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Prayer pings #4

We'll take the next several Pings to explore the meaning and some of the halachot of the ברכות התורה, the brachot we recite each morning, concerning Torah study. (Artscroll, p.16)

It's surprising to discover that the general consensus among rabbinic scholars is that there is a Biblical mitzvah to recite brachot over Torah study. It's surprising because the entire institution of brachot - with rare exceptions like Friday night Kiddush and bentching - is a trademark rabbinic project. But so strong is the assumption that the Torah itself directs us to recite a blessing over Torah study, that when Rambam fails to list any such mitzvah in his tally of Biblical mitzvot, it is assumed that he believed that the blessing is so essential to Torah study, that it is implicit within the mitzvah of study itself. It is no different than the command to recite the verses, "My father was a wandering Aramean, etc." when presenting a basket of Bikkurim to the Kohen. The verbal recitation is so essential to the ritual, that it is literally inseparable from the ritual.

What underlying thought produced this idea that the blessing must be an essential component of study? That it must be as old and original as the mitzvah to study itself? To these questions, we have a ready answer. Our Talmudic Sages - the ones who elevated Torah study to its position as one of the three things upon which the world stands - never intended for study to be a means of attaining intellectual enlightenment, though this would be a welcome byproduct. They intended it rather, as a vehicle for cleaving to God, for slowly but steadily discovering God's will. Absent a blessing, Torah study would be a mere exercise of the mind. Intertwined with a blessing, study becomes a passion of the soul.

This is why the blessing describes the mitzvah not as ללמוד- to study, but לעסוק- to become absorbed in. And why the hoped-for result is not that we become יודעי תורתיך- knowers of Your Torah, rather יודעי שמך- knowers of Your name.

And most dramatically, we do not ask in the blessing, that the words of Torah "enlighten our eyes", rather that they be "sweet in our mouths". For the goal of the entire enterprise is that we be able to speak words that inspire, not deflate, words that encourage, not condemn, words that carry the sweetness of affection, not the sting of condescension. This is the successful end product of study that is, at its root, a religious activity.

This is the blessing. The rest is commentary.


--Rav Yosef

Mon, July 13 2020 21 Tammuz 5780