BIRCHOT HATORAH - PART II
I. A QUESTION OF STATUS
Ramban, at the end of his comments on Rambam's Sefer HaMitzvot, notes that there is a commandment to praise Hashem whenever one learns Torah. He bases this on the verse "When I call the name of Hashem, give glory to Hashem" (Devarim 32:3), and learns that calling the name of Hashem refers to doing so by learning Torah. Furthermore, he notes that the commandment to make this blessing is a commandment in and of itself, separate from the commandment of actually learning Torah. He brings a proof to the existence of such a concept from the fact that when one brings his first fruits (bikkurim) to Jerusalem, there is one commandment to bring the fruits and a second commandment to recite the "mikra bikkurim" (Devarim 26:5-10). Even though the two commandments involve only one basic process, they are counted as two separate commandments.
Most Rishonim agree with this view of Ramban, with the one notable exception being Rambam. While Rambam agrees that this is a Torah-ordained law (d'oraita), he contends that the blessing is not to be seen as separate from the actual learning. Additionally, there are those who hold that there are two aspects to Birchot HaTorah. When the blessing is made before learning in public (possibly referring to the blessings made before the reading of the Torah on Monday, Thursday, and Shabbat), then it is considered to be a d'oraita law, but when it is made in private then it is only a Rabbinic ordinance (d'rabbanan).
On a practical level, the issue involved in determining the status of Birchot HaTorah is whether or not one would have to say the blessings again if he is unsure whether or not he said them in the first place. In general, we have a principle that we are lenient when we have a doubt concerning blessings, and thus a person should not have to repeat the blessings if there is a doubt about them. However, we also have a principle that we are strict in cases of doubt involving Torah-ordained laws, and thus these two concepts could potentially come into conflict with each other. The Aruch HaShulchan reviews the various options available, and concludes that the best solution is to recite only the first of the blessings ("la'asok b'divrei Torah"), since really only one blessing is needed.
On a bit of a deeper level, it is interesting to note that Birchot HaTorah, according to most opinions, are themselves considered to be a mitzva. In general, the blessings made on commandments are derivative of the commandments, but do not exist on their own merit. However, Birchot HaTorah apparently rise above this usual classification, and as such they escape the general rules that pertain to blessings. While it is beyond the scope of this Chabura to delve into this issue, any thoughts that anyone may have on this aspect of Birchot HaTorah would be appreciated.
II. ONE, TWO, THREE...
One of the most unique aspects of Birchot HaTorah is the fact that it is made up of more than one blessing. In general, the performance of a mitzva, when there is a blessing to be said beforehand, is preceded by one blessing, usually a short one. However, as we have noted, Birchot HaTorah are themselves a mitzva, and thus it is not so surprising that they are a bit more substantive than other blessings said on commandments.
The gemara in Brachot 11b notes that there are two, and perhaps three, blessings that are said before the learning of Torah. The first is "La'asok b'divrei Torah" (in engage in matters of Torah), "V'ha'arev na..." (let our Torah be pleasing to You), and "asher bachar banu..." (that Hashem has chosen us from all other nations to give us the Torah). There is some discussion concerning the exact text of the blessings, although such matters will not be our focus now. Additionally, there is debate as to whether these three blessings are considered to be two or three blessings, specifically whether "V'ha'arev na" is considered to be its own blessing or simply part of the one that comes before it. Again, as such issues are harder to deal with in this forum, we will not focus on them right now.
Instead, we would like to deal with a more basic question: why is there more than one blessing at all? Even in situations where the blessing itself is the mitzva (such as kiddush levana, said on the new moon), the blessing may be longer but there is still only one blessing. Aruch HaShulchan and others note that the three blessings are said corresponding to the three parts of learning (Tanach, Mishna, Gemara), and thusRitva and Rabbeinu Yonah rule that a person should learn something from all three of those areas after saying the blessings (and such is the common practice). However, while this reason is nice, it is more symbolic than substantive. Thus, Bach suggests that the first blessing (which includes "V'ha'arev na" in his opinion) is on the mitzva itself, and the second one is primarily a blessing of thanks to Hashem for choosing the Jewish people and giving them the Torah.
The Aruch HaShulchan offers another approach, one that results from another issue concerning Birchot HaTorah. There are those who ask why there is no afterblessing made once one has completed his learning for the day. TheBeit Yoseif offers two responses. He first claims that in general we do not say a blessing after the performance of mitzvot. This raises the question as to why the question was asked in the first place - if there is normally no afterblessing for mitzvot, why would we think that there would be one here? The answer given by the Aruch HaShulchan is that since the gemara compares Birchot HaTorah to Birchat HaMazon, it would make sense that just as we say a blessing after eating so, too, we would say it after learning Torah. However, as noted, there is no blessing said after learning Torah both due to the general rule, and due to the fact that since one is always commanded to learn Torah, one never completely fulfills his obligation. Whereas other commandments are fulfilled once a person has eaten a certain amount or has performed a certain action, the commandment to learn Torah is incumbent upon a person at all times, and thus one can never be said to be finished to an extent where he would make a blessing after the fact.
On the heels of this discussion, the Aruch HaShulchan claims that even though there is no need to make an afterblessing in this case, the idea of such a blessing still exists in that one of the blessings made before learning Torah is in place of a blessing that would be made afterwards.
III. THERE MUST BE ANOTHER WAY...
What happens if a person forgets to say Birchot HaTorah before beginning to pray in the morning? While it would seem logical that we would instruct such a person to say them either at some point during the services or immediately after their conclusion, there is a catch in this case. The blessing said immediately before the Shema, that of "Ahava Rabba," contains some lines that are very similar to the content of Birchot HaTorah ("to hear, to learn, to teach, to do all the matters of your Torah"), and since it is itself a blessing, it seems to have the elements necessary to stand in for the standard blessings. Can this work? Do we need to say the actual Birchot HaTorah, or is it sufficient if we get the general idea?
The gemara in Brachot 11b says that a person who has already said Shema does not have to say Birchot HaTorah since he fulfilled his obligation when he said "Ahava Rabba." Tosafot there note that this only works if the person learns something immediately. Tosafot then note that a person who says Birchot HaTorah in the morning and then goes to work and does not learn for a number of hours does not have to say the blessings a second time. They explain this discrepancy between Birchot HaTorah and "Ahava Rabba" by noting that since the latter is really for the purpose of the Shema, it requires that one learn right away (or right after he finished praying) so that it becomes clear that this blessing was serving a second function as well. However, the regular Birchot HaTorah clearly only have one function, and thus there is no need to learn right away.
There is some debate on these points in both directions. TheHagahot Maimoniyot claims that one does not have to learn right away. On the other side of the coin, the Beit Yoseif claims that the Tur rules that one has to learn immediately even after saying Birchot HaTorah. In practice, we follow this opinion of the Tur and say selections from Tanach, Mishna, and Gemara right after saying Birchot HaTorah. In terms of the view of the Hagahot Maimoniyot, there are those who claim that one fulfills his obligation to learn right away when he says the Shema. However, the Beit Yoseif opposes this view, claiming that Shema is said not as an act of learning but rather as an act of prayer and supplication, and thus cannot fulfill the necessity to learn.
There are a number of smaller issues that we will touch on briefly to close out this topic. First of all, both the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch rule that women are required to say Birchot HaTorah. Despite the fact women's obligation in Torah is much less than that of men, and the fact that the gemara in Sotah seems to frown on fathers who teach their daughters Torah, there is still no doubt that they have a share in the Torah. On a more technical level, the custom among Ashkenazic Jews is for women to make blessings on time-bound positive mitzvot, which they are not required to perform, and thus this should be no worse. However, there is an even stronger reason for them to make these blessings. Since women are required to at least learn the laws about the commandments that they are obligated to do, their requirement to make these blessings are tantamount to the requirement of men, to the extent that there are those who suggest that they can make the blessing on behalf of men.
There is also the issue about whether or not a person ever has to say Birchot HaTorah a second time during the day. We have already mentioned that according to most opinions, a person does not have to learn immediately after reciting these blessings. However, are there any other actions that a person performs during the day that would be considered a significant break in the day ("hefsek") that would result in their being required to repeat Birchot HaTorah? The Hagahot Maimoniyot claims that if a person goes to the bathroom or takes a shower he would have to say the blessings again, since he is not thinking about Torah while he is in these situations. However, he also notes that there are those who disagree, since there are laws that concern even those situations, and thus a person can still be said to be involved in matters of Torah when he is in those places.
The Hagahot Maimoniyot also mentions midday sleep as a possible break that would mandate a second recitation of Birchot HaTorah. The Tur cites theRosh as saying that a heavy sleep during the day would serve as an interruption, but a light nap would not. The Shulchan Aruch rules simply that one does not have to repeat Birchot HaTorah at all if he sleeps during the day. Although the Be'eir Heitev notes that Mahari Ginzburg would repeat the blessings, our custom is not to do so.
Along similar lines, there is also the situation of a person who stays up all night. Does he have to repeat the blessings, or can he continue to work off of the blessings that he made when he woke up on the previous day? The Be'eir Heitev rules that in such a case, the blessings would have to be said again, since they were established to be said every day, regardless of whether or not a person broke up the two days with sleep.
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