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 other Jew.
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.”