The first halachah in the Shulchan Aruch dealing with Birkas HaTorah (siman 47) is: “One must be extremely careful with Birkas HaTorah.” What is the reason for this immediate warning at the very opening of the halachos of Birkas HaTorah?
The Gemara (N’darim 81) relates that at the time of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, the people could not understand why their diligence in learning Torah did not protect them from the destruction. Although they deserved the destruction, ordinarily Torah would nonetheless be a protective force. Since they did learn much Torah in that generation, they were bewildered, and they brought their question to the Chachamim (the Sages), to the N’viim (the Prophets), and even to the Mal’achei HaShareis (the Heavenly Angels). None could explain what happened until HaKadosh Baruch Hu Himself responded that the Torah did not protect them because “al azvam es Torasi (because of their forsaking my Torah [that I put before them])” [Yirmeyahu 9:12]. Rav Yehudah explains, in the name of Rav, that this means that they did not say the Birkas HaTorah before learning.
The Ran, quoting Rabbeinu Yonah, explains that this means that their Torah learning was not of great importance in their eyes. Therefore, they did not bother to say the brachos before their learning. Their learning was not “lishmah.” There are at least five understandings of the word “lishmah” when it comes to learning Torah. We will explore this point in greater depth when we reach the word in the Birkas HaTorah itself. For now, we will explain that they learned Torah only to know what the laws were, so that they could conduct business and other matters. The crucial missing piece was the connection to Hashem. They did not view their Torah as the ultimate connector to Hashem, and they did not express that desire through Birkas HaTorah. The Bach, in siman 47, speaks at length about this point. This is very much in line with the Rambam’s understanding of “lishmah,” meaning: learning Torah for the sake of our love of the Master of All, Who commanded us to learn Torah.
This is the reason that the Shulchan Aruch, immediately at the opening of the halachos of Birkas HaTorah, drives home the point strongly: One must be extremely careful with Birkas HaTorah. Torah is the ultimate connection with Hashem. These brachos are a tremendous daily huge opportunity to express our desire to come close to Hashem through His Torah, to thank Him for the greatest gift we have ever received, to feel the love Hashem bestowed upon us in giving us His Torah, and to feel our reciprocal love for Hashem.
It is also a huge not-to-be-missed opportunity to pour our hearts out for our offspring and ourselves. We will see how beautiful and crucially important these brachos are. The Mishnah B’rurah writes that one should recite them with great simchah. He also writes that this is one of the most powerful opportunities to daven for our children and grandchildren. We will, b’ezras Hashem, see the beauty and power of these brachos as we learn them in greater depth in coming segments.
To access print versions of previous Tefilah segments,
please visit OU Torah’s Search portal, select the Topic of “Tefillah,”
and then select “Weekly Tefilah Focus” from the Series list.
For Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman’s video and audio shiurim, which are based on our Tefilah Focus segments but also include his insightful and inspiring additions, please visit TorahAnytime.com
or simply search for “TorahAnytime Rabbi Finkelman.”
You can direct any questions or comments to Eliezer Szrolovits at 917-551-0150.