I remember the first time I learnt today’s daf (Beitzah 17a) because through the journey I went on then, I learnt many lessons that have stayed with me till today.
I was around 20 years old and was learning Beitzah with a chavruta, and we came to today’s daf where we find a debate about the bracha formula to be used in the Amidah when Shabbat and Yom Tov coincide. Rebbi rules that when this occurs, we should say מקדש השבת ישראל והזמנים – ‘who sanctifies the Shabbat, the Jewish people and the Festivals’, while others claimed that Rebbi had said that we should say מקדש ישראל והשבת והזמנים – ‘who sanctifies the Jewish people, and the Shabbat and the Festivals’.
Responding to this debate, Ravina then explained why the first version is correct. This is because the bracha refers to God as the sanctifier of Shabbat (which falls on the seventh day of every week independent of the actions of any person) and as the sanctifier of the Jewish people, while God has empowered the Jewish people – through the declaration of the New Moon – to determine when the Festivals fall. Thus, by saying מקדש השבת ישראל והזמנים, the ‘vav’ (meaning ‘and’) separates between those things that are sanctified by God, and those which are sanctified by the Jewish people.
The problem, however, was that precisely at that moment, I remembered the text that I recited in my siddur/machzor when Shabbat and Yom Tov coincide, namely: מקדש השבת וישראל והזמנים – ‘who sanctifies the Shabbat, and the Jewish people and the Festivals.’ Significantly, the difference was minor, but by having a ‘vav’ (‘and’) preceding both to the word ישראל (the Jewish people) and הזמנים (the Festivals), this suggested that there was a disconnect between God as sanctifier and the Jewish people and, consequently, the sanctification of the Festivals. I was confused, because the text of the bracha in the Gemara, along with Ravina’s explanation of the bracha, differed from what I was saying.
After some research, I then found out that the Rabbi Shlomo Luria, otherwise known as the Maharshal, raises this point in his ‘Yam Shel Shlomo’ commentary on the Gemara (while also acknowledging the possibility that some manuscripts of the Gemara may have differed with the text that we have). Yet notwithstanding this, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 487:1) rules that we should say מקדש השבת וישראל והזמנים – a text seemingly different to our Gemara and its logic, and while the Mishna Berura (seif katan 8 ) quotes the Maharshal and others who assert that the correct text should be without the ‘vav’ of וישראל, he writes אבל מנהגנו כהשלחן ערוך – ‘nevertheless, our custom is in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch.’
It should be noted that in making this remark, the Mishna Berura did not dismiss the logic underpinning my question and that of others. Instead, what he said was that, notwithstanding this logic, a longstanding custom – as recorded in the Shulchan Aruch – has developed to recite the bracha with the words מקדש השבת וישראל והזמנים and that we should be loyal to that custom.
Since this exploration a quarter century ago I have spent significant time learning about textual variants of the Gemara. I have attended lectures and courses on the subject. I have discussed this topic with experts. I have studied many books on the topic. And I have taught and written on the subject. Yet those brief words of the Mishna Berura that I read then have stayed with me until now – אבל מנהגנו כהשלחן ערוך – ‘nevertheless, our custom is in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch.’
Admittedly, there have been times where I have intellectually wrestled with these words – not only in terms of their application here, but in terms of many other examples as well. Still, it is hard to express in simple words what this brief response of אבל מנהגנו כהשלחן ערוך actually means. To answer, I would need to explain the significance and power of מנהג (custom), what is meant by מסורה (tradition), and the authority of the שולחן ערוך. And even if I did all this, there would likely be an emotional dimension that I still struggle to express in words about why praying the words our ancestors have prayed for centuries is so powerful.
True, this resolution may be unsatisfactory for some. But for me, notwithstanding the wrestling, I choose to accept this path over others.