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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays Preperation for Shavuot

“...First Bless Over The Torah”

Torah calls for preparation. The Patriarchs preceded the giving of the Torah, and, as the foundation of the Jewish people, fulfilled the entire Torah even before it was given. This measure was taken as a kind of preparation for receiving the Torah.
Dedicated to the memory of
Amram son of Sultana
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1. Preparing for Receiving the Torah
2. Why is the land perished and laid waste?
3. Explaining Rabbi Yehudah in the name of Rav: Three Directions
4. Two More Interpretations
5. "The Sages referred to this yet did not explain it..."

Preparing for Receiving the Torah
The Torah demands preparation. Just as the world needed preparation before the appearance of the Torah, so too, every individual needs to prepare himself in order to receive the Torah. The Sages break word history down into three significant epochs: "Two thousand years of desolation; two thousand years of Torah; two thousand years of Messiah." The Patriarchs preceded the giving of the Torah, and, as the foundation of the Jewish people, they fulfilled the entire Torah even before it was given. This measure was taken as a kind of preparation for receiving the Torah.

Why is the land perished and laid waste?
The Talmud (Bava Metzia 85b) relates: Rabbi Yehudah said in the name of Rav, "What is the meaning of that which is written (Jeremiah 9:11): ‘Who is the wise man that he may understand this? And who is he to whom the mouth of God has spoken, that he may declare it? Why is the land perished and laid waste like a wilderness so that none pass through it?’ The Sages made reference to this passage yet did not explain it; the Prophets also made reference to this passage yet did not explain it; finally, the Almighty Himself explained it, as it is written (Jeremiah 9:12): ‘And God says, because they have forsaken my law which I have set before them’". Rabbi Yehudah said in the name of Rav: "[This means that the land was laid waste] because they did not first bless over the Torah."

Explaining Rabbi Yehudah in the name of Rav: Three Directions
In explaining the expression, "Because they did not first bless over the Torah," Rabbenu Nissim ben Reuven of Gerona cites the opinion of Rabbenu Yonah of Gerona (Nedarim 81a): This means that they did not consider the Torah important enough to deserve a blessing; they did not approach it sincerely, and hence would disregard its blessing.
Rabbi Yoel Sirkes, the "Bach," writes (Orach Chaim 47): It appears that from the outset the intention of the Almighty was that we busy ourselves with Torah in order that our souls be strengthened through the power, spirituality, and holiness of the ultimate source of the Torah... but because "this law was abrogated," and Torah is now studied for mundane, material purposes and for personal benefit: People study it in order to be versed in what is relevant to business dealings or simply to boast and show off their wisdom; and because people have no intention to be strengthened by, and to cling to the sanctity and spirituality of the Torah, a rift was created, the Divine Presence left the world, and the earth was left in its physical state, without sanctity. And this caused its destruction and loss.
The explanation of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook is well known. Our beloved mentor interprets the phrase "Because they did not first bless over the Torah," as meaning that they did not recite the benediction that precedes the Torah reading, the wording of which is: "Blessed are You… Who selected us from all of the nations," and because of this "gave us His Torah," and which reminds us that the Torah was given upon the foundation of Israel’s unique elected status, i.e., that the Torah appears in the world by virtue of the Jewish people.
These three matters constitute three fundamental concepts, the appreciation of which is essential for a proper approach to Torah study.

Two More Interpretations
If we take a glance at chapter nine of the book of Jeremiah, where the words "because they have forsaken my law" appear, we find strong language being resorted to: "They are all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men…For they proceed from evil to evil...Their tongue is a sharpened arrow...One speaks peaceably to his neighbor with his mouth, but in his heart he lays in wait for him...they have walked after the stubbornness of their heart, and after the Baalim, which their fathers taught them." We may infer from here that the Jewish people sinned to the point of performing forbidden sexual relations, murder, and idol worship. Well known are the words of the Sages that the First Temple was destroyed because of these three severe transgressions. This being the case, the question begs to be asked: Why do the Sages explain the expression "because they have forsaken my law" to mean that they did not first bless over the Torah? Why not simply understand this phrase in the wider sense of, "They have not hearkened to My voice, neither walked therein, but have walked after the stubbornness of their own heart"?
Indeed, the Sages have taken this matter to issue; we find the following observation at the beginning of Midrash Eicha Rabba: The Almighty forwent idolatry, forbidden sexual relations, and murder, but was unwilling to forgo Israel's distain for the Torah, as it is written, "because they have forsaken my law."
From here we see that even though there was certainly a problem of idolatry, forbidden sexual relations, and murder (as the Sages of the Talmud explain in tractate Yoma [9a], and as we can see for ourselves in chapter nine of the book of Jeremiah), the Sages understood that the Prophet saw in the words "because they have forsaken my law," the source of the problem - a distain for Torah.

We also find the following comment in the Jerusalem Talmud (Chagigah1:7): If you find cities uprooted in the land of Israel, this is because scribes and Torah guardians did not receive their wages, as it is written, "...because they have forsaken my law," - i.e., they did not insure the maintenance of elementary schools for Torah study and of more advanced Torah academies.

And so, we have seen three explanations of this expression by the Sages: distain for Torah; lack of support for Torah education; and the fact that the Israel did not first bless over the Torah.

"The Sages referred to this yet did not explain it..."
It appears - when one considers the plain meaning of the verses in Jeremiah and the severe sins that are attributed to the Israelites there - that the Sages come along and, in effect, limit and confine the problem: first to the study of Torah; then, even more focused, the study of Torah for children; and, finally, almost pinpointed, to blessing first over the Torah. All this demands an explanation.

When the Rabbis say, "The Sages referred to this yet did not explain it..." what they mean is that if the Sages had been asked, they would have said that the land was lost as a result of three severe sin - forbidden sexual relations, murder, and idol worship. Except that such a response would be unsatisfactory, for it itself needs explanation: How could the holy Jewish people have allowed themselves to deteriorate to the point of transgressing the entire Torah? The answer to this question is that they did not study Torah. The source of their abandoning the commandments lay simply in the fact that they forsook the study of Torah.
Yet, even this answer does not satisfy us, for it itself is difficult: How is it possible that Children of Israel, the nation which received the Torah at Mount Sinai, did not learn it well enough to know how to conduct themselves properly? This question, then, merits a more penetrating explanation. The reason that they did not learn how to conduct themselves in a fitting manner was that they did not build their lives and the lives of their children upon a foundation which promotes the value of Torah study - a foundation which finds expression in the establishment of Torah schools for children, to accustom them, from early childhood, to erect all of life upon the value of Torah.
Yet, we must delve further, asking: But is not this in itself difficult to understand? How could the Jewish people have become so slack regarding the establishment of elementary Torah schools? Only the Almighty Himself managed to penetrate to this depth: "Because they did not first bless over the Torah." A reverence for, and spiritual-ideological priority of the Torah, which, as we have seen in the words of the Ran, the Bach, and Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah, finds expression in the blessing over the Torah, when absent, results in the eventual abandonment of everything.
Ever so slowly, step by step, lack of appreciation leads to the deterioration and eventual nullification of elementary Torah education. As a result, gradually, Torah study for the purpose of knowing even the practical laws is nullified until finally complete abandonment of the Torah results, to the point of the appearance of the three severe aforementioned sins.

And so, the elevation of the Jewish people’s spiritual level to one of Torah study and fulfillment is completely dependent upon the amount of preparation invested in receiving the Torah. The greater, deeper, and more serious the preparation, the more we will merit ascending higher and higher on the rungs of the Torah ladder, and even the land itself will be rectified and uplifted, until we finally reach the complete and long-awaited redemption, speedily in our days, Amen.
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