah
“One who was reading the Torah, and the time for the recitation of the Shema came — if he intended it, he has fulfilled his obligation” (Berachot 13a)
Using this topic, we will clarify that the Talmudic give-and-take, that is, the didactic dialogue of our rabbis, is one of the most strange things. But it is appropriate to first cite the words of the Ramchal in Derech Tvunot, for he agrees with our opinion and outlook: “What you must know is that all this give-and-take [in the Gemara] is based on the basic principles which are part of the human mind’s nature and according to which we understand things said to us and accept opinions — for on these principles all questions and answers, proofs and rejections are built, as are all the other things we analyze. For example, they said (in Berachot 15a): ‘One who recites [but does not hear himself reciting the Shema, is considered as one who] has fulfilled his obligation post factum, but [he is] not [to act thus deliberately] from the start.’ This is in accordance with the way our mind understands things: this statement refers to one who has already recited [the Shema].”
Let us look at an example. It is clear that what our mind understands from the sentence “One who was reading the Torah, and the time for the recitation of the Shema came — if he intended it, he has fulfilled his obligation,” is that a person is reading the Torah (the section in which the verses of the Shema appear, but reads them just as a part of the text, not specifically for the sake of the commandment of reciting the Shema). This being the case, when the time comes for recitation of the Shema, he must specifically intend his reading of the Torah to be a fulfillment of this commandment. Therefore the conclusion is that fulfillment of commandments requires intent.
But the opinion of Rava in Tractate Rosh Hashanah 28b is that fulfillment of commandments does not require intent, so what does Rava do about the contradictory statement in the mishnah? The Gemara asks this question in Berachot 13a: “We learn from the mishnah that fulfillment of commandments requires intent [yet Rava claims that the fulfillment of commandments does not require intent]. [They explained:] What does it mean, ‘If he intended it’? While he was reading to proofread.” And Rashi explicates: “While he was proofreading a scroll to see if it has errors, not even intending to read it as a text.” But the Tosfot asked (s.v. b’koreh l’hagia): “Even so, he did read it” — that is, the person in question still pays attention to the words’ meaning, even if he does not specifically intend to fulfill the commandment of reciting the Shema. It has already been said that according to Rava, one who blows the shofar, even just for the music’s sake, fulfills his obligation to blow the shofar, as brought in tractate Rosh Hashanah 28a. Why does he fulfill his obligation regarding the shofar, even without intent, but not regarding the Shema if he reads without intent? The Tosfot explained: “It is spoken of one who reads to proofread, and does not read words as they are, with their vowelizations… [and according to the Tosfot, the phrase] “If he intended it” is not exactly what is meant, but what is meant is reading the words as they are, with vowelization and all.”
Now see for yourself the twisting and distortion of language and logic. The mishnah says “one who was reading,” and the Tosfot say he was not reading at all, he was only proofreading, and read only portions of words. The mishnah says “if he intended,” and the Tosfot say about the words of the Mishnah, “[it] is not exactly what is meant”! Everything is its exact opposite! This is precisely how we neglect “the basic principles which are part of the human mind’s nature,” as the Ramchal said. Moreover, the Mishnah, when it wants to refer to precise reading, does not use the term “to intend,” but says things clearly. Thus, it states explicitly in Berachot 15a: “One who read but was not precise about the letters — R’ Yossi says: he did not fulfill his obligation.” Therefore, why were all these distortions made? Only to save the view of Rava, who claimed that fulfillment of commandments does not require intent. Instead of saying that Rabba erred, as in other cases which ended with a refutation (this is one of the things we find puzzling, that sometimes the Sages rejected the words of an Amora because they contradicted the plain wording of the Mishnah, and sometimes they did not reject the view but distorted the wording instead), they distort the plain and reasonable meaning.
Come see how far the matter goes: In tractate Rosh Hashanah 28b the Gemara questions Rava’s claim that fulfillment of commandments does not require intent, based on the Mishnah (ibid., 27b) where it says: “One who worked behind a synagogue or whose home was near a synagogue, and heard the sound of the shofar or the reading of the megillah — if he intended [to fulfill the commandment], he has fulfilled it, and if not, he is not; for even though the both heard it, one intended [to fulfill the commandment] and the other did not.” Here the mishnah explicitly states that intention to fulfill the commandment is required when hearing the shofar or the megillah, as opposed to what Rava said. How does the Gemara settle this unambiguous contradiction? On folio 28b: “He thought it was merely a donkey” — that is, the one who heard the sound thought it was a donkey braying and did not know it was a shofar. But if he knew it was a shofar, even if he heard it as merely an ordinary tune without intending to fulfill the commandment, he would have fulfilled it. It is amazing: the mishnah says, “Even though the both heard it, one intended and the other did not,” but according to Rava, this is to be interpreted as meaning: “Even though they both heard it, one intended [and therefore knew it was a shofar] and the other did not [and therefore thought it was a donkey].” How great is intention, that it can turn a donkey’s braying into the shofar’s sound! There is no end to nonsense and absurdity. But more than that, what would Rava say about one who hears the reading of the megillah, also mentioned in the mishnah? Perhaps he would think it’s the wicked Bilaam’s donkey reading the Scroll of Esther? Anyone who hears it would laugh. The great rabbi Aryeh Leib OBM, author of Shaagat Aryeh, asked in Turei Even on Rosh Hashanah 28b: “But regarding the sound of the megillah… ‘If he intended’ — what can be said? Can it be said that he thought a man’s voice reading words and letters was the braying of a donkey?” And the answer there is no.
But you, the reader who desires truth, should know that in certain cases the poskim ignore the opinion of the Gemara. In tractate Rosh Hashanah 28a, it is said: “If they forced him [to eat matza] and he ate matza, he has fulfilled his obligation… Rava said: this means that one who heard the blowing [of the shofar] as a song, has fulfilled [his obligation, and this was so obvious to the Gemara that it asked] Isn’t this obvious that it is the same?” (And they wrote that there could be reason for a distinction, see there.)
And the Shulchan Aruch, in Orach Chaim paragraph 475, halacha four, says: “If one ate matza without intent, such as if he was forced to eat it by gentiles or bandits, he has fulfilled his obligation.”
But in paragraph 589, halacha eight, he says: “One who blew [the shofar] as a song and did not intend to blow it for the sake of the commandment has not fulfilled his obligation.”
The Gemara explicitly states that the rule is the same for one who blows in song (meaning without intent) and one who is forced to eat matza; the Shulchan Aruch comes along and separates the issues.
And if you look carefully, you who seeks truth, you will find that there are many such cases. These are the cases where Chazal push off, distort, and pervert the wording, and the poskim sometimes maintain the Gemara’s version and sometimes ignore it. We will bring many more such examples in writing about the Talmudic issues; and all who read will know and will see.
Words of True Knowledge