01 – The Value of Birkot HaTorah
After the Land of Israel was destroyed, and the nation of Israel was exiled, a major question arose, reflected in the words of the prophet (Jeremiah 9:11): “Why has the land been destroyed?” Certainly, everyone knew that we were exiled from our land as a result of our sins, but the question was: what was the fundamental sin behind the spiritual collapse that led to the destruction? The Chachamim, the prophets, and the ministering angels were asked this question and did not know how to answer, until HaKadosh Baruch Hu Himself explained, “Hashem says: ‘Because they abandoned My Torah which I had given them’” (ibid., 9:12). Chazal interpret this to mean that they did not recite the blessing on the Torah before engaging in its study (Nedarim 81a). That is to say, although they actually learned Torah, they did not relate to it as Divine instruction. Because of this, they were considered to have forsaken the Torah of Hashem. For anyone who learns Torah as if it is just one of the wisdoms of the world is not considered one who learns Torah at all. However, when we recite Birkot HaTorah properly, indeed we approach Torah out of faith and attachment to the One who granted it to us.
The Chachamim further inquire (Nedarim 81a): why is it that not all the sons of talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars) continue in their fathers’ paths and become talmidei chachamim themselves? For without a doubt the fathers wanted their children to follow in their footsteps and become engrossed in Torah all their lives, and strove to educate them in that direction. If so, why did they not all succeed ? Moreover, in those days, it was widely accepted that every son continue 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 talmidei chachamim become talmidei chachamim themselves? There are a number of explanations brought in the Talmud, the last one being Ravina’s, which states that it is because they do not recite Birkot HaTorah before learning. In other words, many times, sons of talmidei chachamim learn Torah only because they see their fathers learning; as sons like to mimic their fathers, they too, strive to learn Torah. However, Torah can only be acquired by learning for the sake of Heaven (l’shem Shamayim), out of a personal desire to attach oneself to the One who grants us the Torah, and therefore, those sons who learn out of compulsion, routine, or merely mimicking their fathers, do not see blessing in their learning.