1) THE BLESSING FOR FIRE
QUESTION: In the Mishnah, Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel argue about the text of the blessing for fire. Beis Shamai says that the text is, "Bara Ma'or ha'Esh," and Beis Hillel says that the text is, "Borei Me'orei ha'Esh." The Gemara explains that everyone agrees that one may say "Bara" or "Borei." The argument is only whether one should say "Ma'or" or "Me'orei."
If everyone agrees that one may say "Bara" or "Borei," then why are the two differing terminologies quoted in the Mishnah which addresses their disagreement?
ANSWER: The VILNA GA'ON (in SHENOS ELIYAHU) explains that there are two types of fire for which we thank Hash-m. First, there is the concept of fire, which Hash-m created after the very first Shabbos. Second, there is the physical fire that we see in front of us. The original concept of fire that Hash-m created is intangible, colorless energy. On the other hand, the fire that we see can be described in terms of the different colors that comprise it.
Beis Shamai says that the blessing we say on Motza'ei Shabbos is in appreciation for the original concept of fire. Therefore, Beis Shamai maintains that the text of the blessing is "Bara" (in the past tense, since Hash-m created the concept of fire only once in the history of the world) and "Ma'or" (a single fire, because the concept of fire as energy is singular).
Beis Hillel says that the blessing for fire is also an expression of appreciation for tangible, perceptible fire like the flame that we hold before us on Motza'ei Shabbos, which appears as different colors and which we can create whenever we want. Therefore, the text of the blessing according to Beis Hillel is "Borei" (He constantly creates fire: He created the original fire and He creates every new flame) "Me'orei" (the different colors that appear in the physical flame). This is what the Gemara means when it says that the argument does not involve the definition of "Bara" and "Borei." The central point of the argument is which fire we thank Hash-m for on Motza'ei Shabbos ("Ma'or" or "Me'orei"). Whether we say "Bara" or "Borei" depends on that argument.
2) IDEOLOGICAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BEIS SHAMAI AND BEIS HILLEL
AGADAH: Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel disagree about the text of the blessing for the flame on Motza'ei Shabbos (see previous Insight). Beis Shamai says that the text is "Ma'or," and Beis Hillel says that the text is "Me'orei." This argument may reflect a general difference in their respective approaches to Halachah.
The ROGATCHOVER GA'ON presents the following approach. TOSFOS (52a, DH v'Rebbi Yehoshua) writes that the number of students of Beis Hillel was greater than the number of students of Beis Shamai. On the other hand, the students of Beis Shamai were intellectually sharper than their disputants in Beis Hillel.
Consequently, the students of Beis Shamai thought that the Halachah should follow their opinion because, although they were smaller in number than the students of Beis Hillel, they were greater in knowledge and intellectual acumen. Beis Shamai's approach is to focus on the "Tzurah," the essence. Therefore, they emphasized that the Halachah should be in accordance with the academy which is greater in essence, that is, in wisdom, and not in numbers.
Beis Hillel's approach, though, is to look at the "Chomer," the actual physical appearance of each entity. They maintained that the Halachah should follow their opinion, because in terms of physical presence (that is, the number of students), they were greater.
This difference in approach is reflected in many of the arguments between Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel. For example, in Chagigah (12a), Beis Shamai argues that "Shamayim," the heavens, were created first. The heavens (which represent the spiritual aspects of Creation) are the essence of Creation, its most essential and purposeful part (the "Tzurah"). Beis Hillel maintains that the "Aretz," the land, was created first. The land represents the physical appearance of Creation (the "Chomer").
If we apply the Rogatchover's words to our Sugya, the argument between Beis Hillel and Beis Shamai can be explained as a manifestation of their different approaches. Beis Shamai says that the blessing is made on the essence of fire, on the original concept of fire that Hash-m created (see previous Insight). Beis Hillel says that the blessing is made on the physical fire that is visible to us and is constantly recreated anew. (TESHUVOS TZAFNAS PANE'ACH #50 et al. See also the Hesped after Teshuvah #255, and Rav Zevin's L'OR HA'HALACHAH, chapter on "Snow," footnote #11, and Rav Kasher's introduction to TZAFNAS PANE'ACH on the Torah, Bereishis. See also Insights to Chagigah 12:1.)