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prayer pings #7

In our final look at ברכות התורה, I want to examine the concluding text that comes from Masechet Shabbat 127a. We already know that the rabbis chose to follow the blessings for Torah study with texts from the Torah, Mishnah, and Gemara. But what is fascinating is that the version of the Gemara text we have is NOT the original version. Instead, it is a version that was carefully constructed for our tefillah. Let's look at our text:

אֵלּוּ דְבָרִים שֶׁאָדָם אוכֵל פֵּרותֵיהֶם בָּעולָם הַזֶּה וְהַקֶּרֶן קַיֶּמֶת לו לָעולָם הַבָּא. וְאֵלּוּ הֵן: כִּבּוּד אָב וָאֵם. וּגְמִילוּת חֲסָדִים. וְהַשְׁכָּמַת בֵּית הַמִּדְרָשׁ. שַׁחֲרִית וְעַרְבִית. וְהַכְנָסַת אורְחִים. וּבִקּוּר חולִים. וְהַכְנָסַת כַּלָּה. וּלְוָיַת הַמֵּת. וְעִיּוּן תפילה. וַהֲבָאַת שָׁלום בֵּין אָדָם לַחֲבֵרו וּבֵין אִישׁ לְאִשְׁתּו. וְתַלְמוּד תּורָה כְּנֶגֶד כֻּלָּם:

These are the things whose fruits a person enjoys in this world but whose principal remains intact for him or her in the World to Come, and these are them: the honor due to father and mother, acts of kindness, early attendance at the house of study morning and evening, hospitality to guests, visiting the sick, providing for a bride, escorting the dead, absorption in prayer, and bringing peace between man and his fellow, and the study of Torah is equal to them all.

Our version combines two different אלו דברים lists from the original Gemara but notably adds one of its own, וּלְוָיַת הַמֵּת (escorting the dead), and leaves out two, המגדל בניו לתמוד תורה והדן את חברו לכף זכות (someone who raises children to learn Torah and someone who judges others favorably). Why did Chazal choose to edit our Gemara for the siddur so that we davka daven the version we have today?

The answer is that our version is meant to communicate the value of Torah in our daily lives in a way that affirms the blessings we have just said. All of the things on our list involve giving without expecting anything in return, whether that means giving of our physical, spiritual, or emotional selves to our parents, guests, or God. This theme is most embodied in the addition of וּלְוָיַת הַמֵּת because giving to the deceased is the ultimate gift that is given without expecting anything in return. It then makes sense that Chazal excluded raising a child who learns Torah and judging another favorably from our list in the siddur because each come with expectations-- either that a child will be observant/happy/learned or that another person will act rightly.

Learning Torah is the ultimate expression of giving without expecting something in return and thus is כנגד כלם, equal to all on our list. Talmud Torah is לשמה, for the sake of God's name, and the ability to live לשמה, to give without expectation is a middah that we need to cultivate in ourselves. Two months from now we may not remember all of the details of a sugya we learn today, but that doesn't take away from the value of learning. And in the fabric of the edited text, Chazal show us that not only are we supposed to learn Torah, but we are also supposed to relearn and even insert ourselves, so that the words we have said a thousand times take on new meaning.


--Rabbanit Alissa

Mon, July 13 2020 21 Tammuz 5780