When I was studying Berachot 12, I had a mini-experience that is exactly what Torah study should be.
On 12b, Rabbah bar Chinana Sava taught in the name of Rav that anyone who could have prayed for compassion/mercy (rachamim) for another but didn't is called a sinner. I was thinking about this for some reason while I was standing on the curb outside Logan Airport waiting for about 15 minutes for a van to pick me up. I started thinking that this teaching is a kind of logical impossibility. How is it even possible that there is such a thing as a person who can't pray for another person? Also, how is it even possible for me to pray for every person who might need a prayer for mercy? The teaching seemed either over- or under-inclusive.
So I was looking around at all the people getting out of the airport, getting into cars or buses, and thinking, "Okay, I pray for that one and I pray for that one and I pray for that one..." and as I was walking back and forth for about the third time, I passed a young woman who looked like she was of college age sitting on a bench. And I happened to look down and see that she had an immobilizing boot on one of her feet.
So I said to myself, "Wow, the exact moment I'm reflecting on this teaching and here is someone who could really use a prayer for mercy and healing. I pray for her." Of course she was sitting right there, and saying that prayer to myself felt a little silly and a lot incomplete. Maybe she needs help with her suitcase! But that would be weird, she is just sitting there. Anyway, it turned out we were getting on the same van, so here was a random person I was connected to -- in that moment, the exact quarter-hour I was thinking about this particular teaching.
I offered to help her with the suitcase. Which she didn't need, but appreciated that. We chatted a little bit on the van.
I still am not sure what the teaching means. Yosef Chayim of Baghdad asks: In what situation would a person be unable to pray for someone else? He muses that a person might be so overcome with concern for another that he can't compose himself to pray. Or he might be in so much of his own suffering that he can't pray for someone else. But he wonders why the Talmud itself doesn't suggest these, and leaves the category of "unable to pray for another" undefined and possibly empty on purpose.
My teacher Rabbi Joseph Lukinsky z"l taught us that when we study the week's Torah reading, there are two approaches. The usual one is to look for something in it that is relevant to our lives or our world. The other way, he said, is to make whatever happens to be in that week's Torah relevant -- to look for some connection. In this case, Daf Yomi brought me a teaching, and made me realize that something I would have usually seen as an empty experience -- waiting for a pickup at the airport -- was a spiritual prompt.