Appreciating the Depths and Profundity of our Holy Torah
Taste of Talmud
The Talmud in Tractate Nedarim 81a makes an astonishing statement: None of the Prophets were able to comprehend “Al ma avda Haaretz”, how was it that we lost our land? The merit of Torah learning always protected us – what happened to this great merit? G-d Himself provided the answer through the Prophet Jeremiah (9:11) “Al azvam es Torasi” on account of them forsaking My Torah. The Ran explains that G-d was telling them that even though they were learning Torah, they were not learning it in the proper way; they were not learning “My” Torah. They had lost sight of the fact that Torah is the wisdom of G-d and the effort expended in understanding it must be “Lishma”, for its sake alone. We must seek to learn for the purpose of understanding what G-d wants and not for displaying our brilliance or any other peripheral considerations. In order to make sure we do not repeat this error, our sages instituted three blessings to be said in the morning prior to our coming to learn Torah. These blessings when said with the proper Kavana, focus our thoughts to appreciate that we are learning G-d’s Torah. The Pnei Yehoshua on Brachos 11b explains the three different dimensions of each of these blessings. The first Bracha, is a blessing much like any other blessing that is said prior to doing a Mitzvah, to note the fact that we are doing this solely because G-d commanded us to do so. The second blessing is to thank G-d for the enjoyment we have from learning Torah, much as we thank G-d before partaking of any pleasure in His world. Finally we say a blessing of praise, to praise G-d for having designated us as His nation and for bestowing upon us the great gift of His Torah! The Talmud in Nedarim explains that in the era prior to the Jewish exile from theland ofIsrael, these blessings were not being said. This resulted in their losing sight of the essence of Torah and thereby its essential protection. With this in mind we can understand why our sages strongly encourage us to say the blessings of the Torah with great feeling and concentration.
Taste of Halacha
Based upon the reasoning which we laid out in Taste of Talmud, what would you say the Halacha would be in the following scenarios?
1) If you are only planning on writing words of Torah but not annunciating them do you say the blessings of the Torah? 2) Is it appropriate for converts to say the words “who chose us”, in his recitation of the blessings of the Torah? 3) Upon arising in the morning, are women obligated to say the blessings of the Torah?
In Shulchan Aruch OC 47 the Halacha is decided that in all of these circumstances and by all of these people the blessings are recited because the blessings of the Torah are not just said prior to doing the Mitzvah of reciting Torah but also to praise and thank G-d for giving the Jewish nation the extremely pleasurable gift of studying Torah which is applicable in all of these circumstances and to all of these people.
Now, what would you say to the following queries?
1) If you did not study Torah immediately after reciting the blessings of the Torah are you obligated to repeat them? 2) If you took a nap in the middle of the day are you obligated to repeat the blessings of the Torah in order to learn more Torah that day? 3) Must you repeat the blessings of the Torah every time you learn?
The answer is, no: By saying the blessing one time at the beginning of each day a person fulfills his obligation because the obligation of learning Torah is constant. Therefore, when a Jew says the three blessings in the morning, he has in mind that he will be learning Torah throughout the day and he is acknowledging, thanking, and praising, G-d for these precious opportunities to connect with Him.
Taste of Parasha
A Roman emperor asked a man named Akiloos, “Why did you convert to Judaism?” Akiloos answered, “In order to study the Torah.” “Why do you have to convert to learn their Torah?” asked the emperor. Akiloos explained, “In the Torah it is written, ‘He teaches His words to the descendants of Jacob, His statutes and laws to the nation of Israel’. Torah includes a lot more than some nice ideas about how to govern society. From the secrets of the verses, to the intricacies and understanding of the Talmud, to the precision of the laws, it is all reserved for the Jewish Nation. Without converting I am not able to truly understand all the different aspects of the Torah.” The Netziv, (Rabbi Naftali T. Y. Berlin) derives this phenomenon from this week’s Parasha. It is possible for a gentile to glean some understanding and direction from the Torah. However, a full appreciation and enjoyment of the great wisdom and profundity with which the Torah is laden, is only possible for one who is not weighed down by the earthly dross of a life devoted to physical pursuits. The laws of the Torah and the lifestyle which it promotes, afford a person heightened spiritual awareness and ability to absorb the G-dly wisdom conveyed in the details of the Talmud and Halacha. The Netziv sees this from the way the Torah in this week’s Parasha categorizes its own content into different categories. In Chapter 18 verse 4, it says, “you should keep my laws, and my statutes you should keep”. Then, in the next verse it reverses the order and repeats “You should keep my statutes and my laws and you should keep them and live by them”. The second verse is referring to this higher level of knowledge, an appreciation of G-d’s will, attainable only to those previously purified by keeping the laws and statutes laid out in the first!