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Gratitude for Torah

Tevet 5780 | January 2020
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Gratitude for Torah

 

Among the first words of tefilla we say each morning is the series of brachot known as “birkot HaTorah.” A closer look at the origin and halakhic nature of these brachot provides an educational message for families and communities relating to hakarat hatov for and spreading love of Torah.

 

The gemara suggests three different brachot as potential birkat HaTorah and concludes that all three should be said. 1) The bracha relating to the mitzvah (commandment) to learn Torah. 2) That the words of Torah should be pleasant to us and our children. 3) Gratitude to G-d for choosing the Jewish people to receive the Torah. (Brachot 11b)[1] Almost all other brachot are considered to be derabanan, rabbinic in origin, however, the rishonim debate the status of birkot HaTorah and some are of the opinion that these brachot are m’deoraita (from the Torah).[2] This debate reflects the special status of these brachot. The Talmud also teaches that one of the reasons the Jewish people were exiled was because the sages learned Torah but did not recite the birkot HaTorah beforehand. Moreover, the gemara asks why Torah scholars in Talmudic times did not tend to have children who were also Torah scholars and one answer is that the fathers were not careful to say birkot haTorah. (Nedarim 81a) These Talmudic warnings go to the heart of the purpose of birkot haTorah: no matter how erudite a scholar, everyone has the challenge of passing on a commitment to and passion for limmud Torah to their children. Moreover, in an age of physical comfort, where Torah scholarship blossoms, it is even more crucial that it not be taken for granted.

 

Another element related to birkot HaTorah relates to women. Given that women are exempt from Torah learning, why is it that the Shulchan Aruch clearly states that women are required to say the birkot HaTorah?[3] One solution to this seeming contradiction is that even if women have a general exemption from Torah learning, they still must learn the subjects which are relevant to them (at least!) which would require saying birkot HaTorah.[4]

 

Perhaps these two issues are related. How should Torah learning be fresh and “pleasant in our mouths”? How do we create an environment of excitement for Torah learning in our homes and communities? Let the story of women’s Torah learning over the past few decades and the booming atmosphere in various women’s batei midrash serve as a model. Women have opted in to Torah learning, not always with encouragement from their surroundings and therefore they tend to have a sense of hakarat hatov for this gift which was previously closed to them. By continuing this story and spreading this enthusiasm in our homes and communities we can hopefully carry forward the message of birkot haTorah: gratitude for and love of Torah.

 

* This blog post is dedicated out of hakarat hatov to the teachers and founders of the various batei midrash I’ve studied in over the years, in particular Matan HaSharon, where I am currently learning and teaching.

[1] These 3 brachot reflect the 3 different categories of Brachot: mitzvah, shevach and nehanin, covering all aspects with regard to the Torah.

[2] The gemara provides a pasuk as basis for birkot HaTorah, leading the Ramban, Rashba and others to hold that it is m’deoraita. The Rambam and Shulchan Aruch however, hold that it is m’derabanan, in which case the pasuk would be an “asmachta.”

[3] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Hayim 47:14.

[4] Magen Avraham, Biur Halacha on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Hayim 47:14 and others.

Karen Miller Jackson

is a Jewish educator and writer, who studies and teaches at Matan HaSharon and recently completed Matan HaSharon’s Morot l’Halakha program. She has an MA in Talmud and Midrash from NYU.