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Parshiyos Matos/Masai 5758 - '98

Outline Vol. 2, # 38

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

Chodshei Hashanah Vol. 2, Part 23

Count Your Blessings

This issue has been dedicated by a reader who wishes to remain anonymous.

Last week, we discussed the quote from the Talmud: "Why does the land perish? They did not make a brocha before commencing Torah Study." We mentioned that the central part of the brocha recited over an individual's study is "Vha'arev na..." -- "May the words of Your Torah be sweet in our mouths..." and that, said without the proper feeling, the words would remain superfluous.

In a similar vein, we found the Binyan Olam quoting the Ba'al Shem Tov. The Ba'al Shem Tov explained the meaning of the Talmud's words, that the destruction and exile came about because the people did not pronounce the brocha over Torah study: They did, indeed, say the blessing, but did not say the middle part -- "Vha'arev na..." -- "May the words of Your Torah be sweet in our mouths..."

Presumably, since the text of the brocha was fixed long ago, the Ba'al Shem Tov meant that the people may have intoned the words, but without any feeling. Similarly, the Binyan Olam quoted from the Ba'al Shem Tov that the reason for the lengthy exile was the lack of feeling in expressing the brocha recited before the Shema -- "Your great love" -- which is similar to Birkas Hatorah.

The Poskim (legal authorities) also discuss these texts. For example, see Chayei Adom (Klal Tes, Halacha Beis): "One must be very careful with this brocha (Birkas Hatorah) -- not to study until it has been recited, and to say it with great feeling. We find that the Rabbis explained the verses "Why does the land perish?... It is because they have forsaken my Torah..." The Jews were studying Torah, and as long as the Jews learn, Hashem overlooks their sins. Therefore, they did not know why the land was lost. Hashem, who tests hearts, knew that, although they were learning, their study was not for the sake of the mitzva, but was merely an intellectual exercise. Thus, they didn't make the blessing over the Torah -- because it wasn't significant in their eyes... Therefore, we should be very careful, and give thanks..."

Also see Elya Raba (47:1), who explains that the people were not careful to say the brocha before learning. They would study, and whenever they would remember that they had forgotten the brocha, they would recite it at that time. Even so, the land was destroyed...

Regarding our question -- how do we pronounce Birkas Hatorah on the Ninth of Av, since it is forbidden to study Torah then -- we could say that there are many levels of Torah Study. The simple reciting of verses is not, perhaps, the most meaningful level of study. It is, however -- without a doubt -- study. Such a simplistic level of Torah Study is not entirely forbidden on the Ninth of Av, because it will not arouse much pleasure. Similarly, very basic review of laws related to mourning and the like, will not arouse much interest. Normally, arousing interest is an integral aspect of Torah. The more pleasure and stimulus in study -- the more devekus -- the more the soul will cling and adhere to Torah. On the Ninth of Av, however, this aspect specifically is suppressed.

However, to recognize, appreciate and express gratitude for the existence of such a tool -- the phenomenal instrument of Torah -- is all the more important on the Ninth of Av. This is the day upon which the wrath of the Creator was visited -- specifically due to a lack of such appreciation. Because we will recite verses and fulfill a simplistic level of Torah Study -- we shall, indeed, recite the blessings for the Torah with feeling. Count your blessings while you still have them!

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Kollel of Kiryas Radin
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.



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