Today’s daf (Brachot 45b) records a fascinating episode where Yehudah bar Mereimar, Mar bar Rav Ashi and Rav Acha of Difti shared a meal and are just about to recite Birkat HaMazon.
As the Gemara describes, according to their understanding the rule is that when three people sit together, the greatest of the three (either in Torah scholarship or in age) should be honoured with leading the zimun and reciting Birkat HaMazon for the group. In this instance, however, this group of three scholars were of the same age and there was no notable difference in their respective level of Torah scholarship. Given this, it was their contention that the duty to recite the zimun blessing did not apply in this instance and they therefore made the decision for each of them to recite Birkat HaMazon independently.
After the meal they came to Mereimar and informed him of what they had done. He replied by explaining that they had erred and that even in such an instance a zimun should have been formed.
To my mind this short story has much to teach us. On a purely halachic level, the three participants understood that a zimun is only required by a group where some form of hierarchy exists and where a group leader is clearly identifiable. But as they were taught by Mereimar, while Jewish law often speaks of the respect that we should show our elders and those who are learned in Torah, we should never avoid opportunities to further elevate our spiritual practice merely because no evident hierarchy exists.
Regrettably, the three participants could not see beyond their similarities and each likely claimed that they were no greater than the other and could not take the lead. However, notwithstanding the goodwill inherent in their positions, a stalemate arose and an opportunity was lost.
In our day there are occasions when religious rulings concerning the welfare of the wider Jewish community could be made to the betterment of our community. Yet I often hear similar sentiments by local religious leaders that they are no greater than other leaders in the community and that it would be improper for them to take the initiative. Unfortunately, just like the above-mentioned meal, this can often lead to communal stalemate and lost opportunities.
Undoubtedly humility is an important trait that is valued within the Jewish tradition. But it is also important to remember that making a Kiddush Hashem – which at times can simply mean reciting extra words of praise of God in the zimun, and at other times developing valuable religious policies for communities – is also an important goal. At times humility can impede opportunities for making a Kiddush Hashem. Today’s Gemara should serve as a reminder that when this occurs, valuable opportunities are lost.