Learning Torah in Yeshiva
The prime form of Torah study occurs in a Yeshiva. The Gemara (Yoma 28b) relates:
Said Rabbi Chama b’Rabbi Chanina, ‘in the days of our forefathers, a Yeshiva was ever-present. When they were in Mitzrayim, there was a Yeshiva among them, as the Pasuk states: “Go and gather the elders of Yisrael”. When they were in the desert, there was a Yeshiva among them, as the Pasuk states: “Gather for me, seventy men of the elders of Yisrael”. Avraham Avinu was a Zaken (man of Torah wisdom) and positioned himself in a Yeshiva, as the Pasuk states: “And Avraham was a Zaken, advanced in years”. Yitzchak Avinu was a Zaken and positioned himself in a Yeshiva, as the Pasuk states: “And it was when Yitzchak became a Zaken”. Yaakov Avinu was a Zaken and positioned himself in a Yeshiva as the Pasuk states: “And the eyes of Yisrael became heavy when he became a Zaken”. Eliezer, the slave of Avraham was a Zaken and positioned himself in Yeshiva, as the Pasuk states: “And Avraham said to his slave, the Zaken of his household, who managed (“haMoshel”) all that he had”. Said Rabbi Elazar, “He ruled over (“Moshel”) the Torah of his teacher”.
When Yaakov Avinu descended to Mitzarayim in search of provisions he dispatched Yehuda to make arrangements with Yosef before he would arrive (Bereishis 56:28). Rashi (ad. loc.) explains that Yehuda’s mission was to prepare a Beis Talmud – a place to learn. Yaakov did not wait until he arrived in order to make this arrangement for he did not wish to even enter a city that did not contain a Beis Talmud, the living soul of the Jewish people.
Our holy Yeshivos are places of toil in Torah amid the formation of close bonds between fellow scholars, lively discussions among the students, the presence of great Roshei Yeshiva – the transmitters of knowledge, and Torah scholars who thirstily drink the words of their teachers representing the very soul of the Torah and guaranteeing the eternal existence of the Jewish people.
When the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed Rabbi Yochana ben Zakai made one request of Aspesinos, the Roman Caesar: “Give me Yaveh and its Sages” (Gittin 56b). He knew that Yaveh and its Sages were the only guarantee that the Torah would not be forgotten.
Our ancestors consistently fulfilled the dictum of Chaza”l (Avos 4:14), “Exile yourself to a place of Torah”. The Gemara (Megila 16b) notes that Yaakov Avinu was not punished for failing to attend to his father and mother during the years he spent in the Yeshiva of Eiver. This is because “Torah study is a greater Mitzva than honoring one’s parents”.
Chaza”l (Midrash Mishlei 31:14) expound:
“She is like a merchant’s ships, from afar she brings her sustenance (“Lachma”).” Said R’ Shimon ben Chalafta: “If a person does not exile himself for words of Torah, he will never learn Torah. For Lechem is a reference to Torah as the Pasuk states, “Go battle for my bread”.
The Chasam Sofer (Shu”t C.M. 9) discusses a case of a person who dedicated a large sum of money in his will to sponsor a talented young man to travel to Yeshiva, learn with great dedication until the age of 25 and develop into a great Torah scholar worthy of issuing rulings for the Jewish people. A youth that fitted this description was found but his father, who was an important Rabbi and Torah scholar insisted that his son remain at home so that he could fulfill his obligation of teaching Torah directly to his son.
The Chasam Sofer ruled that if the youth was to remain at home, he could not lay claim the money, as a person must exile himself to a place of Torah as did our ancestors in every generation. He adduces proof from the conduct of Yaakov Avinu who exiled himself to the Yeshiva of Shem and Eiver and did not suffice with studying Torah at home with his father Yitzchak. (See Minchas Asher, Bereishis, Mahadura Tinyana 60:6 for further elaboration.)
The Gemara (Kesubos 62b) relates:
Rabbi Chananya ben Chachinai was due to travel to the Yeshiva during the week of the Sheva Brachos of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai requested, “Wait for me until I can join you” but Rabbi Chananya did not wait for him. He went and learnt for twelve consecutive years in the Beis Hamedrash and by the time he left the roads of his town had changed and he did not know how to reach his home. He sat down at a river-bank and heard a young maiden calling out, “Daughter of Chachinai, daughter of Chachinai, fill your jug and let us be gone”. Rabbi Chananya then said, this must be one of our daughters” and so he followed her. At his house R’ Chananya’s wife was sifting flour. She looked up and saw him and her heart stopped and she died in shock. R’ Chananya said, “Master of the World, this poor woman – is this her reward?” He Davened for mercy for her and she came back to life.
The Maharim Shif (ad. loc.) wonders why the exchange between Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and Rabbi Chananya, which appears at the beginning of this episode, was recorded by the Gemara at all. Considering the extraordinary details then recounted by the Gemara of self-sacrifice and miraculous acts of reviving the dead, these early details seem trivial by comparison.
The Maharam Shif’s comments notwithstanding I believe that these details contain a remarkable Chidush. Rabbi Chananya ben Chachinai made the following statement, which is recorded in Pirkei Avos (3:4): “One who stays awake at night, or who travels alone on the road, but turns his heart to idleness – indeed, he bears guilt for his soul”. The Bartenura (ad. loc.) explains: “For the night is a time of dangerous spirits, and a person who travels alone is in danger of bandits and other mishaps, and if he would be thinking Torah thoughts, the Torah would protect him”.
This is the reason that two people should always travel together. For when a person travels alone he is unable to occupy his thoughts with Torah as he needs to concentrate on the road so that he doesn’t fall into a pit or veer into thorns and nettles. But when he is accompanied by a companion, he may occupy himself in Torah and his fellow will concentrate on the road ahead in his stead. Rabbi Chananya ben Chachinai decried a person who travels alone on a road for he, by definition will need to abandon his Torah thoughts.
Yet, the very same Rabbi Chananya, who was due to travel alone to the Beis Hamedrash would not wait a few days for Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai to join him! Would he not have been able to learn at home for a handful of days with enormous diligence and extraordinary conscientiousness as did all the Tana’im and thereby gain a companion for the journey to the Yeshiva?
The answer is that he refused to squander even one day of Torah study in a Yeshiva for there is no comparison between learning alone at home and learning in Yeshiva. Rabbi Chananya was willing to “Bear guilt for his soul” by traveling alone on the road, in order to gain an extra day in Yeshiva!
Rabbi Nehorai said: “Exile yourself to a place of Torah – and do not assume that it will come after you – for it is your colleagues who will cause it to remain with you; ‘and do not rely on your own understanding’”.
The Gemara, in two places, discusses the identity of “Rabbi Nehorai”:
It was taught: His name was not Rabbi Meir but Rabbi Nehorai. Why then was he called Rabbi Meir? It was because he would “Light up (Meir) the eyes of the Chachamim in matters of Halacha”. And in fact, his name was not Rabbi Nehorai but Rabbi Nechemia, and some say it was Rabbi Elazar ben Arach. Why then was called Rabbi Nehorai? For he lit up (“Manhir”) the eyes of the Chachamim in matters of Halacha. (Eiruvin 13b).
The names Meir and Nehorai both have a connotation of “light” (one in Hebrew and the other in Aramaic) for this sage – prime student of Rabbi Akiva – would enlighten the Chachamim of his time. This sage was either Rabbi Nechemia or Rabbi Elazar ben Arach.
It was taught: His name was not Rabbi Nehorai but Rabbi Nechemia and some say he was Rabbi Elazar ben Arach. Why then was he called Rabbi Nehorai? It was because he lit up (“Manhir”) the eyes of the Chachamim in matters of Halacha. (Shabbos 147b).
Certainly, if Rabbi Nehorai was Rabbi Meir or Rabbi Nechemia, his recommendation to exile oneself to a place of Torah is noteworthy. But if he was in fact the Tannna Rabbi Elazar ben Arach it takes on added significance, as below.
The Mishna (Avos 2:8) relates that Rabbi Elazar ben Arach was the greatest student of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai. “If all of the other students of Rabbi Yochanan, including Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkenas were to stand on one side of the scale, and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach were to stand on the other, he would outweigh them all”. However, curiously, while the statements of Rabbi Yochanan’s other students are littered throughout the Mishna, very little appears in the name of Rabbi Elazar ben Arach.
Avos d’Rabbi Nasan (14) recounts that when Rabbi Elazar ben Arach’s contemporaries went to study Torah in Yavneh, he instead went to Damasis. There he waited expectantly for the other sages to join him as he was the “lion of the group” but they failed to do so, preferring instead to remain in Yavneh which was a place of Torah. Ultimately, Rabbi Elazar ben Arach who was never joined by the other Chachamim, turned his hand at running a bathhouse and never reached his full potential in Torah.
In fact, the Midrash (Koheles Rabah, 7:2) relates that Rabbi Elazar ben Arach realized he had been mistaken and wanted to join the other Sages in Yavneh. However, his wife did not permit him to do so, arguing that it was beneath his dignity and that they should instead join him in Damasis. In so doing, she caused her husband’s reputation to be lessened and that of the other sages to be greatened.
How apt it was that the very same Rabbi Elazar ben Arach – who was Rabbi Nehorai intoned: “Exile yourself to a place of Torah – and do not assume that it will come after you – for it is your colleagues who will cause it to remain with you; ‘and do not rely on your own understanding’”.
I was delighted to see that this connection was also made by the Machzor Vitri (427):
Rabbi Nehorai said: “Exile yourself to a place of Torah – and do not assume that it will come after you – for it is your colleagues who will cause it to remain with you; ‘and do not rely on your own understanding’”. He would also say: “It is not in our power either to explain the tranquility of the wicked or the suffering of the righteous”. Rabbi Nehorai is Rabbi Elazar ben Arach, as the Chachamim explain in Tractate Shabbos, Perek “heChavis”. And he was dubbed “Nehorai” for he lit up the eyes of the Chachamim in matters of Halacha. And it occurred that he was drawn after wine and forgot his Torah. But they begged for mercy for him and his wisdom returned. He used to say, “Exile yourself to a place of Torah” – not as I did. For I exiled myself to a place of the scoffers of the time, who drank from “silver basins”. The Chachamim refrained from following me. Rather, exile yourself to a place of Torah, to a place of Torah scholars. “And do not assume that it will come after you”, in other words that your students will follow you and your wisdom will return through them and that you will increase your teachings – as the Chachamim said “I learnt a great deal from my teachers etc. but from my students more than everyone”.
“Exile yourself to a place of Torah”
A student who goes into exile – we exile his Rebbi along with him, as the Pasuk states “And he shall live”. [Therefore] we must make arrangements for him so that he will have life. (Makkos 10a)
A student who is exile to a City of Refuge – we exile his Rebbi along with him, as the Pasuk states ‘And he shall live”. [Therefore] we must make arrangements for him so that he will have life. And for people of wisdom and for those who seek it, life without Torah learning is like death. And similarly, a Rebbi who is exiled – we exile his Yeshiva with him. (Rambam, Hilchos Rotzeach 7:1).
These enlightening words of the Rambam inform us of the dearness and enormous value of Torah. The Torah is the elixir of life – being without it is like death and therefore a Rebbi must hotfoot it into exile to join his student who is languishing in the City of Refuge.
But what about the Rebbi’s other students? Are not they all obligated to guard their lives? Does the Torah not clearly state, “You shall observe My decrees and My laws, which man shall carry out and by which he shall live”. Why do we cut off their source of life, namely their godly Rebbi, and dispatch him to the City of Refuge to save the life of one student who committed an accidental murder?
We can only conclude that the Rebbi’s other students are also instructed to join their Rebbi in exile. “If you desire life” we tell them, “join your Rebbi in exile and fulfill the dictum of ‘Exile yourself to a place of Torah’”. “Journey to Bnei Brak to study under Rabbi Akiva, to Lod to study under Rabbi Eliezer, and to the City of Refuge to continue to study under your Rebbi”. For people of wisdom and for those who seek it, life without Torah learning is like death. A man, dying of thirst, will search for water in all manner of places – scaling mountains, descending into the valleys, searching high and wide until he can revive himself. Thus shall be the conduct of he who seeks Torah – he must exile himself to a place where he can revive his soul.
Truthfully, not every person who learns Torah “revives his soul”. The Yerushalmi (Pe’ah 2, Shavuos 3, Shabbos 11 and Kesubos 51) asserts: “When is it your life? When you toil in it”, for only toil in Torah grants a person life. The reason for this is that only an “Avodas haNefesh” – a service performed with one’s heart and soul is able to breathe life into the soul itself. This was the intention of the Ramban (Acharei-Mos) who wrote that, “The life of a person [derived] from the Mitzvos, is in accordance with his preparation for them”.
The essence of Torah study that takes place in Yeshiva is summed up in the sixth chapter of Pirkei Avos which states: “The Torah is acquired by means of 48 qualities… ministering to the Sages, closeness with colleagues and sharp discussion with students”. These three were alluded to by Rabbi Chanina (Ta’anis 7a) who stated: “I learnt a great deal from my teachers (“Mnistering to the Sages”), and from my colleagues I derived more than from my teachers (“Closeness with colleagues”), and from my students I derived more than from anyone else (“Sharp discussion with students”).
In fact, Rabbi Chanina’s assertion
that he derived more from his students than he did from his teachers is utterly
extraordinary when we consider that he was one of the greatest students of Rebbi
Yehuda haNasi! The Yerushalmi (Nidah 9a) relates that Rabbi
Chanina claimed that he never issued any ruling that he hadn’t heard from Rebbi
– he was clearly known to be one of the greatest proponents of his great
teacher. Nevertheless, he sensed that he derived more from his students than
from Rabbenu haKadosh!
Iyun and Bekius
We are fortunate to live in a generation where tens of thousands of young Bnei Torah aspire to Torah greatness and eminence. These young men long for instruction as to how they should conduct themselves in order to merit the crown of Torah and how they may plumb its great depths.
The “factories” that produce these Bnei Torah, namely the holy Yeshivos each have their own approach to success in Torah, culled by their Roshei Yeshivos and Mashgichim from their experience and tradition. Some advocate studying “b’Iyun” – learning in great depth. Others praise the method of “Shinun” or “Bekius” – eruditeness in the broadness of Torah and constant review.
I thought that I would relate some of my thoughts on the subject of the various methods of Torah study, derived from the words of the great men of previous generations.
Clearly, in order to rise to greatness in Torah and become a Talmid Chacham, one needs to learn a great deal, filling one’s stomach with Shas and Poskim. One also needs to plumb the Torah’s great depths so as reach a complete understanding and so as to unearth the principles upon which the various Sugyas in Shas are built. One without the other is insufficient.
The Gemara (Kidushin 30a) famously states: “V’’Shinantem” – this teaches us that, “the words of the Torah shall be sharp in your mouth”. Rashi (ad. loc.) explains: “Review them, and explore their profundity such that if somebody asks you a question you will not stutter and will be able to answer immediately”.
There are two requirements to ensure that Torah remains “sharp in one’s mouth”. Firstly, one must review it constantly until one is thoroughly familiar with it. Secondly, one must explore the profundity of the Torah’s words so as to understand them correctly. That way, they will not just be familiar but also “razor-sharp”. These two requirements are clearly referenced by Rashi in his words, “Review them, and explore their profundity”.
Rashi makes a similar comment in the Gemara in Shabbos (88b). The Gemara states:
Said Rav Chananel bar Papa: What is the meaning of the Pasuk, “Listen for I will speak noble thoughts (“Negidim”)” Why are words of Torah compared to a ruler (“Nagid”)? To teach you the following: Just as a ruler has the authority to put to death or to acquit, so do words of Torah have the ability to kill people or to cause them to live. This is what Rava intended when he said, “For those who go to the right in Torah, it is an elixir of life. For those who go to the left in Torah, it is a potion of death”.
Rashi elucidates: “For those who go to the right in Torah” – that they occupy themselves with it with all their strength, and trouble themselves to understand its profundity – just like a man uses his right hand, which is his stronger hand.
Here too Rashi alludes to two different facets of Torah learning. A person must at once “occupy himself with it, with all his strength” but also, “trouble himself to understand its profundity”. These two facets tax both the physical body which must ruminate in Torah night and day, as well as the intellect and understanding of the heart which must endeavor to understand the Torah’s profundity and infinite depth.
This dual approach was the making of some of the greatest men in our history such as Rabbi Meir:
Said Rabbi Acha bar Chanina, it is known to the One Who Uttered and the World Was Formed that there was nobody in Rabbi Meir’s generation who was his equal. Why then is Halacha not in accordance with him? For his contemporaries were unable to completely understand him. (Eruvin 13b).
Clearly, even Rabbi Meir’s contemporaries, the great sages of the South and fellow students of Rabbi Akiva were unable to penetrate the depths of the Torah as he was. But how did he come to be so much greater that them? The answer is revealed by a previous Gemara (13a):
Originally Rabbi Meir came to [study before] Rabbi Akiva. But when he saw that he was unable to follow him, he came instead to Rabbi Yishmael and learned Gemara [he acquired a breadth in learning]. He then returned to Rabbi Akiva and learned Sevara [the logic of Torah learning].
In his younger years Rebbi Meir could not understand the profound arguments of Rabbi Akiva. He realized that without a broad knowledge of Shas he would not be able to plumb the Gemara’s depths and so he transferred to the Beis Hamedrash of Rabbi Yishmael where he acquired some Bekius. Then he was able to return to Rabbi Akiva.
It was later said of Rabbi Meir (Sanhedrin 24a): “Anybody who witnesses Rabbi Meir in the Beis Hamedrash – it was as though he uprooted the highest mountains and ground them against each other.” He had realized in his youth that in order to “grind mountains against one another” he needed to first acquire “mountains of Halachos” which he did under the tutelage of Rabbi Yishmael.
This approach is also alluded to by the Gemara in Sukkah 46b. The Pasuk states, “v’Hayah Im Shamoa Tishme’u” – “and it will be if you surely listen” and Chaza”l expound: “If you will listen (“Shamoa”) to the old – you will hear (“Tishme’u”) the new”. Rashi (ad. loc.) explains: “If you will listen to the old – this means that you review that which you have learnt. You will hear the new – you will become wise in it, formulating new ideas from established ones.
Every proficient student will attest to the truth of the
above. If one reviews one’s learning, dozens of proofs, questions, challenges
or resolutions suddenly emerge from the page of Gemara and the Sugya
becomes clearer than it ever had before.
Delighting in Torah
Many of those who haven’t experienced in depth Torah learning believe that the only way to achieve a broad Bekius is through constant review, and that the only way to acquire a deep understanding of Torah is through a focus on Iyun. But this isn’t the case. Above we proved that review of Torah is a great aid to Iyun and in the following paragraphs we will demonstrate how toiling and delighting in Torah do not only lead to an appreciation of the profundity of Torah but also to recalling it.
Recalling one’s learning is a crucial element of the study of Torah. Today, young men who occupy themselves in the Beis Hamedrash and who strive every day to achieve the crown of Torah, ask how they can possibly remember all that they have learnt. Is there a tried and tested method to aid recall?
Truthfully there are several things recommended by Chaza”l to help recall one’s learning:
1. Fear of Heaven (Shabbos 31b).
2. Humility, for words of Torah only endure in the modest of spirit (Ta’anis 7a).
3. Exemplary character traits – “Without Derech Eretz, there is no Torah” (see Rabbenu Yona to Avos 3:17).
4. Prayer. The Gemara in Temura (15a) relates that Asniel ben Kenaz prayed that he wouldn’t forget his learning. See also Rashi to Avoda Zara (8a).
But above all, a desire for Torah and a delight in its words, ensure that a person cannot forget it. The Chafetz Chaim zt”l, when asked for an aid to retain one’s learning would cite the Pasuk, “But his desire is in the Torah of Hashem” (Tehilim 1:2). One might also cite the Pasuk, “I occupy myself with your statutes, I will not forget Your word” (ibid. 119:16) where the Radak comments: “When I ponder them, I delight in them. Therefore I cannot forget them for they are a joy and gladden the heart”.
Man does not forget that which is engraved on his heart. That which he loves, he remembers – he cannot forget it. To the degree that a person delights in the words of the Torah, enjoying his understanding of it, so will those words of Torah remain familiar to him always.
Rabbenu Yona elaborates (Mishlei 2:4):
If you search for it like silver, and seek it out like precious treasure… according to the enjoyment in the effort and in the search [for Torah], the eyes of the intellect will be opened, and the recall in a person’s heart will be. As the Pasuk states, “I was bequeathed your statues forever, for they are the delight of me heart”… And Chaza”l say, “A person only learns the Torah that his heart desires”. We see that success in learning depends upon the desire.
Indeed, “success in learning depends upon the desire”, or, in the words of the Chafetz Chaim, “But his desire is in the Torah of Hashem”. To the degree that a person desires Torah and delights in it, so will it be engraved upon his heart.
The Yerushalmi (Brachos 5:1 – 37b) asserts: “Somebody who applies reason to his learning – he will not be soon to forget it”. Why is this the case? The Pasuk states: “Lest you forget the things that your eyes have beheld”.
From all of the above it is clear that review and “Shinun”
are not the only methods to recalling one’s learning. Depth of understanding
and clarity also aid recall and to the degree that a person truly understands
the Torah, so will remain engraved upon his heart and not soon forgotten.
Integrity of Sevara
One of the most important facets of Torah learning is “Yosher haSevara” – integrity of logic. This is attested to by two trustworthy witnesses – Rav Chaim Volozhin zt”l and Rabbi Akiva Eiger zt”l.
Rav Chaim Volozhin (Eitz Chaim 36 – printed at the back of Nefesh haChaim) wrote:
If you examine this matter carefully you will find that all of the great Rishonim and Acharonim were only praised as to their ability to formulate “Sevara Yeshara”. Whoever’s ability to formulate Sevara Yeshara was greater – he was greater than his colleagues.
Rabbi Akiva Eiger wrote likewise: (Cited in the introduction to Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s commentary on Chullin by Rav Zilberberg zt”l in the name of his Rebbi, Rabbi Simcha Rafish who was one of the greatest of Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s students and from whom he received Semicha. This letter was printed in Warsaw in 5692 and is also cited in Igros Rabbi Akiva Eiger, p217 in a footnote):
A person’s main focus in his toil in Torah shall be to acquire Yosher haSevara even if he will thereby lose some time for Bekius as he hasn’t the time for both. For a person whose power of Sevara is straight, his intellect will protect and prevent him from deviating or G-d forbid disputing the Gemara, Tosfos or the Ramban etc. For all of their holy words are utterly straight and deviating from them is inherently crooked. A person of Sevara Yeshara will not G-d forbid drown in crookedness.
The trait of Sevara Yeshara was one applied, admiringly to all of the great people, from the times of the Rishonim until the latest of the Acharonim. “Whoever’s ability to formulate Sevara Yeshara was greater – he was greater than his colleagues.”
The most important focus when toiling in Torah shall be to understand the Sevara. The Toras Chaim (Bava Metzia 33a) explains:
And he is rewarded for it:
The reason that a person who occupies himself in Torah is rewarded is mainly
due to his Sevaros – as he explains the reasoning and compares one thing to
another. For this he toils in Torah, laboring mightily, as the Gemara says,
“The reward of a Sugya is the Sevara”. This applies when a person learns
Mishna, and certainly Gemara but not if one merely learns Mikra. Therefore, one
isn’t rewarded as greatly for learning Mikra.
Setting Aside Time for Torah (“Kevias Itim”)
Said Rava: When they bring a person in for [Heavenly] judgment, they ask him: Did you deal honestly in business? Did you set aside time for Torah study? Did you occupy yourself with procreation? (Shabbos 31a)
Clearly, every person is obligated to set aside time for Torah study. This is ruled by the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 246:1):
Every Jewish person is obligated in Torah study. Whether he be poor or rich, healthy or suffering, young or elderly. Even the poor person who circles people’s homes soliciting aid, even a person who is married with children – all are obligated to set aside a time for Torah study during the day and at night as the Pasuk states: “And you shall ponder it day and night”.
The Halacha is in accordance with Rabbi Yishmael who rules (Brachos 35b) that one may work for a living and one is not obligated to learn all of the time. Nevertheless, one’s Torah learning must be one’s prime focus. The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 156:1) explains:
And after that he shall go to attend to his affairs. For Torah that is not accompanied by work will ultimately be lost and will a cause of sin for poverty will cause him to abrogate the instructions of his Creator. Nevertheless, he shall not make his work his principle focus. Rather he shall consider it impermanent and his Torah shall be fixed in stone. That way, both will endure.
Every person, though he may be occupied in earning a living is obligated to set aside times for Torah study during the day and at night. If he hasn’t the need to work he must set aside all of his hours for Torah study, as the Magen Avraham (ibid.) clearly states.
Today, two extraordinary and joyous phenomena can be observed among our communities. Firstly, tens of thousands of Bnei Torah, Yeshivaleit and Yungerleit devote their lives to Torah study in Eretz Yisrael and around the world. Secondly, ten of thousands of Balabatim, of all different professions, set aside fixed times for Torah study every day. In those treasured hours they toil and delight in the Torah despite that fact that their days are almost entirely consumed by earning a respectable living.
At first glance, the former group are greater than the latter for they devote themselves entirely Torah and their “work is done by others”. However, in one respect the members of the second group are greater. The Birkei Yosef (O.C. 155:1) rules:
An appointed Dayan is permitted to hear cases during his times that are set aside for learning. In fact, in judging the case he is considered to have been learning, for issuing Torah rulings is tantamount to Torah study. However, this is only the case if he isn’t remunerated for judging the case.
For the same reason, those whose profession is to teach school children Torah – if they are remunerated the time they spend teaching Torah does not fulfill their own Mitzva of Kevias Itim – this was the position of my teacher and grandfather – Mahar”a Azoulay in his written comments to the Sefer Zichron Moshe.
Therefore, those who learn in Yeshiva at a set time and receive a stipend for doing so – that Seder of learning cannot count towards the Mitzva of Kevias Itim, though one could distinguish between the cases.
This is also the conclusion of the Sha’arey Teshuva ibid.
Based on the ruling of the Birkei Yosef, the Kaf haChaim (ibid. 4), contends that since Kevias Itim is a Torah obligation, one needs to act stringently. Therefore, although there might have been an argument to say that those who receive a stipend for learning do fulfill their personal Mitzva of Kevias Itim (as the Birkei Yosef wrote “though one could distinguish between the cases”), a person should nevertheless ensure to add an extra Seder of learning for which he is not remunerated.
The Shulchan haTahor (ibid. 2) disagrees. He maintains that since the remuneration received by those who study Torah is merely “Schar Batala” – a mere stipend and not a salary, it does not detract from the Mitzva of Kevias Itim. However, as stated, the Kaf haChaim rules that one should be stringent in this matter.
Therefore, the Avreichim who dedicate their days and nights to Torah study, are still required to set aside fixed times for learning for which they receive no remuneration. This, in today’s world, is difficult as aside from the morning and afternoon Sedarim, there are also Kolels that operate during the evening and early morning, thus many Avreichim find that they do not have a Seder of learning for which they are not remunerated to some degree.
Truthfully it seems difficult to claim that those who
faithfully learn at all times of the day and night do not fulfill their Mitzva
of Kevias Itim! This matter requires further study. Nevertheless, one
should set aside a Seder of learning for which one isn’t remunerated. This, at
the very least, is an expression of one’s love of Torah.
Learning Gemara or Poskim
If a person does not have the opportunity to learn at all times, what genre of learning should be his focus? Today, Baruch Hashem there are tens of thousands who learn Daf haYomi each day without fail some of whom even take time to review the Daf to boot. In fact, there can barely be a Jewish community in the world in which a Daf haYomi Shiur does not take place and indeed, not so long ago, the entire world celebrated the 13th Siyum haShas of Daf haYomi amid great joy and festivity and glory of Hashem’s name.
However, at face value, this practice would not appear to be consonant with Halacha for the Taz (Y.D. 246:2) and Shach (ibid. 5) both rule that it is better to focus on the Sifrey haPoskim. The following are the thoughts of the Taz:
The Derisha notes that there are some Balabatim whose custom it is to learn Gemara with Rashi and Tosfos each day rather than the Sifrey haPoskim. They adduce proof for this practice from the Gemara at the end of Tractate Nidah which states: “It was taught in the Beis haMedrash of Eliyahu: Anybody who learns Halachos each day, he is assured of being a ben Olam haBa.”
However, in my opinion they should occupy themselves with the Sifrey haPoskim such as the Rif, Mordechai and Rosh and the like. They do not fulfill their obligation by focusing on Gemara with Rashi and Tosfos. That which was taught in the Beis haMedrash of Eliyahu refers to Halachos Pesukos [Halachic rulings and not the Halachos as they appear in the Gemara.]
The Shach similarly concurs with the Derisha. He adds that although Rabbenu Tam (cited by Tosfos, Kidushin 30a) holds that by learning Gemara one fulfills the dictum of Chaza”l of dividing one’s hours equally between learning Mikra (the written law), Mishna and Talmud (as Shas contains each of these three elements) this is only recommended for a person who has nine hours a day to learn. Balabatim whose time is limited to three or four hours of learning should not only focus on Shas.
This is also the conclusion of the Mishna Berura (155:3):
Each day a person is obligated to learn the Written Law which is Tanach, Mishna, Gemara and Poskim. Balabatim who are only able to learn for three or four hours a day should not only learn Gemara as by doing so they do not fulfill their obligation. Rather they should ensure to also learn the Sifrey haPoskim, each person according to his grasp.
Thus, according to the Taz, Shach and Mishna Berura, those who are not occupied in Torah studies throughout the day, should give precedence to the Sifrey haPoskim over that of Gemara and its commentators. They recommended studying the Rif, Rosh and the like, but today it would be more appropriate to study the Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Berura from which practical Halacha may be derived.
Nevertheless, I often say, that the most important directive in this regard is that of the Gemara in Avoda Zara (19a): “A person should always learn the Torah that his heart desires”. When he does so he will be dedicated and conscientious, thirsty for knowledge and delighting in the Torah. There can be no greater merit than that.
The Aruch haShulchan (246:17) comments:
Indeed we have seen, that if we instruct them as such, they will not learn at all as their desire is to learn a page of Gemara every day. Therefore, one should not dissuade them – if only they will keep to that. Any words of Torah are a balm for the soul and bring a person to pure fear of Hashem.
This notion is borne out of the collective experience of many thousands of people. Only the study of Gemara, and particularly Daf haYomi confer the sweet taste, enjoyment and satisfaction of Torah study on the masses. For Gemara contains the structure of every Halachic Sugya, is the source of the great battles of Torah, the foundation of all facets of the Torah – Halacha, Agada, discussion and debate, Kabala and philosophy. The Chachamim of the Mishna and Gemara are the fathers of Torah, wisdom and fear of Heaven and their words should be our main focus of study.
The Birkei Yosef (246:4) greatly praises the study of Gemara with Rashi and Tosfos, citing Rav Sheftel zt”l (the son of the Shlah haKadosh) who wrote in his Last Will and Testament (cited at the end of the Sefer Yesh Nochalin): “The study of Gemara, Rashi and Tosfos is an obligation akin to laying Tefilin”!
And even the Drisha, Taz and Shach did not mean to preclude the study of Gemara but to add that studying the Sifrei haPoskim is also vitally important.
Therefore, it would be praiseworthy for those who give a Shiur
in Daf haYomi or Gemara to Balabatim to also include a little
practical Halacha, and excerpts from the Sifrey haPoskim that are
relevant to the Sugyas at hand. This is particularly important when the Sugyas
being studied are those that are relevant to practical Halacha that is
applicable today. In doing so they will be granting all concerned the best of
The Tefila of Rabbi Nechunya ben haKaneh
In recent times with the advent of Coronavirus, Shuls and Batei Medrash around the world have been sadly shuttered and Jews everywhere have been learning Torah in the safety of their homes. Many have asked, therefore, whether there is any obligation to say the Tefila of Rabbi Nechunya ben haKaneh (Brachos 28b) which is usually recited when first entering the Beis haMedrash and when leaving it.
According to the Rambam (Pirush haMishnayos ibid. 7:2) these Tefilos are obligatory. This also appears to be the ruling of the Mishna Berura (110:36) though the Shulchan Aruch does not clearly rule like the Rambam. The Ritva and Shita Mekubetzes (Brachos ibid.) disagree, ruling that they are optional.
The Aruch haShulchan (ibid. 16) maintains that the Minhag is not to recite these Tefilos upon entering or exiting the Beis haMedrash as they were enacted essentially for those who issue Halachic rulings. Halachic arbiters do not work principally from the Beis haMedrash but from home or from a Beis Hora’ah.
That said, those who wish to continue reciting these Brachos at home may do so. This is implied by the Taz (ibid. 8) and Kaf haChaim (20). They should recite them before they begin to learn in the morning and when they conclude their learning later.