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Peninei Halakha > Prayer > 10 - Birkot HaTorah – The Blessings on the Torah > 04 – Before What Type of Learning Must the Berachot Be Recited?

04 – Before What Type of Learning Must the Berachot Be Recited?

One must recite Birkot HaTorah before learning any part of the Torah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 47:2). In other words, even one who only intends to learn Midrash or halachah on a particular day must recite Birkot HaTorah at the onset of that day. The reason for this is that the entire Torah – whether it is Torah Shebichtav (the Written Torah) or Torah Sheb’al Peh (the Oral Torah), the halachic segments or the philosophical – was all given from Hashem to Moshe on Mount Sinai (Yerushalmi, Pe’ah, chapter 2, halachah 4) and when studying them, one must recite, “Who chose us from among all His nations and gave us His Torah.”

There is dissension among the poskim regarding whether or not Birkot HaTorah must also be recited before thinking Torah thoughts. For example, a person who arises in the morning with the desire to ponder a few ideas of Torah, according to most poskim does not need to recite the berachot. Still, there are those who disagree. In order to avoid uncertainty, one who wakes up and wishes to reflect upon words of Torah should first recite Birkot HaTorah and immediately afterwards say a few verses. However, someone who temporarily wakes from his sleep in the middle of the night, and wants to contemplate Torah ideas until he falls back to sleep, need not recite Birkot HaTorah.[4]

Those who listen to Jewish music when they wake up in the morning or in the middle of the night do not need to recite Birkot HaTorah since they do not have the intention to learn.

One may recite Birkot HaTorah and Birkot HaShachar while standing, sitting, lying down, and walking. Nevertheless, there are those who are strict to say Birkot HaTorah while standing, or walking, but not while sitting or lying down.[5]

[4]. According to the Shulchan Aruch 47:4, it is only necessary to recite a blessing if the learning is actually said out loud, since that is the essence of Torah learning, as it is written (Joshua 1:8), “This book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth. You shall meditate thereon day and night.” Although in-depth study of certain matters is possible and perhaps even preferable to do via one’s thoughts, still, at all other times it is necessary to learn by saying the words out loud (Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Hilchot Talmud Torah 2:12). In that way, the learning one accomplishes becomes clearer and the abstract ideas he learned via thought are understood better. Further, someone who learns out loud remembers his learning better (see Eiruvin 54a). However, the Vilna Gaon (Gra) maintains that even though the essence of one’s learning should be done out loud, nonetheless, even thinking the words and ideas of the Torah is part of the mitzvah, as it says (Joshua 1:8), “You shall meditate thereon day and night,” and “meditating” is thinking. Therefore, it is necessary to recite Birkot HaTorah prior to mental learning as well. Kaf HaChaim 6 mentions opinions that someone who is reading a book usually will also read with his mouth. Nevertheless, although it is good to take into consideration the opinion of the Gra, one must say a few verses aloud after Birkot HaTorah in order to adjoin the blessing to the learning. For that reason, it is customary to recite the verses of Birkat Kohanim after Birkot HaTorah (Mishnah Berurah 47:5). One who wakes from his sleep and wants to continue lying in his bed can rub his hands on his blanket, recite Birkot HaTorah, say a few verses, and ponder Torah thoughts, as explained in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 4:23 and Mishnah Berurah paragraphs 59 and 61. If he wakes up in the middle of his sleep, I wrote that he may think thoughts of Torah without reciting the berachot, taking into consideration the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch and our custom to bless once a day  following Rabbeinu Tam, as explained further in this chapter in halachot 6 and 7.
Further, the Shulchan Aruch 47:3 clarifies that one who writes words of Torah is considered to be learning and must recite a blessing prior to doing so. However, there are those who disagree, among them the Taz. In practice, the Acharonim agree that one who wants to write words of Torah must bless and afterwards recite a few verses, thereby fulfilling his obligation according to all opinions (Mishnah Berurah 47:4; Kaf HaChaim 5).
[5]. The Rishonim write that Birkot HaMitzvot must be recited while standing. Therefore, the berachah recited on wrapping oneself in tzitzit, for example, is recited while standing, as well as the berachah before blowing the shofar or shaking the lulav (Beit Yosef, Orach Chaim, beginning of section 8). Based on this, it would seem to be necessary to recite Birkot HaTorah while standing as well, for these blessings are also included in Birkot HaMitzvot. However, it is the opinion of the Pnei Yehoshua (Megillah 21a), that the obligation to stand pertains to mitzvot which are performed while standing, such as harvesting the sheaves of grain (for Korban HaOmer) and blowing the shofar, but regarding mitzvot that can be performed either while standing or sitting, such as Torah learning, one may recite the blessing while sitting. That is what is written in Yechaveh Da’at 5:4. Yaskil Avdi 8:3 adds that according to sod (mysticism), it is correct to recite Birkot HaTorah while standing. All this is lechatchilah; however, obviously one who recites the blessing while sitting fulfills his obligation. Even blowing the shofar and counting the Omer may, in extenuating circumstances, be performed while sitting, as clarified in Mishnah Berurah 8:2. In practice, many Ashkenazim follow the custom to recite Birkot HaTorah and Birkot HaShachar while standing or walking, but not while sitting.

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