In the Mishnah, Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel argue about the text of the blessing for fire. Beit Shamai says that the text is, “Bara Ma’or ha’Esh,” and Beit 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?
The Vilna Ga’on explains that there are two types of fire for which we thank God. First, there is the concept of fire, which God created after the very first Shabbat. Second, there is the physical fire that we see in front of us. The original concept of fire that God 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.
Beit Shamai says that the blessing we say on Motza’ei Shabbat is in appreciation for the original concept of fire. Therefore, Beit Shamai maintains that the text of the blessing is “Bara” (in the past tense, since God 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). This reminds me of the platonic forms. Plato’s theory of Forms or theory of Ideas asserts that non-material abstract (but substantial) forms (or ideas), and not the material world of change known to us through sensation, possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. This is what Beit Shammai want to recognise in their formulation of the blessing.
Beit 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 Shabbat, which appears as different colors and which we can create whenever we want. Therefore, the text of the blessing according to Beit 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 Talmud 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 God for on Motza’ei Shabbat (“Ma’or” or “Me’orei”). Whether we say “Bara” or “Borei” depends on that argument.
Shavua Tov and Gmar Chatima Tova