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prayer pings #6

Commenting on the Talmud's discussion about ברכות התורה (the daily Torah blessings), Tosafot asks why these blessings are different from all other blessings that are recited prior to the performance of a mitzvah. In all other cases, if a person recites the bracha and performs the mitzvah, and then at some time later in the day desires to perform that mitzvah again, she recites the bracha again as well. "Yet we", Tosafot asks, "who do not learn Torah in the morning - for we are busy at that hour - and then at midday or even later find a time to learn, why do we do not recite the brachot over the Torah a second time?"

Tosafot answers, "Torah study is different, in that we never completely resign ourselves to being in a state of non-learning, for we know that the mitzvah to learn is day and night. And so all day long, no matter what we are doing, it is as if we are in a state of learning".

Tosafot implies that this is also why - again unlike other brachot over mitzvot - the bracha over Torah study does not need to be followed immediately by its "act" at all. It's not a problem that we recite these brachot in the morning, and then don't actually study till many hours later. Because the mitzvah of study is always on our minds. Tosafot cites the custom of the French Jews (which is our universal custom today) to specifically engage in a measure of Torah study - the priestly blessing and the Mishna of אלו דברים - immediately after the brachot, but then insists that there is no actual need to do this. For even when we are not actively learning, we are thinking about when we will be actively learning. And this intention, this yearning, suffices.

The Shulchan Aruch codifies this law that a person who has stopped learning and turned his attention to other matters, does not have to repeat the brachot upon returning to learning, "because his intention is to return to learning". One of the commentaries infers from this that if a person were truly not intending to learn any more, than he would need to recite the brachot again when he changes his mind later. But this opinion is rejected, "for the Shulchan Aruch did not say 'if his intention is to return to learning', rather 'because his intention is to return to learning'. A person always has in mind that if a spare minute would by chance present itself, he would take that moment to learn."

The Halacha here is making an assertion about our core identity. We are people who are either learning Torah, or who are thinking about when we will be doing so next. Or perhaps, that even when we are doing something other than learning, we are constantly on the lookout for a Torah teaching that this is embedded within this other activity. Or both.

When we recite the morning brachot over Torah study, we are not merely blessing. We are aspiring.

 

--Rav Yosef

Sun, November 17 2019 19 Cheshvan 5780