Beit Midrash

  • Prayer
To dedicate this lesson
Chapter ten-part two

the requirement of the torah blessing


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

4. Before What Type of Learning Must the Berachot Be Recited?
One must recite Birkot HaTorah before learning any part of the Torah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 47:2). In other words, even one who only intends to learn Midrash or halachah on a particular day must recite Birkot HaTorah at the onset of that day. The reason for this is that the entire Torah - whether it is Torah Shebichtav (the Written Torah) or Torah Sheb’al Peh (the Oral Torah), the halachic segments or the philosophical - was all given from Hashem to Moshe on Mount Sinai (Yerushalmi, Pe’ah, chapter 2, halachah 4) and when studying them, one must recite, "Who chose us from among all His nations and gave us His Torah."
There is dissension among the poskim regarding whether or not Birkot HaTorah must also be recited before thinking Torah thoughts. For example, a person who arises in the morning with the desire to ponder a few ideas of Torah, according to most poskim does not need to recite the berachot. Still, there are those who disagree. In order to avoid uncertainty, one who wakes up and wishes to reflect upon words of Torah should first recite Birkot HaTorah and immediately afterwards say a few verses. However, someone who temporarily wakes from his sleep in the middle of the night, and wants to contemplate Torah ideas until he falls back to sleep, need not recite Birkot HaTorah. 4
Those who listen to Jewish music when they wake up in the morning or in the middle of the night do not need to recite Birkot HaTorah since they do not have the intention to learn.
One may recite Birkot HaTorah and Birkot HaShachar while standing, sitting, lying down, and walking. Nevertheless, there are those who are strict to say Birkot HaTorah while standing, or walking, but not while sitting or lying down. 5

5. Birkot HaTorah for the Whole Day
Birkot HaTorah are recited in the morning in conjunction with the recital of Birkot HaShachar, and they encompass all learning performed throughout that day. Even if a person goes to eat and to work afterwards, he does not need to recite Birkot HaTorah upon returning to learn.
In that respect Birkot HaTorah differ from other Birkot HaMitzvot (berachot recited upon the performance of a mitzvah). Concerning all other mitzvot, every time a person performs the mitzvah anew, he must recite another berachah because the mitzvot are only designated for a specific time of the day, or for a particular act. For example, the mitzvah of sukkah requires that a person eat and sleep in the sukkah, while at all other times he is permitted to go wherever he desires. Similarly, the mitzvah of tallit can be fulfilled after one minute of the day. Therefore, every time one wraps himself anew in his tallit, or goes into the sukkah to eat another meal, he must repeat the particular berachah intended for that mitzvah.
However, the mitzvah of learning Torah is a general mitzvah that encompasses all of a person’s days and hours, as it is written (Joshua 1:8), "You shall meditate thereon day and night." Even if a person learned in the morning, the commandment to learn still applies at night and at every available hour (Tosafot, Berachot 11b, s.v. "Shekvar"). Further, even when a person is not learning Torah, the Torah guides his life within the confines of halachah, middot (proper character traits), and faith. Even when a person is relieving himself or bathing, times at which it is prohibited to think Torah thoughts, there are halachot guiding him in these instances also, thus illustrating that no one can ever detach himself from Torah (see Agur, section 1, brought by the Beit Yosef 47:11). Therefore, Birkot HaTorah recited in the morning cover all of one’s learning throughout that day, and any work or business conducted in the interim is not considered to be an interruption (Shulchan Aruch 47:10). 6

^ 3.According to the Rambam, Birkat HaMazon is the only blessing that is a biblical commandment, and that is what the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 209:3, writes. However, most Rishonim and Acharonim maintain that Birkot HaTorah are also a biblical obligation. Similarly, the Sha’agat Aryeh 24 proves this from the fact that the Gemara wants to learn a principle of kal vachomer from Birkot HaTorah and apply it to the berachah before eating and a kal vachomer principle cannot be learned from a rabbinic ruling. Nevertheless, concerning a case of uncertainty, although there are those who rule to recite all the berachot, he writes that one must recite only the "Asher bachar banu" berachah as it is written in the Mishnah Berurah 47:1. See Yalkut Yosef 47:2 for an expanded list of sources. Additionally see Aruch HaShulchan 47:2 who explains that even according to the Rambam, Birkot HaTorah is biblical, yet it is included in the mitzvah of learning Torah and therefore is not listed as its own commandment.
^ 4.According to the Shulchan Aruch 47:4, it is only necessary to recite a blessing if the learning is actually said out loud, since that is the essence of Torah learning, as it is written (Joshua 1:8), "This book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth . You shall meditate thereon day and night." Although in-depth study of certain matters is possible and perhaps even preferable to do via one’s thoughts, still, at all other times it is necessary to learn by saying the words out loud (Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Hilchot Talmud Torah 2:12). In that way, the learning one accomplishes becomes clearer and the abstract ideas he learned via thought are understood better. Further, someone who learns out loud remembers his learning better (see Eiruvin 54a). However, the Vilna Gaon (Gra) maintains that even though the essence of one’s learning should be done out loud, nonetheless, even thinking the words and ideas of the Torah is part of the mitzvah, as it says (Joshua 1:8), "You shall meditate thereon day and night," and "meditating" is thinking. Therefore, it is necessary to recite Birkot HaTorah prior to mental learning as well. Kaf HaChaim 6 mentions opinions that someone who is reading a book usually will also read with his mouth. Nevertheless, although it is good to take into consideration the opinion of the Gra, one must say a few verses aloud after Birkot HaTorah in order to adjoin the blessing to the learning. For that reason, it is customary to recite the verses of Birkat Kohanim after Birkot HaTorah (Mishnah Berurah 47:5). One who wakes from his sleep and wants to continue lying in his bed can rub his hands on his blanket, recite Birkot HaTorah, say a few verses, and ponder Torah thoughts, as explained in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 4:23 and Mishnah Berurah paragraphs 59 and 61. If he wakes up in the middle of his sleep, I wrote that he may think thoughts of Torah without reciting the berachot, taking into consideration the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch and our custom to bless once a day following Rabbeinu Tam, as explained further in this chapter in halachot 6 and 7.
Further, the Shulchan Aruch 47:3 clarifies that one who writes words of Torah is considered to be learning and must recite a blessing prior to doing so. However, there are those who disagree, among them the Taz. In practice, the Acharonim agree that one who wants to write words of Torah must bless and afterwards recite a few verses, thereby fulfilling his obligation according to all opinions (Mishnah Berurah 47:4; Kaf HaChaim 5).

^ 5.The Rishonim write that Birkot HaMitzvot must be recited while standing. Therefore, the berachah recited on wrapping oneself in tzitzit, for example, is recited while standing, as well as the berachah before blowing the shofar or shaking the lulav (Beit Yosef, Orach Chaim, beginning of section 8). Based on this, it would seem to be necessary to recite Birkot HaTorah while standing as well, for these blessings are also included in Birkot HaMitzvot. However, it is the opinion of the Pnei Yehoshua (Megillah 21a), that the obligation to stand pertains to mitzvot which are performed while standing, such as harvesting the sheaves of grain (for Korban HaOmer) and blowing the shofar, but regarding mitzvot that can be performed either while standing or sitting, such as Torah learning, one may recite the blessing while sitting. That is what is written in Yechaveh Da’at 5:4. Yaskil Avdi 8:3 adds that according to sod (mysticism), it is correct to recite Birkot HaTorah while standing. All this is lechatchilah; however, obviously one who recites the blessing while sitting fulfills his obligation. Even blowing the shofar and counting the Omer may, in extenuating circumstances, be performed while sitting, as clarified in Mishnah Berurah 8:2. In practice, many Ashkenazim follow the custom to recite Birkot HaTorah and Birkot HaShachar while standing or walking, but not while sitting.
^ 6.The Rishonim disagree concerning the question of whether it is an obligation to learn a few verses of Torah immediately upon reciting Birkot HaTorah. According to Ri, one of the Ba’alei HaTosafot (Berachot 11b, "Shekvar"), Birkot HaTorah differ from the other Birkot HaMitzvot in that they are not directed only towards the present learning, rather they are designated for Torah learning throughout the entire day. Therefore, there is no obligation to learn specifically after the berachah, rather the obligation is to learn something during the day. That is how the Beit Yosef interprets the opinions of the Rosh and the Tur as well. However, the Rambam maintains that the law concerning Birkot HaTorah is like all Birkot HaMitzvot, in which it is necessary to adjoin the berachah to the mitzvah and therefore one must learn immediately following its recital. If he does not learn immediately, the berachah becomes nullified. This case is similar to a person who wants to eat cake and recites, "Borei minei mezonot", yet does not eat right away, and instead goes to do other things. When he finally wants to eat from the cake, he will need to go back and repeat the Mezonot blessing. Even though it seems from the Shulchan Aruch that the ruling is according to Ri, nonetheless, in the opinion of many Acharonim we follow the Rambam (Mishnah Berurah 47:19), for the Rama in Darkei Moshe explains the opinions of the Rosh and the Tur like the Rambam. Nowadays, the prevalent minhag among all Jews is to recite the three verses of Birkat Kohanim after Birkot HaTorah and that is considered learning after the berachah. After that, many add other rabbinic words such as "Eilu devarim…", for they contain words of Mishnah and Beraita, (which are considered words of Gemara), and in that way every Jew merits learning Scripture, Mishnah, and Gemara daily.
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