Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Our Business/Our Blessing
On Shavuos we celebrate Yom Mattan Toraseinu - The Day of the
Giving of the Torah. The Gemara (Berachos 5a) lists "three good
presents" that the Almighty gave to Israel: The Torah, Eretz Yisrael,
and Olam HaBa - the World to Come. Interestingly, of the three, the
only present regarding which we recite a beracha (blessing) every day
is the Torah.
Once a day we are required to recite the two-part Birkas HaTorah
(blessing over the Torah). "Blessed are You... Who has sanctified us
with His commandments, and has commanded us to engross
ourselves (la'asok) in the words of Torah..." "Blessed are You... Who
chose us from all the peoples, and gave us His Torah. Blessed are
You, Hashem, Giver of the Torah." Maharal (Tiferes Yisrael,
introduction) notes that the first beracha does not define the mitzvah
of learning Torah as "limud haTorah/Torah study," but rather as
"engrossing oneself in the words of Torah." This, is an important
distinction. "To study" Torah implies grasping Torah fully and taking
it to its logical conclusion, i.e. to be able to render halachic decisions
based on one's studies. Of the thousands of students who enter a
yeshiva, choice few ever reach such a level of competency. On the
other hand "engrossing oneself in the words of the Torah" implies
that the mitzvah is simply to study (and study); whether or not one
ever reaches the level of halachic ruling does not prevent him from
performing the mitzvah of learning Torah.
Rabbi Avraham Mordechai of Gur zt"l, the Imrei Emes, notes that the
word la'asok (to engross oneself) is from the same root as eisek -
business or profession. Nowadays more than ever, we live by the
credo that "the profession makes the man." We refer to a doctor as
"Dr. so-and-so" not only when we enter his practice, but even when
we meet him in the street. Even when talking with him about matters
completely unrelated to his profession, we still call him doctor. One's
profession ultimately defines who one is.
A Jew, says the Imrei Emes, has only one "profession" and only one
business - the Torah. It doesn't matter whether he's sitting in the
House of Study, at his place of work, or whether he's buying
groceries at the corner store - a Jew is a ben Torah. Just as a doctor
is a doctor 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the same level of
dedication and commitment is expected of a Jew to the Torah.
The Gemara (Nedarim 81a) asks: "Why is it that the sons of Torah
scholars do not always follow in the ways of their fathers?" One would
expect that, growing up in a house saturated with Torah study, it
would only be natural that the children continue in the ways of the
parents. Yet this is not necessarily so. The Gemara answers:
"Because they do not make the initial blessing over the Torah."
Seemingly, the Gemara means that there was a laxity among Torah
scholars in reciting Birkas HaTorah, the blessings over the mitzvah
of Torah study. This is hard to understand: Firstly, reciting the
blessings is a halachic requirement; it's hard to believe Torah scholars
disregarded this. Secondly, we see that it's just not so - Torah
scholars recite their blessings every morning just as faithfully as any
Perhaps the Gemara's intent is not that talmidei chachamim were lax
in reciting Birkas HaTorah. When we bless someone, with what do
we bless them? With gezunt? Nachas? Parnassah (material wealth)?
It depends; one blesses others with that which is most important to
him. Have you ever been blessed with gezunt by a person who was
really ill, and truly understood the value of good health? When he
blesses others with gezunt, he really means it.
We wish and bestow upon others our greatest and most cherished
blessings. Ask any Jew: What's your greatest blessing in life? "Why,
the Torah, no doubt!" If indeed, one truly perceived the Torah as the
ultimate blessing, without which his life - even if enriched with material
wealth, gezunt, and nachas - would be meaningless, then he would
constantly be blessing others with success in their Torah study and
fulfillment of the mitzvos.
Why, asks the Gemara, doesn't the Torah always "stay in the
family?" Because they failed to bless the Torah first - i.e. when it
came to blessing others, the Torah wasn't always "first on the list."
Evidently, it wasn't their most cherished possession, and they
therefore did not merit to see their offspring continue in their ways.
[Divrei Torah, 8:83] Perhaps we too should examine our priorities,
and assess if Torah is truly our "prized possession."
It is told that the holy Divrei Chaim, Rabbi Chaim of Sanz zt"l, would
recite the blessings over the Torah with such beauty and devotion,
that his disciples would gather opposite his house, next to the
window, in the hope of hearing him. Tears would flow freely from the
eyes of those who merited hearing him, as they were overwhelmed
with love for the Torah and its study. May we too merit to "engross
ourselves in the words of Torah," taste its sweetness, and plumb its
depths. "For it is our lives, and the length of our days, and in it will
we toil day and night."
Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.