Likkutei Sichos-Haazinu:The obligation for men and women to constantly learn Torah

The obligation for men and women to constantly learn Torah

(Likkutei Sichos Ha’azinu Vol. 14 Sicha)

Parshas Ha’azinu is one of the most unique Parshiyos in the Torah. It is known as the “song of testimony”; the song that carries with it the testimony of the Jewish people’s observance of G-d’s commandments and the effects of the lack of this observance. There is an ancient tradition of memorizing the Song of Haazinu.[1] The verse[2] states, “And now you shall write this song [of Haazinu[3]], and you shall teach it to Bnei Yisrael; place it in their mouths [memorize it[4]].” From here, we learn that the Jewish people in the times of Moshe were commanded to learn this song by heart.[5] This tradition of memorizing Parshas Haazinu has continued throughout the generations, as written by Gedolei Yisrael.[6] What is so unique about this Parsha, that of all the Parshiyos we find that specifically this Parsha is to be committed to memory? The answer is that this Parsha contains hidden messages intended for each Jew’s service of Hashem. The verses of the song are quite cryptic but indeed hint to the important and sublime matters. The Talmud derives from one of these verses, the obligation of reciting a blessing prior to Torah learning. In this talk, the Rebbe inquires as to what is unique about this blessing over Torah study that it requires a specific verse to teach us its obligation, and why it’s obligatory status cannot simply be due to the obligation of saying a blessing prior to doing a Mitzvah. The Rebbe explains that the blessing over Torah study is not simply a blessing over a Mitzvah but is also a blessing over the pleasure involved in the study of Torah, similar to a blessing said over a food. From here, the Rebbe inquires as to why women are obligated to say the blessing over Torah study, and as to if this reason of saying a blessing prior to receiving pleasure suffices also for obligating a woman’s blessing. This leads to a discussion of the reason for why the blessing over Torah study is only said once a day and is not repeated prior to studying Torah a second time even if an interval took place. The Rebbe concludes with a revolutionary novelty in regard to the obligation of woman to study Torah, and explains that unlike the common notion that women are completely exempt from studying Torah, in truth they are constantly obligated to study those laws that are applicable to them and it is due to this obligation of Torah study that even women are obligated in, that they therefore need to say a blessing prior to Torah study.

 

Explorations of the Sicha:

1.      Is the blessing recited prior to Torah learning a Biblical or Rabbinical obligation?

2.      Why do we say a blessing over Torah study? Why is it necessary to learn this obligation from the verse in Scripture? And, why do we say more than one blessing?

3.      Are women obligated in Torah learning? Must they say a blessing over Torah study? Why?

4.      Why is the blessing over Torah study said only once a day, and not prior to every learning session?

 

1. The Biblical source for the blessing of Birchas Hatorah:

It states in the Talmud:[7] From where do we learn that the blessing recited prior to Torah learning [i.e. Birchas Hatorah] is Biblical? As the verse[8] states “Ki Sheim Hashem Ekra Havu G-del Lelokeinu/As I will call the name of Hashem, bring greatness to our G-d.” Many Poskim[9] learn from this Gemara that Birchas Hatorah is a Biblical command, similar in severity to the Biblical obligation of reciting Grace after meals. Some Rishonim[10] even list this command as part of the 248 positive commands. Others[11] however learn it is of Rabbinical origin and the above statement of the Gemara is merely to find support of the Rabbinical decree within scripture. Whatever the case, the fact is that everyone agrees that there is a special verse from which we derive the Mitzvah of saying a blessing prior to learning Torah. This requires explanation, as the fact is that all Mitzvah’s require a blessing to be recited prior to their performance. What then is unique about the blessing over Torah learning that it requires a special verse to teach us of its obligation that we could not have learned from the general blessing obligation applicable prior to all Mitzvah’s? If the blessing is considered biblical, then it must contain some unique contrast to all other blessings which are only Rabbinical. Even if the blessing is Rabbinical there must be something unique about this blessing for which reason the Talmud derives it from a verse in Scripture and does not suffice with the obligatory status that it deserves as applicable by all Mitzvah’s.

2. The blessing over Torah learning is similar to Birchas Hanehnin:

One can suggest the following explanation: The blessing that is said prior to all Mitzvah’s is said as thanks to G-d for sanctifying us with His commands. However, the blessing that is said over Torah learning contains a special element, that it is said on the essence of the learning itself, similar to Birchas Hanehnin. In other words, the general blessing over Mitzvos is not a blessing of thanks and recognition to G-d for the pleasure that one receives from the individual Mitzvah, but rather a general token of appreciation for being sanctified with commands. Thus, it is not similar to blessings that are said over food, as a blessing over food is recited over the pleasure that one receives from the food itself. The blessing over a Mitzvah is due to the spiritual benefit that one receives from it, while the blessing over food is due to the physical pleasure one receives from it. This is precisely what is unique about the blessing said over Torah study, that it also includes a blessing over the actual physical pleasure of learning Torah similar to Birchas Hanehnin, in addition to the general blessing that is said prior to all Mitzvah’s due to its spiritual benefit.

This is why we say three blessings in Birchas Hatorah. The first blessing of “Al Divreiy Torah”. is said as a blessing that is said prior to all Mitzvah’s[12], while the other blessings are said as thanks to Hashem for giving us the physical pleasure of learning Torah.[13]

This is also implied from the wording of the Alter Rebbe in his Shulchan Aruch:[14] Therefore, every person must be careful that the Torah, which is the object of pleasure which G-d joyfully engages in daily[15], be of importance in his eyes. The Torah is to be of such importance in one’s eyes that he recites the blessing with greater joy than any other worldly pleasure.” From this wording, it is implied that one’s learning of Torah is meant to contain physical pleasure, and therefore we are required to say a blessing over it similar to blessing said over physical pleasure. This pleasure however is not simply due to the intellectual stimulation and pleasure one receives from Torah learning, but from the fact that G-d handed the Torah to the Jewish people and that one is able to connect to G-d through learning Torah. It is for this reason that these blessings are recited even prior to learning the written Torah even if one does not understand what he is saying.

3. Why are women obligated to recite a blessing prior to Torah learning?

The Poskim[16] rule that women are also to recite Birchas Hatorah. Now, although women are not obligated in Torah learning as are men, nevertheless, the Poskim explain that since they are obligated to learn the details of the positive and negative commands which they are obligated in, therefore they too are to recite a blessing prior to learning these laws.[17]

This reason however seems superfluous, as according to the above novelty that the blessing over Torah learning is not simply a blessing over the Mitzvah of Torah learning but rather on the essential pleasure of learning Torah, seemingly, women should need to say this blessing regardless of any learning obligation, as they too receive physical pleasure in Torah learning and need to bless Hashem for it just as they recite a blessing prior to eating a food.

4. Why is a blessing over Torah learning not recited prior to learning throughout the day?

The answer to the above can be understood through first introducing the reason for why we do not recite a blessing prior to every Torah learning session that takes place throughout the day. By all other Mitzvah’s and pleasures, the rule is that you say a blessing prior to each time that you fulfill the Mitzvah or received the pleasure that day. A blessing over Tefillin is recited each time he puts it on that day if an interval was made in between, and a blessing over food is recited each time one eats that day if an interval was made in between the two eating’s. For example, the Alter Rebbe rules regarding Tefillin that one who removed his Tefillin to use the bathroom, then he must repeat the blessing over them when putting them on after using the bathroom, being that it was forbidden for him to wear the Tefillin in the bathroom and it is thus considered an interval.[18] Why then do we rule regarding the blessing said over Torah learning, that according to all opinions it does not need to be repeated after using the bathroom, even though it is forbidden for him to study Torah in the bathroom. Why is this not considered an interval to require a new blessing as we require by Tefillin? Why is the blessing over Torah only said in the morning prior to one’s initial learning of the day, and not prior to each session of Torah learning even when a real interval was done? Now, if one were to argue that the reason for this is because the blessing over Torah learning is simply as a praise to G-d for Him giving us the Torah, then why is a daily blessing required, and why does it not suffice to say the blessing one time a year or once a lifetime?

The answer to this question is that the Mitzvah of Torah learning is unique and different than all other Mitzvah’s. All of the Mitzvah’s have a set time and setting in which they are fulfilled, and are not a constant obligation on the person. However, Torah learning is a constant obligation on the individual which does not leave him for even a moment. For this reason, even when one enters the bathroom, it is not considered an interval between the blessing and the Mitzvah, as the obligation of the Mitzvah is still upon him, and it is just that he happens to be in an area of exemption. Therefore, his connection to the Mitzvah of Torah learning remains and the blessing of Torah learning that he said earlier remains intact. However, by other Mitzvah’s, such as Tefillin, since one is not required to wear them the entire day at every moment, therefore, when one uses the bathroom it is considered an interval, and since he cannot wear it in the bathroom he is no longer connected in to the Mitzvah any way and thus the blessing must be repeated.

5. The reason women do not need to repeat the blessing prior to each time that they learn:

Based on all the above, we can now understand why the Alter Rebbe had to state that the reason why women are to recite the blessing over Torah study is because they too must have knowledge of those laws that are applicable to them, and why he did not suffice with the general reason that one is to say a blessing on the pleasure of Torah study. If the reason behind a woman’s blessing over Torah study were solely due to the fact that she gets pleasure from it, then the law would be that she is obligated to repeat the blessing prior to each session of study. It is only by men who have a constant obligation of studying Torah that we can say that the concept of an interval is not applicable being that they are always attached to the study. However, women who are not obligated to constantly be studying Torah, should be obligated to repeat the blessing prior to each time that they study it, just as a blessing must be repeated over food prior to each time that one decides to eat the food. Thus, the Alter Rebbe novelizes that even women have a constant obligation of studying Torah regarding those laws that are applicable to them, and therefore, they too are not required to repeat the blessing prior to their continued learning throughout the day.

 

Lessons of the Sicha:

There are several lessons that can be learned from the above talk:

1.      The study of Torah should not only not be viewed like the study of a mundane wisdom G-d forbid, but is not even to be viewed simply as the fulfillment of another Mitzvah. Rather, the study of Torah is unique as it contains a physical pleasure which is the result of both intellectual stimulation, and the fact that one is able to study and unite with the wisdom of G-d. The blessing over Torah study covers this aspect as well, and hence one is to have this matter in mind when saying the blessing. Particularly, one should have this in mind when saying the second and third blessing.

2.      One of the greatest novelties of this talk is the fact that according to its conclusion, women also have a constant Torah study obligation just like men. The only difference is that men have an obligation to study all sections of Torah while women only have an obligation to study the laws that are relevant to them. From here, we learn that not only should women also be constantly actively involved in Torah study throughout their lives, but that they should be involved in studying the laws that they are obligated to keep. Not only is there nothing wrong with a woman being an expert in Jewish law in those areas of law that are relevant to women, but on the contrary, she is obligated in it.

3.      The Mitzvah of Torah study is unlike any other Mitzvah in Judaism, as the Mitzvah is constantly upon the person, both by men and women. From this we can learn a great lesson: People from all societies search for an activity which brings fulfillment and purpose in life, so they can feel accomplished and live up to their potential of benefiting society. For a Jew, there is no need to search for our mission as G-d has already given it to us. The mission of a Jew is to spend his time studying G-d’s wisdom at every free moment. This is our purpose of existence. From this, both men and women should take motivation to establish times of Torah study, and make their study of Torah their lifetime mission, taking out time to learn whenever they are able.

[1] This tradition is not recorded in any classical sources of previous times [other than in the verse mentioned above and the Sichos below, which record it in the name of the Maharal and the Maggid of Mezritch] and was seemingly an oral tradition. Many schools have a tradition of learning it by heart. Vetzrauch Iyun Gadol as to why the Poskim or Mefarshim on the verse, ibid, make no mention of this tradition for the generations after. See footnotes below.

[2] Vayeilech 31/19

[3] Rashi ibid.

[4] Even Ezra ibid; Rasag ibid.

[5] Seemingly, however, this commandment only applies to that generation, and hence we do not find that every Jew is taught Haazinu by heart, and it is simply viewed as a good Segula. Furthermore, perhaps one can say that the commandment was only for Moshe to teach it to them until they memorized it, and it was not a commandment for the Jewish people even in that generation to learn it, and certainly not in later generations, although it is still a Segula still remains. This requires further study.

[6] The Maharal of Prague stated that one is to recite the Parsha of Haazinu by heart each day, and that doing so brings success and long life. [Sefer Hazichronos 1/29] The Baal Shem Tov directed Rav Chaim Rappaport of Lvov to recite the song of Haazinu by heart during his famous journey. [Sefer Hazichronos 1/139 English edition] The Maggid of Mezritch stated that the song of Haazinu is to be memorized [by the masses]. [Sefer Hasichos 1944 p. 136-138; Sefer Hatoldos Hamaharash [of Rebbe] p. 74] The learning of the song of Haazinu – each person is required to know it by heart and doing so brings great blessing. The Rebbe Rayatz stated, “I heard from Gedolim that every Jew is required to know the song of Haazinu by heart. If the businessmen only knew of the great blessing that the recital of Haazinu from memory can bring to their business, they would be a lot more careful in this.” [Sefer Hasichos 1941 p. 46, Hebrew edition]

[7] Brachos 21a; Yerushalmi Brachos 7:1; The Gemara ibid deals with the Biblical source for the blessings of Birchas Hamazon and Birchas Hatorah, the only two blessings which we find to have Biblical origin. One of the Amoraim goes as far to compare the two blessings to each other to teach that just like Birchas Hatorah is said before the learning so too one must say a blessing prior to eating, and just like a blessing is said after eating, so too a blessing must be recited after learning Torah. The Gemara negates this conclusion stating one cannot compare the two obligations, although nonetheless one can see from this Gemara that the Biblical status of Birchas Hatorah is compared to that of Birchas Hamazon.

[8] Haazinu 32:3

[9] The Ramban [Mitzvah 15] lists it as one of the 613 Mitzvos. And so rules Rashba [Brachos 48b]; Meiri [21a]; Chinuch 430; Peri Chadash 47:1; Yad Aaron; Shaagas Aryeh 24; Mor Uketzia; Zekan Aaron 60; The Rebbe learns that seemingly Admur in Shulchan Aruch also holds that it is Biblical, as Admur 47:1 records the Gemara that states the reason there was destruction in the world is because they did not recite Birchas Hatorah, and the Poskim rule that it is implied from this Gemara that the blessing is Biblcial. [See Likkutei Sichos 14 p. 148 footnote 9]

How many of the three blessing is Biblical according to this opinion? Once one has said one of the three blessings over Torah he has fulfilled his Biblical obligation. [Peri Chadash ibid; Shaagas Aryeh ibid]

[10] Rishonim in the previous footnote

[11] Tzlach Brachos ibid; Rambam as explained in Shaagas Aryeh 24; Pnei Moshe 1:1; Mamar Mordechai 47:1; Levush 47:1; Olas Tamid 47:9;  Poskim mentioned in Kaf Hachaim 47:2; all the Poskim listed in the next Q&A which do not permit the blessing to be repeated.

[12] Bach; Pnei Yehoshua 11b; Chayeh Adam 9:1

[13] See Piskeiy Teshuvos 47:1 based on Levush 47:1 and 6; Ramban Mitzvah 15 “Just as one is to recite a blessing on food so too over Torah”

[14] Admur 47:1

[15] See Likkutei Torah Bamidbar p. 36

[16] Admur 47:10; Michaber 47:14 in name of Igur; M”A 47:14; See Biur Halacha 47:14 “Nashim”; Likutei Sichos 14 p.48

[17] Admur is based on Levush 47:14

[18] Admur 25:29-30

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