Tuesday, December 14, 2010

the multiple facets of talmud torah

I wrote earlier about the focus of Brisk on the “4 amos of halacha.” It would be wrong to assume that this focus, for all its narrowness, excludes an appreciation of devikus, of avodah, etc. While these might not be viewed as independent values (as they are in the world of chassidus), they nonetheless still exist, subsumed under and part and parcel of the experience of talmud Torah.

The Rambam counts tefilah as a mitzvas aseh d’oraysa (Sefer haMitzvos #5). In addition to citing the derasha of “Ulavdozu tefilah,” the Rambam also cites a derasha of, “U’lavdozu talmud.” Rav Soloveitchik (Shiurim l’Zecher Aba MoriBirchas haTorah) notes that the implication of the Rambam is that talmud Torah itself is a kiyum in avodah. Study of Torah is not merely an intellectual endeavor, but is an act of devotion.

The Rambam writes in ch 3 of Hil T”T:

אף על פי שמצוה ללמוד ביום ובלילה, אין אדם למד רוב חכמתו אלא בלילה; לפיכך מי שרצה לזכות בכתר התורה, ייזהר בכל לילותיו, ולא יאבד אפילו אחת מהן בשינה ואכילה ושתייה ושיחה וכיוצא בהן, אלא בתלמוד תורה ודברי חכמה. אמרו חכמים, אין גורנה של תורה אלא לילה, שנאמר "קומי רוני בלילה"

If the pasuk of “Kumi roni balayla” refers to Torah study, how are we to interpret the end of the pasuk, “Shifchi kamayim libeich?” What does this pouring forth of the soul have to do with the heady intellectual experience of learning? This is exactly the Navi's point -- the stirring of the neshoma is as much a kiyum and part of talmud Torah as it is of tefilah.

The gemara (BK 81) derives from pesukim in Parshas Beshalach that Moshe Rabeinu instituted kri’as haTorah on Monday, Thursday, and Shabbos so that three days should not pass without Torah study. What was the nature of this takanah of public Torah study? Parshas Beshalach is pre-mattan Torah – there was no mitzvah of talmud Torah; there was no formal corpus of Torah to study!? Apparently this study of Torah was not done in fulfillment of any technical requirement of the mitzvah talmud Torah, but was a means of the people forging a relationship with Hashem (compare with the Shem m'Shmuel we discussed here.)

This notion can help us answer Tos. (Brachos 11) question of why we do not recite a new bracha every time we sit down to learn just as we recite a new bracha every time we (to take one example) enter the sukkah. The bracha on sukkah relates solely to the ma'aseh mitzvah of sitting in sukkah. Not so birchas haTorah, which relates more generally to this relationship between man and G-d forged by Torah. Even when one closes the gemara, the roshem of this relationship remains intact and reverberates throughout the day.

This is the meaning of the term “crown of Torah” used by the Rambam, similar to the crown of kehunah and malchus. Just as kehunah and malchus endow the individual with special qualities others lack, the study of Torah is not just a mechanical act of study, but produces a trans formative effect on one’s personality and character.


  1. According to the gri"z birchas hatorah is a birchas hashevach

  2. I beg to differ. The GRI"Z holds it is a birchas hamitzvah on the cheftzah shel Torah. That's not at all the same thing as saying it's a brichas hashevach.

  3. What's your source?