Beit Midrash

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Torah vs. Tefilla


Various Rabbis

Gemara: Rava saw that Rav Hamnuna was davening for a long time. Rava said: They abandon eternal life and occupy themselves with transient life. Rav Hamnuna reasoned: The time of tefilla is independent from the time of Torah.

Ein Ayah: The Torah gives one knowledge that flows from the springs of truth. This is eternal life, as truth is eternal. Prayer, in contrast, is not a matter of enrichment with new truths to feed the mind, but is an application of old spiritual knowledge to impact the soul. Sometimes the less pure vision excites the emotion because it is a product of material. For that reason it was permitted to use in tefilla descriptions of Hashem that are appropriate for the realm of emotion. Intellect does not require the deepening of the impression, just a widening of the knowledge itself. Only because the body weighs on the intellect is there a need to internalize. Because Torah relates more to eternal truths and tefilla relates more to the body, it is wrong to abandon Torah for the more transient tefilla.
Rav Hamnuna based his thesis – that the time for the two holy activities are independent – on the idea that one should learn where his heart tells him to because one’s internal inclination is a reliable indicator of what will best assist his spirit. The same is true in the choice of balance between Torah and tefilla. The intellect is not proficient at deciding to what extent it should be sustained by pure Torah and intellect and to what extent it needs to be seasoned by emotion. Therefore, a person’s inner inclination should lead him. Some people will be drawn to the treasures of the Torah, which is the mainstay of the individual and the collective. However, when he feels that at a certain time he is emotionally drawn to pour out his soul before Hashem, it is a sign that this is his most urgent need, even more than the loftier Torah. Indeed, the time for Torah and for tefilla are independent, even though the general rules of when tefilla is appropriate are set based on the needs of the community.

Torah vs. Tefilla – Part II
(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 1:7)

Gemara: Rav Yirmiya was sitting before Rav Zeira, and they were involved in Torah study. It was getting late to daven, and Rav Yirmiya was anxious to leave. Rabbi Zeira attributed the following pasuk to him: "He who removes his ear from hearing Torah, his tefilla will also be an abomination" (Mishlei 28:9).

Ein Ayah: A person is naturally drawn to holy emotions, and he requires tefilla to quiet, complete, and express them. However, mistakes can be made because, along with holy emotions, he has many and varied other emotions and desires for physical things. Clearly, one’s desires for the physical should be guided by the rules and wisdom of Torah, which find the straight path for man, and without which he will fall into a path of destruction.
One is liable to think that regarding spiritual desires, including love of Hashem and enjoying His glory, he does not need the guidance of Torah but can allow his spirit to soar, yearn, and sing as it sees fit. If so, when the time for tefilla comes, he should abandon Torah and cling to tefilla. Therefore, Shlomo Hamelech taught us that with an abandonment of Torah, even the loftiest emotions can go beyond boundaries. That is why Rav Zeira considered it a mistake to hurry to leave the setting of Torah to go to tefilla. He reinforced the message that even the lofty needs to be guided by the intellect of Torah. Not only could his physical desires turn into an abomination, but even his tefilla could become one.
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