04. The Value of Birkhot Ha-Torah

After the decimation of Eretz Yisrael and the exile of the Jewish people, a major question arose, reflected in the words of the prophet (Yirmiyahu 9:11): “Why has the land been lost?” Everyone certainly understood that we were exiled from our land because of our sins; they were asking which sin was at the root of the spiritual collapse that led to the destruction. The Sages, the prophets, and the ministering angels were asked this question and did not know how to answer, until God Himself explained. “God says: ‘Because they abandoned My Torah which I had given them’” (ibid. 9:12). The Sages of the Gemara interpret this to mean that they did not recite the berakha on the Torah before engaging in its study (Nedarim 81a). That is, although they studied Torah, they did not relate to it as divine instruction. Because of this, they were considered to have forsaken the Torah of God. For anyone who learns Torah as if it is just another discipline of human wisdom is not considered to be one who studies Torah. However, when we recite Birkhot Ha-Torah properly, we indeed approach Torah out of faith and attachment to its Giver. 

The Sages further inquire (Nedarim 81a): Why is it that not all the children of Torah scholars continue in their parents’ paths and become Torah scholars themselves? Presumably, the parents made efforts to educate their children to follow in their footsteps and become engrossed in Torah all their lives. If so, why did they not all succeed? Moreover, in those days, it was widely accepted that every son continued in his father’s profession; sons of carpenters became carpenters, sons of farmers became farmers, and so on. Consequently, the Gemara’s question is all the more perplexing – why don’t a relatively large percentage of sons of Torah scholars become Torah scholars themselves? The Gemara offers several reasons, the last of which is that of Ravina: it is because they do not recite Birkhot Ha-Torah before studying. That is, the sons of Torah scholars often study Torah only because they saw their fathers doing so; as sons like to mimic their fathers, they too make efforts to study Torah. However, Torah can only be acquired by studying for God’s sake, out of a personal attachment to its Giver. Therefore, those sons who study out of habit or by mimicking their fathers do not succeed in their studies.

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