Torah Study

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)

 


Introduction. 1

The Shema. 2

Regular Study. 4

The Minimum And Maximum Amount 5

Morning Prayers. 6

According To Our Desire. 7

Review Of Past Study. 8

Torah Study Plus An Occupation. 9

A Time For Everything. 10

Consequences. 11

Torah Scholars. 12

The Goal Of Torah Study. 12

Laws of Torah Study. 13

Bibliography. 14

 

Introduction

 

In this study I would like to study Torah[1] study. I want to understand what our Sages understood about the study of the Torah. I am studying this because it seems that Torah study is the most important thing that a Jew can do.

 

The Midrash teaches that there is the work of the King of Kings to be constant in the study of the Torah:

 

Midrash Tanchuma Yelammedenu for: Shemot (Exodus) 32:16 And the tablets were the work of God. R. Joshua the son of Levi declared: Every day a heavenly voice reverberates from Mount Horeb exclaiming: “Woe unto you creatures for neglecting (lit, insulting) the Torah,” for whosoever is not constant in his study of the Torah is rebuked by the Holy One, blessed be He, as it is said: And the tablets were the work of God. It is like a man who asks his friend: “What is this made of?” And he replies: “The very best silver.” So it is with regard to the work of the King of Kings; be engaged in the study of the Torah.

 

This work of the King of Kings allows us to move beyond this world, to reach into the heavenly realms. The study of the Torah is the only way we have of perceiving HaShem. Rabbi Michael L. Munk in, The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet, tells us the following:

 

“The number seven symbolizes the complete purpose of human existence, combining the spiritual level of the Sabbath with the physical effort of the week. Going beyond seven, the number eight symbolizes man’s ability to transcend the limitations of physical existence. Thus, with a gematria of eight, ח  stands for that which is on a plane above nature, i.e., the metaphysical Divine. The study of the Torah and the practice of its commandments are the ways by which Israel can strive to exalt human spirituality towards the realm above the natural.”[2]

 

Not only is Torah study the work of the King of Kings, it is also the work of the Mashiach ben David. It is one of the clear ways we have recognizing the Mashiach when He comes, as we learn from the Rambam[3] in his codification of The Laws Concerning Mashiach:

 

4. If a king will arise from the House of David who delves deeply into the study of the Torah and, like David his ancestor, observes its mitzvot[4] as prescribed by the Written Law and the Oral Law; if he will compel all of Israel to walk in [the way of the Torah] and repair the breaches [in its observance]; and if he will fight the wars of G-d; we may, with assurance, consider him Mashiach.[5]

 

True freedom comes from the study of the Torah, as we learn from the Mishna:

 

Avot 6:2 BARAITHA2. R. JOSHUA B. LEVI SAID: EVERY DAY A BATH KOL GOES FORTH FROM MOUNT HOREB, AND MAKES PROCLAMATION AND SAYS: WOE UNTO MEN ON ACCOUNT OF [THEIR] CONTEMPT TOWARDS THE TORAH, FOR WHOEVER OCCUPIES HIMSELF NOT WITH THE [STUDY OF] TORAH IS CALLED: ‘[THE] REBUKED [ONE]’ AS IT IS SAID, AS A RING OF GOLD IN A SWINE’S SNOUT, SO IS A FAIR WOMAN THAT TURNETH AWAY FROM DISCRETION, AND IT SAYS, AND THE TABLES WERE THE WORK OF GOD, AND THE WRITING WAS THE WRITING OF GOD, GRAVEN UPON THE TABLES. READ NOT HARUTH [WHICH MEANS ‘GRAVEN’] BUT HERUTH [WHICH MEANS ‘FREEDOM’]. FOR THERE IS NO FREE MAN FOR THEE BUT HE THAT OCCUPIES HIMSELF WITH THE STUDY OF THE TORAH; AND WHOEVER REGULARLY OCCUPIES HIMSELF WITH THE STUDY OF THE TORAH, LO, HE IS EXALTED, AS IT IS SAID, AND FROM MATTANAH TO NAHALIEL; AND NAHALIEL TO BAMOTH.

 

The Rambam teaches us that, “Every Jew is obligated to study Torah, whether he is poor or rich, healthy or ill, young or old. Even if one is destitute; or if he has familial obligations, he must still establish fixed times for Torah study, day and night, as it says,[6] ‘You shall toil in it day and night’”.[7]

 

In addition to studying the Torah for himself, a man is obligated to teach his son the Torah as well. The Rambam codified this as well:

 

Talmud Torah 1:03 And he is obligated to hire a teacher to teach his son. He is not obligated to teach his fellow’s son for free, or except for free. If his father didn’t teach him, he is obligated to teach himself when he becomes aware, as it says: “you shall study them and guard them, to fulfill them”.[8] Similarly, you find that study precedes action in every place, since study leads to action and action does not lead to study.

 

When a father hires a teacher for his son, he is beginning the process to help his son select a Torah teacher who will be his teacher for the rest of his life. Without a teacher it is impossible to learn the Torah. For this reason, the Rambam and Mishna codifies the requirement:

 

Pirke Avot 1:6 JOSHUA B. PERAHIAH USED TO SAY: APPOINT FOR THYSELF A TEACHER[9] AND ACQUIRE FOR THYSELF A COMPANION[10] AND JUDGE ALL MEN IN THE SCALE OF MERIT.

 

The inference of the above Mishna is that not only should one make a teacher for himself, but it also implies that he himself should become a Torah teacher. Thus we understand that to learn Torah means to teach Torah and to perform the mitzvot in order that we learn how to love HaShem. Without regular Torah learning it is impossible to fulfill the words of the Shema[11] that we should “love HaShem our God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our possessions”.

 

The Shema

 

We can get a feeling for how important Torah study is, by looking at the command of HaShem, in the Shema, which we are commanded to recite twice a day:

 

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:4-9 Hear, O Israel: HaShem our God, HaShem is one: 5  And thou shalt love HaShem thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. 6  And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: 7  And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 8  And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. 9  And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

 

There is no way, for parents, to teach Torah to our children except we learn Torah first.[12] There is no way to speak the words of Torah “when we sit in our house and when we walk by the way”, except we study Torah first.

 

Can the time for the obligation of Torah study be quantified? It cannot. The time of each person’s obligation of Torah study is different, and varies according to personal circumstances. Those with a strong desire and lots of time should use the time wisely. We have time because HaShem has given us what we need with undue effort and time. When one does not have a long commute, very little overtime, and non-physical labor, he can be sure that HaShem gave him these things in order that he should have more time to study Torah, teach Torah, and perform the mitzvot. We are not given free time to indulge in pleasures.

 

The principle, as set out by a number of authorities, is that one must study the Torah in the time that is ‘free’.[13] As Rav Elchanan Wasserman[14] writes, during the time that a person spends at work, there is no obligation to study Torah: The obligation of Torah study is incumbent during the time that a person is not at work.

 

Further, the Rambam codified[15] that we are obligated to study the Torah day and night, just as the Shema commands. One can discern that he has fulfilled his obligation by simply reciting the Shema. Never the less, those who have more time should devote this additional time to the study of Torah.

 

I heard of a young African woman who was brought, by her friend, from her village to a small town in America. When she went to the apartment of her friend, she was absolutely bowled over by the fact that the apartment had “multiple sources of clean potable water inside the house”! In her village, she had to travel several miles, twice a day, to fetch water for her family from the river. Those of us who grew up with sinks in multiple rooms of the house have become jaded to the amount of time that we gain simply by having water already inside our house. We do not have to travel to get our water. This sobering story should give us pause to thank and praise HaShem for meeting our needs in such a wondrous way. We can demonstrate our gratitude by spending this precious time getting to know HaShem through Torah study.

 

A mourner is normally forbidden from studying the Torah because the study of Torah is a pleasurable experience. The mourner, however, is required to mourn, which is a time of sadness. Therefore he should refrain from doing things which bring pleasure, including the study of the Torah. Now, if we are commanded to study Torah night and day, why is the mourner exempt? After all, a command of HaShem should not be take lightly.

 

The Ramban[16] answered simply: The mourner will say Shema during morning and evening prayers; this minimal recitation automatically fulfills the mitzva of learning Torah. Therefore, the mourner is not entirely exempt from the mitzva of Torah study because he needs to recite the Shema anyway.

 

Thus we see that while the mourner must study, his obligation is minimal in order that his pleasure should be minimal.

 

From the mourner’s obligation, we should understand that Torah study was intended to be pleasurable. This does not mean that we do not have to labor and sweat over our study. On the contrary, the pleasure only comes after long arduous hours of toil in the Torah. Rashi comments on this toil:

 

Rashi’s Commentary for:

 

Vayiqra (Leviticus) 26:3 and observe My commandments You shall toil in the study of Torah in order to observe and fulfill [the commandments (Torath Kohanim 26:2). This is similar to, “[Hear, O Israel, the statutes and ordinances...] and learn them, and keep in mind to do them” (Deut. 5:1) [i.e., learn the Torah in order to keep them in your heart and perform them].-[Sifthei Chachamim] 

 

Vayiqra (Leviticus) 26:14 But if you do not listen to Me to toil in [the study of] Torah in order to know the exposition of the Sages [corresponding to verse 3]. I might think that this refers to fulfilling the commandments. When Scripture says, “and you do not perform all these commandments,” the fulfillment of commandments is [already] stated. So what is the meaning of "if you do not listen to Me"? To toil in [the study of] Torah. And what is the meaning of "to Me"? This is speaking only about someone who knows his Master, and yet willfully rebels against Him (Sanh. 109a). Likewise, regarding Nimrod [whom Scripture calls], “a powerful hunter before the Lord ” (Gen. 10:9), [it means that] he recognized God but intentionally rebelled against Him; likewise, regarding the people of Sodom, [referred to as], “very evil and sinful against the Lord ” (Gen. 13:13)—[it means that] they recognized their Master but intentionally rebelled against Him.-[Torath Kohanim 26:18]

 

and do not perform If you do not learn [the Torah], you will not perform. Scripture hereby enumerates two transgressions [namely, (a) not learning the Torah and therefore (b) not fulfilling its commandments properly].-[Torath Kohanim 26:18] 

 

Regular Study

 

The Sages of the Mishna taught that we must set aside regular times for our Torah study. The halachah is that we should each fix regular times for Torah study, morning and evening; whether for a short or long time; whether in a class or with a learning partner or alone; whether studying Talmud or halachah or Jewish thought.

 

All these variables depend on a person’s time, interest and ability; but they are less important than that we fix a time and stick to it. The Mishna codifies this requirement:

 

Pirke Avot 1:15. SHAMMAI USED TO SAY: MAKE THY [STUDY OF THE] TORAH [A MATTER OF] ESTABLISHED [REGULARITY];[17] SPEAK LITTLE, BUT DO MUCH; AND RECEIVE ALL MEN WITH A PLEASANT COUNTENANCE.[18]

 

The Gemara teaches that one of the questions that a person is asked (after 120 years) when he arrives at the Heavenly Tribunal is:

 

Shabbath 31a Raba said, When man is led in for Judgment[19] he is asked, Did you deal faithfully [i.e., with integrity], did you fix times for learning, did you engage in procreation, did you hope for salvation, did you engage in the dialectics of wisdom, did you understand one thing from another.

 

Notice that the question is not about the quantity of one’s learning or even the quality thereof, but about the regularity of the learning.

 

Hakham Ibn Ezra taught that one cannot properly comprehend the Talmud, and therefore the Torah, if one does not know the sciences, for there are many passages in the Torah and the Talmud that are either incomprehensible or given to misinterpretation by one who has no prior knowledge of the sciences. Ibn Ezra thought that knowledge of the sciences was indispensable for a correct interpretation of Scripture. Thus he opens his Yesod Mora with these words:

 

“I begin by saying that aside from man’s supernal rational soul, a human being has no preeminence over a beast. The soul [...] was placed in the body to be shown the Lord’s work, to study the works of her master, and to observe His commandments. […] Now there are many sorts of knowledge, each one of which is helpful. All of wisdom’s categories are rungs in the ladder that leads to True Wisdom. […] Now one who possesses knowledge of the Massorah but has not studied any other wisdom is like a camel that carries a load of silk. It is of no use to the silk and the silk is of no use to it.”[20]

 

Therefore, knowledge of both a religious and a scientific kind were necessary for proper religious life.

 

Thus we would expect that in addition to studying Torah, one should combine this study with the study of the sciences, at a regular time. To put it another way, studying the sciences in order to understand the Torah – IS Torah study!

 

The Rambam also reiterates the command that we should have an established, or fixed, time for Torah study, based on the understanding of Yehoshua 1:8.

 

Talmud Torah 1:08 Every Jewish man is obligated in Talmud Torah;[21] whether poor or rich, whether healthy or afflicted; whether a young man or an old man whose strength is gone; even if he was a poor man taking his sustenance from charity and going door-to-door; even a family man is obligated to establish a time for Talmud Torah during the day and at night; as it says, “and you shall meditate upon it [Torah] day and night”.[22]

 

The Minimum And Maximum Amount

 

Our Sages[23] teach that the minimum amount of Torah that we should study, no matter what, are the words of the Shema, which we recite / study twice a day. Both men and women are obligated to study Torah.[24] We saw, earlier, that this minimum amount of study is incumbent even on the mourner.

 

Menachoth 99b GEMARA: It was taught: R. Jose says, Even if the old [Shewbread] was taken away in the morning and the new was set down in the evening there is no harm. How then am I to explain the verse, ‘Before me continually’? [It teaches that] the table should not remain overnight without bread.

 

R. Ammi said, From these words of R. Jose[25] we learn that even though a man learns but one chapter in the morning and one chapter in the evening he has thereby fulfilled the precept of ‘This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth’.[26]

 

R. Johanan said in the name of R. Simeon b. Yohai, Even though a man but reads the Shema[27] morning and evening he has thereby fulfilled the precept of ‘[This book of the law] shall not depart’. It is forbidden, however, to say this in the presence of ‘amme ha-arez.[28] But Raba said, It is a meritorious act to say it in the presence of amme ha-arez.[29]

 

In this minimum act of studying the Torah, a person engages with The Word itself,[30] bonding himself with HaShem to a greater degree than all other mitzvot (commandments).[31]

 

Now that we know the minimum amount of required Torah study, we need to see what Our Sages teach is the maximum amount of time that we can spend in the study of the Torah.

 

The maximum amount of time we can devote to the study of the Torah in found in our morning prayers. In our Shacharit prayer we note that Torah study is one of several mitzvot which have no maximum amount:

 

These are the Laws for which the Torah did not mandate specific amounts: How much growing produce must be left in the corner of the field for the poor; how much of the first fruits must be offered at the Holy Temple; how much one must bring as an offering when one visits the Holy Temple three times a year; how much one must do when doing acts of kindness; and there is no maximum amount of Torah that a person must study.

 

Our Sages teach that since there is no maximum requirement, that we should use whatever time is available for our study rather than for our own pleasure. For those whose midda (measure) is the study of Torah, there is not enough time in the day for the study he wishes to do. His curiosity and desire drive his to study at every opportunity. These are the ones who constantly find Torah gems that light up their eyes and burn within them until they can share these delights with others.

 

Morning Prayers

 

Before the Shema, we begin our morning prayers with the affirmation that “the study of Torah is equal to all [the mitzvot]”, as we see in the Gemara:

 

Shabbath 127a R. Judah b. Shila said in R. Assi’s name in R. Johanan’s name: There are six things, the fruit of which man eats in this world, while the principal remains for him for the world to come, viz.: Hospitality to wayfarers, visiting the sick, meditation in prayer, early attendance at the Beth Hamidrash, rearing one’s sons to the study of the Torah, and judging one’s neighbour in the scale of merit.[32] But that is not so? For we learnt: These are the things which man performs and enjoys their fruits in this world, while the principal remains for him for the world to come, viz.: honouring one’s parents, the practice of loving deeds,[33] and making peace between man and his fellow, while the study of the Torah surpasses them all.

 

The Mishna tells us something similar:

 

Pe’ah 1:1. THE FOLLOWING ARE THE THINGS FOR WHICH NO DEFINITE QUANTITY IS PRESCRIBED:1 THE CORNERS [OF THE FIELD]. FIRST-FRUITS, [THE OFFERINGS BROUGHT] ON APPEARING [BEFORE THE LORD AT THE THREE PILGRIM FESTIVALS]. THE PRACTICE OF LOVINGKINDNESS, AND THE STUDY OF THE TORAH. THE FOLLOWING ARE THE THINGS FOR WHICH A MAN ENJOYS THE FRUITS IN THIS WORLD WHILE THE PRINCIPAL REMAINS FOR HIM IN THE WORLD TO COME: THE HONOURING OF FATHER AND MOTHER, THE PRACTICE OF CHARITY, AND THE MAKING OF PEACE BETWEEN A MAN AND HIS FRIEND; BUT THE STUDY OF THE TORAH IS EQUAL TO THEM ALL.

 

How is the study of Torah equivalent to all these other acts of goodness? Because it’s the one thing that teaches and includes all the others. However, the Lev Shlomo notes that the antecedents of the phrase “them all” are the various mitzvot which are mentioned previously in the Mishna and not “all the mitzvot of the Torah”. Hence, he refers to the Jerusalem Talmud,[34] which states:

 

Pe’ah 1:1 All the mitzvot of the Torah are not worth one word of the Torah.

 

The prayers are designed so that we should read about the primacy of Torah study early in the prayers. This should awaken us to the importance of our concentration when we come to the recitation of the Shema later on.

 

We should also note that when we do the Shacharit prayer we say the Torah blessing and read the Aaronic benediction to insure that the blessing is not said in vain. Never the less, it is the recitation of the Shema which fulfills our obligation of Torah study. To those who have more time, this one Torah blessing is sufficient for our study of Torah during the day.

 

The Gemara teaches:

 

Shabbat 10a Rava observed Rav Hamnuna praying at length. He said, ‘You are putting aside eternal life and involving yourself with momentary life!’ And he [Rav Hamnuna] explained, ‘Prayer has its time, and Torah study has its time.’

 

Rashi explains: ‘Eternal life’ refers to Torah, whereas prayer focuses on the needs of our ephemeral physical life, such as healing, peace, food.

 

Halacha follows Rabbi Yochanan’s opinion[35] that Torah scholars’ absolute exemption from prayer is limited to those, like Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, whose “Torah is their profession”, i.e., those who devote all their time exclusively to Torah study. Since they are not engaged in matters of this world, they are exempt from prayer. Other than these rare exceptions, the obligation is binding and is taken for granted in the teachings our Hakhamim.[36]

 

From this we learn how great is the study of Torah that it is possible to exempt one from the obligation to pray. We can also learn that Torah study draws us near to HaShem in the same way that our prayers draw us near to Him. Thus we can understand that one of the purposes of Torah study is to teach us how to love HaShem our God, as we say in the Shema.

 

According To Our Desire

 

Our Sages teach that an essential aspect of Torah study, as opposed to any other kind of study, is that a man should occupy himself with the specific aspect of Torah study to which his heart is drawn.

 

Avodah Zarah 19a Said Rabbi: A man can learn [well] only that part of the Torah which is his heart’s desire,[37] for it is said, But whose desire is in the law of the Lord.[38]

 

The above Gemara was written as an explanation of Psalm one:

 

Tehillim (Psalms) 1:1-2 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2  But his delight is in the law of HaShem; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

 

If one learns that which he desires, it will penetrate deeper, change his character traits for the better and awake the desire within him to learn more and more.

 

Not only is the study of Torah a matter of our heart’s desire, but the performance of the mitzvot of the Torah are also to be performed by the one whose heart is drawn to it. For example, if one has the mitzva of giving to charity ‘A’ or charity ‘B’, then one should give to the charity to which his heart is drawn. He is not only permitted to give to the charity of his desire, but, he is obligated to give to the one which he desires to give.

 

For those who desire to become king, Our Sages have taught us the way. The Talmud says that the Rabbanan, those who study Torah, are called kings. Why? Because through the study of Torah, they merit the crown of Torah.

 

Gittin 62a As R. Huna and R. Hisda were once sitting together. Geniba began to pass by. Said one to the other, Let us rise before him, since he is a learned man. The other replied; Shall we rise before one who is quarrelsome? At this point he came up to them and said, Peace to you, kings, peace to you, kings. They said to him; Whence do you learn that the Rabbis are called kings? He replied; Because it is written, By me [wisdom][39] kings reign.[40]

 

Never the less, we should not see Torah study for the sake of acquiring kingship, but rather, Torah study is knowledge of the Torah for its own sake. This is the function of the Written Torah and the oral Torah. Even if we do not fully understand the words of the Torah, we still fulfill the mitzva of Torah study. As the Sages taught:

 

Avodah Zarah 19a One should always first learn superficially, and later contemplate [what he studied] ... even if one does not fully understand what he has read.

 

We have seen in the Shema that one should diligently teach his children. What does this mean? Our Sages answer our question:

 

Kiddushin 30a Our Rabbis taught: And thou shalt teach them diligently[41] [means] that the words of the Torah shall be clear-cut in your mouth, so that if anyone asks you something, you should not shew doubt and then answer him, but [be able to] answer him immediately, for it is said, say unto wisdom, Thou art my sister;[42] and it is also said, Bind them upon thy fingers; write them upon the table of thine heart;[43] and it is also said: As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man, so are the children of thy youth;[44] and it is also said, sharp arrows of the mighty;[45] and it is also said: Thine arrows are sharp; the peoples fall under thee;[46] and it is also said: Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, when they speak with their enemies in the gate.[47]

 

Review Of Past Study

 

One who is lax and does not review his studies, thereby forgetting things that he has learned, violates a negative commandment: “Only be careful to protect your soul exceedingly, lest you forget these things”.[48] As the Gemara teaches:

 

Sanhedrin 99a Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha says, ‘Whoever studies Torah and then forgets what he learned resembles a woman who gives birth and then buries her child’.

 

So, how often should we revise our Torah studies? Is there in fact a certain amount of time that one is obligated to go over one’s Torah learning?

The truth is that there is a concept of going over a piece of Torah at least four times initially. We see that when HaShem taught Moshe some Torah, Moshe then transmitted this to his brother Aharon, Aharon’s two youngest sons, and the seventy elders, and then the rest of the Bne Israel. Hence, Moshe taught the Torah that HaShem taught him - four times (Eruvin 54).

 

Eiruvin 54b Our Rabbis learned: What was the procedure of the instruction in the oral law? Moses learned from the mouth of the Omnipotent. Then Aaron entered and Moses taught him his lesson. Aaron then moved aside and sat down on Moses’ left. Thereupon Aaron’s sons entered and Moses taught them their lesson. His sons then moved aside, Eleazar taking his seat on Moses’ right and Ithamar on Aaron’s left. R. Judah stated: Aaron was always on Moses right. Thereupon the elders entered and Moses taught them their lesson, and when the elders moved aside all the people entered and Moses taught them their lesson. It thus followed that Aaron heard the lesson four times, his sons heard it three times, the elders twice and all the people once. At this stage Moses departed and Aaron taught them his lesson. Then Aaron departed and his sons taught them their lesson. His sons then departed and the elders taught them their lesson. It thus followed that everybody heard the lesson four times. From here R. Eliezer inferred: It is a man’s duty to teach his pupil [his lesson] four times. For this is arrived at a minori ad majus: Aaron who learned from Moses who had it from the Omnipotent had to learn his lesson four times how much more so an ordinary pupil who learns from an ordinary teacher.


The above is for starters. For more advanced Torah students, there is a minimum of 101 times, as we learn from the Gemara.

 

Chagigah 9b Bar He-He said to Hillel: Then shall ye again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not.[49] ‘The righteous’ is the same as ‘he that serveth God’; ‘the wicked’ is the same as ‘he that serveth Him not’! — He answered him: He that serveth Him and he that serveth Him not both refer to such as are perfectly righteous; but he that repeated his chapter a hundred times is not to be compared with him who repeated it a hundred and one times. Said [Bar He-He] to him: And because of once he is called ‘he that serveth Him not’? — He answered: Yes, go and learn from the mule-drivers market; ten parasangs for one zuz,[50] eleven parasangs for two zuz.

 

As noted above, there is a difference between one who serves HaShem and one who doesn’t. On this, the Talmud asks “Is this asking an obvious thing as if to say what is the difference between a righteous person and an wicked person?” The Talmud then goes on to state that there is a difference between one who learns a piece of Torah 101 times, and one who learns it only 100 times.

 

Torah Study Plus An Occupation

 

The Sages of the Mishna have noted that the vast majority of men are not at a level where they can devote themselves fulltime to the study of the Torah. In fact, they note that most men should combine their study of the Torah with an occupation.

 

Pirke Avot 2:2. RABBAN GAMALIEL THE SON OF R. JUDAH THE PATRIARCH[51] SAID: EXCELLENT IS THE STUDY OF THE TORAH TOGETHER WITH A WORLDLY OCCUPATION,[52] FOR THE ENERGY [TAKEN UP] BY BOTH OF THEM KEEPS SIN OUT OF ONE’S MIND; AND [AS FOR] ALL [STUDY OF THE] TORAH WHERE THERE IS NO WORLDLY OCCUPATION, THE END THEREOF [IS THAT] IT COMES TO NOUGHT[53] AND BRINGS SIN IN ITS TRAIN;[54] AND ALL WHO LABOUR WITH THE COMMUNITY, LET THEM LABOUR WITH THEM FOR THE [SAKE OF THE] NAME OF HEAVEN, FOR THE MERIT OF THEIR FATHERS SUSTAINS THEM, AND THEIR RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOR EVER; AND AS FOR YOU, [GOD IN SUCH CASE SAYS] I ACCOUNT YOU WORTHY OF MUCH REWARD, AS IF YOU [YOURSELVES] HAD [ACTUALLY] ACCOMPLISHED [IT ALL].

 

If the study of Torah is so important, why would our Sages decree that we should have an occupation as well?

 

The above Mishna teaches us that the primary reason to combine Torah study with an occupation to keep us far from sin. If we do not have any idle time, then we will have fewer opportunities to sin. Most of us would not fully apply themselves to study if we have to do it for the entire day. We would become distracted, weary, and bored. These three would quickly lead us to sin.

 

It also turns out that if we spent all of our time studying Torah, many of us would never learn important lessons that can only be learned from an occupation. Many Torah laws are applicable only to the world of business. It is only in an understanding of business that we can begin to understand and apply these laws.

 

It is also worth noting that most of us would require charity if we spent all of our time in the study of Torah. This would not be a good thing. Even if we were able to do without charity, lack of an occupation would lead to poverty and want. Poverty has driven many to sin in order to meet their needs.

 

In Israel, some of those who study Torah are also in the army. The army thus becomes their occupation.

 

Finally, most men need an occupation to find fulfillment, to feel productive. There is a lot of satisfaction to be found in completing a task which results in making the world a better place. Whether we build houses, cars, or donuts, most men have an intrinsic need to be productive. An occupation fulfills this need. It is important that we not be locked away in the Bet Midrash[55] all day, but rather that we interact with the world through community service and an occupation.

 

Thus Torah study combined with an occupation will keep a man far from sin and make most men feel better about their study.

 

A Time For Everything

 

King Shlomo taught us that HaShem created a special time for everything.

 

Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 3:1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

 

The Talmud looks at King Shlomo’s statement and declares that there is a time to be engaged in Torah study and a time to be engaged in prayer. For certain men, spending time in prayer takes away from their Torah study, which they see as more important. To others, prayer and Torah study compliment one another.

 

The Talmud records one of this confrontations: “Rava saw Rav Hamenuna praying at length. He commented to his colleague: They neglect “Chayei Olam” (eternal life, i.e., Torah study) and occupy themselves with “Chayei Sha’ah” (temporal life — prayer)! But Rav Hamenuna did not agree. He held that there is a time for prayer and a time for Torah study”.[56]

 

Thus we see that our Sages have decreed that the vast majority of men should interrupt their Torah study to pray at the appropriate times.

 

Our Sages have also decreed that there is a time for the study of the scripture, a time for the study of the Mishna, and a time for the study of the Talmud.

 

Kiddushin 30a R. Safra said on the authority of R. Joshua b. Hanania: What is meant by, and thou shalt teach them diligently [we-shinnantem] unto thy children?[57] Read not we-shinnantem, but we-shillashtem: [you shall divide into three]: one should always divide his years into three: [devoting] a third to Mikra, a third to Mishna, and a third to Talmud. Does one then know how long he will live? — This refers only to days.

 

The Talmud, therefore, postulates that periods of study should be apportioned, “one third to Scripture, one third to Mishna, and one third to Talmud [that is, Gemara]”.

 

As we learned earlier, Our Sages have decreed that most men should combine an occupation with their study of the Torah. They saw a time for both.

 

The Talmud has a favorable attitude towards working. The ideal is to combine the study of Torah with an occupation. Some statements about work include:

 

Kiddushin 29a Whoever does not teach his son a trade, it is as though he taught him to commit robbery.

 

Avot 2:2 All Torah that is not combined with work will eventually cease and lead to sin.

 

Avot D’Rabbi Noson 11:1 A person should love work and not hate it; for just as the Torah was given with a covenant, so too was work given with a covenant.

 

Avot D’Rabbi Noson 11:1 Even God did not let His presence rest upon Israel until they had performed some work.

 

Pesachim 113a  Skin a carcass in the street and receive wages and do not say I am an important person and this type of work is beneath my dignity.

 

Thus we see that even with Torah study that there is a time for study and a time for an occupation. A time for scripture and a time for Mishna. A time for study and a time for community service. A time for study and a time for prayer and mitzvot. Balancing our time between what is required of us will allow us to serve HaShem with gladness and joy. It will allow us to cleave to HaShem and feel satisfaction in this service.

 

King Shlomo was a very wise man. There is, indeed, a time for everything.

 

Consequences

 

Our Sages have taught that all of our actions have consequences. Some are profitable and some are not profitable. If we use our Torah study time correctly, then we build our relationship with HaShem and our Olam HaBa. If we waste our Torah study time, then there are negative consequences, as Our Sages teach:

 

Pirke Avot 1:13. HE [ALSO] USED TO SAY: A NAME THAT IS WIDESPREAD LOSES ITS FAME; ONE WHO DOES NOT ADD [TO HIS KNOWLEDGE] CAUSES [IT] TO CEASE; WHOEVER DOES NOT STUDY[58] [THE TORAH] DESERVES DEATH; WHOEVER MAKES [UNWORTHY] USE OF THE CROWN[59] [OF LEARNING] PASSETH AWAY.

 

At the time of war against the inhabitants of Jericho, the verse states:

 

Yehoshua 5:13 And it was when Yehoshua was in Jericho, and he raised his eyes and he saw a man standing opposite him with a drawn sword in his hand. And Yehoshua went over to him and said to him, ‘Are you one of ours or are you one of our enemies?’ And he said, ‘No, for I am an officer of the legions of G-d.’

 

The Gemara[60] elaborates on the details of the conversation between the angel of HaShem and Yehoshua: “The angel said to Yehoshua, ‘Yesterday, you missed bringing the afternoon (Tamid) offering. And tonight, you are idle from Torah studies.’ Yehoshua asked, ‘What is the main reason why you came?’ The angel replied, ‘I came for the present’, indicating that the main reason was the laxity in Torah study. Immediately, Yehoshua went to study Torah.”

 

Although they had been fighting a fierce battle for Jericho, the Jewish soldiers were expected to return to their study of Torah at night, as soon as they could. To refrain from doing so was such a serious offence, that a Divine messenger was sent forth as an officer with a drawn sword, to teach that their failure to engage in Torah study made them vulnerable to be slain in combat.

 

As important as it is to fight the battles of HaShem, in is even more important that we build our relationship with HaShem with the study of His Torah. The Mishna teaches us that this Torah study is one of the pillars of the world:

 

Pirke Avot 1:2 The world stands on three things: Torah, service, and acts of loving kindness.

 

Our Sages also teach that the study of Torah has additional consequences of its own.

 

Pirke Avot 2:7 HE USED TO SAY: THE MORE FLESH, THE MORE WORMS; THE MORE PROPERTY, THE MORE ANXIETY; THE MORE WIVES, THE MORE WITCHCRAFT; THE MORE BONDWOMEN THE MORE LEWDNESS; THE MORE SLAVES, THE MORE ROBBERY; [BUT] THE MORE [STUDY OF THE] TORAH, THE MORE LIFE;[61] THE MORE SITTING DOWN[62] [TO STUDY AND CONTEMPLATE], THE MORE WISDOM;[63] THE MORE COUNSEL, THE MORE UNDERSTANDING;[64] THE MORE RIGHTEOUSNESS, THE MORE PEACE. ONE WHO HAS ACQUIRED UNTO HIMSELF A GOOD NAME, HAS ACQUIRED [IT] FOR HIMSELF; ONE WHO HAS ACQUIRED UNTO HIMSELF WORDS OF TORAH, HAS ACQUIRED FOR HIMSELF THE LIFE OF THE WORLD TO COME.

 

Thus we see that a person is built up through his study. In addition he build his Olam HaBa and also he builds this world. These temporal consequences cannot be ignored!

 

The Gemara also teaches that failure to study Torah will lead to bad things happening. These things are all designed to spur us on to improve our Torah study in order to teach, to perform the mitzvot, and to learn to love HaShem.

 

Berachoth 5a If one has the opportunity to study the Torah and does not study it, the Holy One, blessed be He, visits him with ugly and painful sufferings which stir him up. For it is said: I was dumb with silence, I kept silence from the good thing, and my pain was stirred up.[65] ‘The good thing’ refers only to the Torah, as it is said: For I give you good doctrine; forsake ye not My teaching.[66]

 

Torah Scholars

 

This is an excerpt from a letter written by R’ Yitzchak Hutner z”l (1906-1980), rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, N.Y. In the letter, dated 24 Tevet 5723 [1963] and printed in Pachad Yitzchak: Igrot no. 38, he discusses, among other things, the mitzvah to judge another person favorably. He writes:

 

All of this refers to an act committed by a person about whom there are arguments to judge his act as lacking merit and arguments to judge it as having merit; then, the mitzva,[67] “With righteousness you shall judge your fellow,” obligates us to weigh the side of merit more heavily based on the quality of the person himself [i.e., one does not have to judge favorably a person known to be wicked]. However, once we know that a clearly bad deed has been done, then we are under no obligation to judge favorably and to assume that the damage has been repaired. This rule has an exception, which is that if the person in question qualifies as a Torah scholar, then we have a halacha,[68] “If you saw a Torah scholar sin in the night-time, do not think anything of him the next day, for he has certainly repented.” This is a novelty with respect to the usual application of the mitzvah of “With righteousness you shall judge your fellow,” i.e., that even after the bad deed has been done, there is an obligation to judge favorably and assume that there has been repentance. This obligation to weigh the side of merit more heavily in this situation applies only to [judging] a Torah scholar. No amount of righteousness creates such an obligation. This means that, though the general obligation to judge a person favorably depends on the righteousness of the person being judged, as explained above, nevertheless, that is only before we know that he did a bad deed. . . But after the bad deed was done, no amount of righteousness that a person has requires us to presume he has repented. Only the fact that there is Torah within him obligates us to judge him favorably.

 

This is one of the attributes that Torah [study] has over other mitzvot, for being righteous [with regard to mitzvot in general] does not create a presumption of repentance. This may be inferred from the words of Rabbeinu Yonah, who writes,[69] “Delaying repentance is found only among amei ha’aretz, people lacking Torah knowledge”. He did not write that delaying repentance is found among wicked people or among simpletons or among impetuous people. Certainly, the doors of repentance are open to all, but a certainty that repentance has been done exists only vis-a-vis Torah scholars.

 

The Goal Of Torah Study

 

Why should one study Torah?

 

On should study Torah because it is only through Torah that one can fulfill the one commandment that is the end goal of the entire Torah: The love of HaShem. Why should one study Torah? Because the study brings man close to The Source of all reality, the Creator of the Universe. Why should one study Torah? Because through the study of Torah man attains the highest possible state of human existence, the very purpose for which he was created.

 

Pirke Avot 2:14 R. ELEAZAR SAID: BE EAGER TO STUDY THE TORAH; AND KNOW WHAT ANSWER THOU SHOULDST GIVE TO THE EPICUREAN,[70] AND KNOW BEFORE WHOM THOU TOllEST,[71] AND WHO IS THINE EMPLOYER WHO WILL PAY THEE THE REWARD OF THY LABOUR.

 

Further, we learn in order to perform the commandments and to teach them to others, as we shall see in the next section. The Nazarean Codicil[72] agrees with this assessment.

 

Matityahu 28:18-20 And Yeshua came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, immersing them in the name (authority) of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: 20  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

 

As we learned earlier, one should study the Torah in order to teach. One should learn Torah in order to perform the mitzvot. The Master’s disciples could not go and teach the world to observe the mitzvot if they had not spent a considerable amount of time studying the Torah and using the teachings of Yeshua to craft the Torah into the world changing device that it is supposed to be. One can not make a talmid, disciple, unless one has learned Torah well enough that he can teach others and lead a life that his talmidim can imitate and they reflect the teachings of their teacher in the world.

 

Yeshua taught us that we are to follow Him. We are to imitate Him. Without diligent Torah study it is impossible to follow and imitate Him. It is impossible! If we are to built into the body of Mashiach,[73] we must imitate the Master. We must demonstrate our mastery of Torah through study, acts of serve, and deeds of lovingkindness.

 

There is no shortcut to HaShem’s goal for us. There is no shortcut to Mashiach’s goals for us. We must study Torah left, right, and center! There is no other way to reach the ultimate goal: Loving HaShem our G-d!

 

Laws of Torah Study

 

The Rambam begins his discussion of the laws of Torah study (Hilchot Talmud Torah), by telling us that women[74] and minors are exempt from Torah study. However, a man (and not a woman) is obligated to teach his son as we learned at the beginning of this study, in the Shema.

 

Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:01 Women, slaves and minors are exempt from Talmud Torah. However, regarding a minor, his father is obligated to teach him Torah, as it says: “And you shall teach them to your sons to speak them” (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 11:19) A woman is not obligated to teach her son; because anyone who is obligated to study is obligated to teach.

 

We learn from this curious beginning, that the Rambam intended for us to learn that the primary purpose of Torah study is to do the mitzvot[75] and to teach others what we have learned. Torah’s continuation in the world depends on the transmission of Torah from teacher to talmid (student). Without this oral transmission, Torah will cease in this world.

 

It seems to be a fitting conclusion to this study that we should encourage those who have studied the Torah, to do the mitzvot and to teach what they have learned, in order to Love HaShem our G-d. This is the primary purpose of Torah study, as we see in the Shema:

 

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:4-9 Hear (Shema), O Israel: HaShem our God HaShem is one. 5  And thou shalt love HaShem thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. 6  And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: 7  And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 8  And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. 9  And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

 

I am writing this as we count the forty-eighth day of the omer. This is an auspicious time to revise our studies as we prepare for the most momentous day in the history of the world:  Shavuot, the day we were given the Torah!

 

May HaShem bless and magnify our Torah study! Amen V’Amen!

 

Bibliography

 

Chanukah In A New Light, by Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, interpreted and adapted by Rabbi Pinchas Stolper.

 

Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah – Laws of Torah Study, By Hakham Moshe ben Maimon (the Rambam).

 

Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim – Laws of Kings, Chapters 11 & 12, By Hakham Moshe ben Maimon (the Rambam).

 

Sefer HaOlam 1937, by Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra.

 

The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet, Rabbi Michael L. Munk.

 

* * *

 

This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:

 

Greg Killian

4544 Highline Drive SE

Olympia, WA 98501

 

Internet address:  gkilli@aol.com

Web page:  http://www.betemunah.org/

 

(360) 918-2905

 

Return to The WATCHMAN home page

Send comments to Greg Killian at his email address: gkilli@aol.com

 



[1] Torah is commonly understood to refer to the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Some use this term to apply to the whole Tanach (the so called Old Testament). In its broadest sense, Torah refers to the whole written and oral Torah.

[2] Maharal

[3] Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon

[4] Mitzvot – the commands, the deeds, of HaShem.

[5] Chapters 11 & 12 of Hilchot Melachim from the Mishneh Torah of the Rambam.

[6] Yehoshua (Joshua) 1:8

[7] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Torah Study 1:8-9

[8] Devarim (Deuteronomy) 5:1

[9] Explained as a master to supply one with knowledge already existing.

[10] Explained as a companion for studying together, so that one may be able to note what the other misses, or to supply information not known to the other.

[11] Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:4ff

[12] Rashi

[13] see Mishnah Berurah 155:4

[14] Kovetz Shiurim, Vol. 2, no. 11

[15] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Torah Study 1:8

[16] Torat Ha'odom

[17] Ideal conditions for study are fixity of purpose, regularity of habits and stability of temperament on the part of the student, as well as an habitual locale and students’ accessories of suitable and standard types. B. cites another rendering, viz., ‘Make thy (decisions in) Law consistent’.

[18] This advice on the part of Shammai is the more noteworthy in view of his own impatient nature (as compared with Hillel's at any rate).

[19] In the next world.

[20] Yesod Mora 1995, 7.

[21] Talmud Torah = Torah study.

[22] Yehoshua (Joshua) 1:8

[23] The Torah contains no minimum requirement for Torah study.

[24] Shulchan Aruch Harav 3:6

[25] Who ruled that if the old Shewbread was on the table for some time in the morning and the new for some time in the evening, that can be said to be ‘continually’.

[26] Yehoshua (Joshua) 1:8

[27] The passage commencing ‘Hear, O Israel’ (Devarim 6:4ff).

[28] Plur. ‘of ‘am ha-arez, v. Glos. Such a pronouncement might deter the common people from educating their children in the study of the Torah, seeing that the Scriptural precept is fulfilled by the twice daily recital of the Shema’.

[29] For they would argue thus: if merely for the recital of the Shema’ twice daily the reward is offered: ‘Then thou shalt make thy ways prosperous and then thou shalt have good success’ (Yehoshua ibid.), how great shall be the reward for those that devote their whole time to the study of the Torah!

[30] Yochanan (John) 1:1

[31] Derech HaShem, Part 1, Chap. 4, no. 9

[32] I.e., seeking a favorable interpretation of his actions, even when they look suspicious.

[33] Not merely alms-giving.

[34] Pe'ah 1:1

[35] Shabbat 11a

[36] Hakhamim = Rabbis

[37] I.e., for which he has an aptitude, or to which his mood is attuned.

[38] Tehillim (Psalms) 1:2

[39] I.e., the Torah.

[40] Mishlei (Proverbs) 7:15

[41] Weshinnantam < shannen, to be keen.

[42] Prov. VII, 4; be as clear in your wisdom — i.e., learning — as in the knowledge that your sister is interdicted to you. Or possibly the deduction is from the second half of the verse: and call understanding thy familiar friend — i.e., be fully versed and familiar therein.

[43] Mishlei (Proverbs) 7:3

[44] The disciples, Tehillim (Psalms) 127:4

[45] The scholars, Ibid. 120:4

[46] Tehillim (Psalms) 45:6

[47] Tehillim (Psalms) 127:5

[48] Devarim 4:9; Menachoth 99b

[49] Mal. III, 18

[50] A silver coin, quarter of a shekel, and equal to a denar, v. Glos.

[51] ‘Rabbi’ of the foregoing Mishna.

[52] Cf. Ps. CXXVIII. 2, then thou eatest the labour of thy hands, happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.

[53] Since, on account of not having an occupation by which to earn a steady livelihood, he has to seek the latter at random, he thus uses up time which he could otherwise have devoted to the study of the Torah.

[54] Unable to procure a livelihood by honest means, he would be tempted, or driven to, dishonest means of obtaining it.

[55] The study hall

[56] Shabbat 10a

[57] Deut. VI, 7.

[58] Another reading ‘teach’, i.e., one who refuses to impart the knowledge he has.

[59] The Shem ha-meforash, the Name of God in its full form (I ARN, Ch. XII). 2. ‘The Crown of God’, i.e., a man who claims divine honours and prerogatives (II ARN, Ch. XXVII).

[60] Megillah 3a

[61] prov. III, 1, 2. My son, forget not my teaching (Torah) but let thy heart keep my commandments; for length of days, and years of life, will they add to thee. Cf. ibid. IX, II, and Deut. XXX, 20.

[62] Some render ‘academy’, ‘school(ing)’ i.e., the more opportunities given to disciples for corporate study, the greater the ingenuity developed.

[63] Some versions ‘the greater the wisdom of the teacher, the better attended will be his school’ (v. R. Jonah and B.).

[64] Cf. Prov. XII, 15, rendered, he that hearkeneth to counsel is wise.

[65] Tehillim (Psalms) 39:3. E.V. ‘I held my peace, had no comfort, and my pain was held in check’.

[66] Mishlei (Proverbs) 4:2.

[67] Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:15

[68] Berachot 19a

[69] in Sha’arei Teshuvah I 3

[70] A term applied to heretics in general, v. Sanh. (Sonc. ed.) p. 244, n. 10.

[71] ‘but know . . .’ Whilst you are studying the creeds of others, know, keep in mind, that He whom you are serving knows your innermost thoughts and so take care to prevent false doctrines from influencing you.

[72] The so called New Testament.

[73] I am using Mashiach without further qualification, to apply to Mashiach ben Joseph, which is not the normal Jewish way. The normal Jewish way is to that ‘mashiach’ without qualification always applies to Mashiach ben David only. See Rambam’s Hilchot Melachim.

[74] They are obligated to learn the halachot of the commands that apply to them: Sabbath, family purity, kashrut, and the sanctification of time.

[75] The commandments