1) "ES LA'ASOS LA'HASH-M"
OPINIONS: The Mishnah cites the verse, "Es la'Asos la'Hashem..." -- "It is a time to act for Hash-m; they have annulled Your Torah" (Tehilim 119:126), to prove that one may use the name of Hash-m to greet his fellow man. The Mishnah then quotes Rebbi Nasan who reverses the order of the two phrases in the verse. What is Rebbi Nasan adding?
(a) RASHI and the BARTENURA seem to understand that Rebbi Nasan is merely explaining "they have annulled Your Torah," the last verse that the Mishnah cites. Rebbi Nasan explains that one should "annul the Torah" in the event that it is "a time to act for Hash-m." That is, even though it appears to be against the Torah to use the name of Hash-m to greet someone, the Chachamim permit it in order to increase peace among people (as another verse states, "Bakesh Shalom v'Radfehu" -- "Seek peace and pursue it"). Therefore, using the name of Hash-m to greet someone is considered "acting for the sake of Hash-m."
(b) The RAMBAM explains that Rebbi Nasan and the first Tana are arguing about the explanation of the verse. (The Rambam's text of the Mishnah does not include the word "Mishum.") Rebbi Nasan explains that the verse is saying that when people do not keep the Torah (for example, they treat with disrespect the enactments mentioned at the end of the Mishnah) -- "[when they] annul the Torah," Hash-m will punish them, for it is "a time for Hash-m to punish." According to the Rambam, Rebbi Nasan interprets the word "la'Asos" not as "to act" or "to do," but "to punish."
The first Tana is saying something entirely different. When it is "a time for Hash-m to punish" people for their earlier sins, "they will annul the Torah" -- the people will transgress the Torah in order that it be clear to all that they are deserving of the punishment that comes to them, and no one will question the justness of the punishment. (Even though this seems to contradict the notion of free choice, the Rambam alludes to what he writes in Hilchos Teshuvah 5:5, that Hash-m's knowledge of future sin is beyond our comprehension.)
2) THE BLESSING FOR A MIRACLE
QUESTION: The Mishnah gives a list of different blessings that one is obligated to recite on various occasions. One of these is a blessing upon seeing a place where miracles were wrought for the Jewish people. Concerning this blessing the Gemara asks, "What is the source for this blessing?"
Why does the Gemara not ask what the source is for all the other blessings in the Mishnah (see RASHI DH Hachi Garsinan)?
Moreover, the Gemara usually asks for the source of a Halachah when that Halachah is mid'Oraisa. Here, though, we are discussing blessings that are mid'Rabanan. Why, then, does the Gemara ask for a source?
ANSWER: We learned earlier (35a) that the obligation to recite blessings is a rabbinical obligation based on Sevara, logic. Accordingly, the source for almost all of the blessings mentioned in the Mishnah here is the Sevara that one who derives benefit from something in this world must recite a blessing. However, there is one blessing to which this logic does not seem to apply -- the blessing for miracles, for the following reasons:
When Hash-m performs a miracle for a person, that person usually worries that his merits in heaven have been diminished (that is, that the miracle performed for him in this world partially depleted his portion of eternal reward in the World to Come). Therefore, it does not seem appropriate to recite a blessing in such a situation.
Second, all the blessings in the Mishnah are recited at the moment that the event occurs. The blessing for a miracle, though, is recited long after the event has occurred, which seems illogical.
Finally, even someone who did not personally experience the miracle recites the blessing for a miracle that happened to the Jewish people. Why does he need to recite a blessing for that which he himself never experienced?
Accordingly, the blessing for a miracle seems to defy logic, and therefore the Gemara seeks the source for this blessing. (TZELACH; see PNEI YEHOSHUA who suggests a similar explanation.)
3) THE ROCK OF OG
AGADAH: The Gemara relates how Hash-m miraculously saved the Jews from the mountain that the giant Og wanted to throw on them. The RASHBA explains that this account is not necessarily meant to be understood in its literal sense. Rather, it may be understood allegorically, as follows:
(a) "Og lifted a rock large enough to cover the entire encampment of Yisrael." The Gemara in Nidah (61a) teaches that Og was the one who came to notify Avraham Avinu of Lot's capture (Bereishis 14:13). The Gemara explains that Moshe Rabeinu was afraid that this merit of Og's would prevent the Jewish people from conquering Og and from entering Eretz Yisrael. Og was confident that he would win for this very reason, as he had the merit of helping Avraham Avinu, while the Jews themselves should have lost his merit since, as the Midrash tells us, they served idols in Egypt just as the Egyptians did (and they sinned in the desert with the Golden Calf). Og felt that the merit of Avraham Avinu was on his side.
The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 11a, Sanhedrin 81a) tells us that the forefathers are compared to mountains. Og lifted up the merit of Avraham Avinu onto his own shoulders, in an attempt to reverse its effects, to prevent Avraham's merit from protecting the Jewish people and to use it instead to destroy them.
(b) "Locusts ('Kamtzi,' according to the Aruch) infested the mountain. They ate through the mountain until it crashed down on his head. He could not remove it because his teeth extended and anchored it in place." Locusts are a metaphor for the Jewish people. The verse compares the Jewish people to an ox that completely devours all the grass around it (Bamidbar 22:4), because the power of the Jewish people is in their mouth (Rashi, ibid.) that speaks words of Torah and praises of Hash-m. Likewise, they may be compared to locusts, who wreak havoc on growing produce with their mouths. The Jews overcame Og; the merit of their forefathers aided them.
(c) "Moshe Rabeinu, who was ten Amos tall, took an ax ten Amos long, jumped ten Amos and struck Og in the ankle, which knocked him down and killed him." Moshe Rabeinu was able to conquer the merits of Og only by invoking the combined merits of the entire nation of Yisrael and of the forefathers.
"Moshe Rabeinu was ten amos tall" -- Moshe Rabeinu utilized his own merits. "He took an ax ten Amos long" -- he used the combined merits of the Jewish people, who were with him, like a tool that one carries in his hand. "He jumped up ten Amos" -- he jumped up to the previous generations to invoke the merits of the forefathers. All of their merits combined to successfully defeat Og.
The Rashba does not explain why the number "ten" is used, other than to suggest that ten Amos was Moshe Rabeinu's height (as mentioned in Shabbos 92a). Perhaps Moshe Rabeinu's ten-Amah height represents the merit of the ten Makos that he brought upon Egypt, the ten Amos of the ax represent the merit of the Ten Commandments that the Jews accepted, and the ten Amos that he jumped represent the ten tests that Avraham Avinu endured through his love for Hash-m.
(d) One point remains to be explained. If this account is allegorical, as the Rashba writes, then how can one recite a blessing on a rock that never existed? The Rashba answers that the blessing is not recited when one sees the mountain that Og allegorically lifted. The blessing is recited when one sees the tangible, real rock or group of rocks (catapult rocks) that Og had prepared as artillery to throw upon the Jews. These tremendous rocks demonstrate the miraculous salvation of the Jews from Og's scheme. The Rashba explains that it is for this reason that the Gemara says that the blessing is recited on the rock that Og wanted to throw, while the story describes the mountain with which he wanted to destroy the Jews.
4) FULFILLING ONE'S OBLIGATION BY SAYING "AMEN"
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that after Rav Yehudah recovered from a life-threatening illness, the Rabanan said to him, "Blessed is Hash-m Who gave you back to us!" Rav Yehudah responded, "You have exempted me from my obligation to recite a blessing of thanksgiving." The Gemara asks how he was exempt if he did not say anything. It answers that he said "Amen" after their blessing.
What is the Gemara's question? We know that a person fulfills his obligation to recite a blessing through hearing someone else say the blessing ("Shome'a k'Oneh"), even if he does not respond "Amen"! (See Insights to Berachos 21:3
(a) One does not need to respond "Amen" to someone else's blessing in order to fulfill his own obligation if the person who recites the blessing is also obligated to recite it. However, if the person who recites the blessing is not obligated to recite it (as in the case of the Gemara here), the one who is obligated must respond "Amen" in order to fulfill his obligation. (TUR OC 219, cited by the MA'ADANEI YOM TOV and DIVREI CHAMUDOS)
(b) The RITVA explains that Rav Yehudah had to answer Amen because the Rabanan had no intention to exempt him from his obligation with their exclamation.
These two answers seem to be based on the same line of reasoning. When one fulfills his obligation through "Shome'a k'Oneh," the one who listens fulfills his obligation through the utterance of the other person. When one answers "Amen" after hearing a blessing, it is as if he himself said the words of the blessing that came out of the other person's mouth. Therefore, when the other person fulfills no obligation, the person listening fulfills no obligation either, since he did not say the blessing himself. Similarly, the one who says the blessing must have in mind to exempt the listener from his obligation, and he must use the exact wording that the listener would use.
(c) REBBI AKIVA EIGER suggests that Rav Yehudah had to say "Amen" since the Rabanan expressed the Berachah in a manner that would not have sufficed for him had he used the same wording. They thanked Hash-m in the third person ("you" survived, referring to Rav Yehudah), while he had to thank Hash-m in the first person ("I" survived).
(d) The RE'AH says that Rav Yehudah also would have fulfilled his obligation through "Shome'a k'Oneh" without answering "Amen." The Re'ah's text of the Gemara does not include the question, "But he (Rav Yehudah) did not say anything." This is the text of the RIF as well.