Shiur #28: Torah Study (2)

  • Harav Baruch Gigi

I. Studying Tםrah Before God           

After having surveyed the principles of Divine service through prayer, based on the view of the Rambam, let us now consider Torah study.

Like prayer, Torah study also places the Torah student before God. One who studies Torah occupies himself with the word of God and with His wisdom embodied in the Torah. Seeing that God and His wisdom are one,[1] so too He and His Torah are one,[2] and therefore one who occupies himself with God's Torah cleaves to Him and becomes connected to Him with a deep and fundamental bond.

Since the Torah's wisdom penetrates the very soul of the learner, a person who occupies himself with God's Torah turns it into his own Torah. As Chazal have said:

Rava also said: At the beginning [of this verse] the Torah is assigned to the Holy One, blessed be He, but at the end it is assigned to him [he who studies it], for it is stated: "Whose desire is in the Law of the Lord and in his [own] Law does he meditate day and night" (Tehilim 1:2). (Avoda Zara 19a)

This statement is an expansion of what Chazal say in the Sifre, that the service mentioned in the verse, "And to serve Him" (Devarim 11:13) is Torah study. Divine service is based on man connecting himself to God, and subjecting his entire being to standing before Him. This is most fully expressed  in the study of His Torah.

This is what Rabbi Chayyim of Volozhin says in his book, Nefesh ha-Chayyim:

And he should have in mind to cleave through his study to it, the Torah, and to Him, the Holy One, blessed be He. That is, to cleave with all his might to the word of God, i.e., the Halakha. In this way he actually cleaves, as it were, to Him, blessed be He. For He, blessed be He, and His will, are one, as it is written in the Zohar. And every law and Halakha in the holy Torah reflects His will, blessed be He, for His will decreed that this be fit or unfit, pure or impure, permitted or forbidden, innocent or liable … What is more, at the very time that a person occupies himself with the Torah in this world, every word that he utters with his mouth are the very words being issued, as it were, from God's mouth at that moment… As is stated in the Holy Torah in the book of Devarim: "To love the Lord your God, etc." And the Rabbis explained this in Nedarim (62a) as referring to Torah study (see there), and the end of the verse reads: "And to cleave to Him." Therefore King David, peace be upon him, said: "The Torah of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver" (Tehilim 119:72). He said: My heart is happy when I toil in the Holy Torah with great intensity, as I recall that it is the Torah of Your mouth, that every word of the Torah in which I am occupied at this time, all went out and it also goes out now from Your mouth. (Nefesh ha-Chayyim, IV, 6).

II. Uniting the Powers of Torah and Prayer

Of course, Divine service embraces all areas of human endeavor, and encompasses the entirety of the worshipper's being, existence and consciousness. However, besides this broad dimension, the term "Divine service" was assigned by Chazal to two specific commandments: prayer and Torah study.

These two commandments together, and each one by itself, demand and require the inner essence of man. In both cases, the person stands before his Creator and nullifies himself before Him, and in both cases, the person sees himself as an instrument through which the word of God becomes revealed in the world. Through the Torah, man reveals the word of God expressed in His wisdom; the Torah that becomes revealed in this world through man. Through his prayers, man reveals the word of God in the great Divine bounty that descends into the world.

King David wrote the following regarding Torah study:

The Torah of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul. (Tehillim 19:8)

Rabbi Chayyim of Volozhin explains these words as follows:

When a person occupies himself with God's Torah, and it is perfect by him as it should be, it restores the person's soul to its source in the optimal manner. He concludes there: "Moreover by them is Your servant enlightened (nizhar): and in keeping of them there is great reward (eikev)" (Tehillim 19:12). The word nizhar bears the sense of yazhiru. That is to say, through the keeping of all the mitzvot which parallel all of man's organs, a person's soul and body become purified to the point that even his heel (akevo) is filled with light and great splendor. This is like: "The apple of Adam's heel outshone the globe of the sun."[3] (Nefesh ha-Chayyim, I, 20, in note)

The mental powers associated with prayer and Torah study are indeed different, but together they create harmony and perfection, directing all of one's faculties to the service of God.

Torah study relies primarily on man's intellectual faculties, bringing together his intellect, analysis, memory and understanding to comprehend God's Torah. A person tries to reach all the wisdom embodied in the Torah, within the limits of man's ability to comprehend and understand. As we emphasize in the Ahava blessing in Keri'at Shema:

O put it into our hearts to understand and to discern, to mark, learn and teach, to heed, to do and to fulfill in love all the words of instruction in Your law. Enlighten our eyes in Your law. (Ahava blessing)

On the other hand, prayer is, in the words of Chazal, service of the heart, in which man directs his heart and all of his emotional faculties, to developing a bond and connection with God. The person does this as a servant pleading before his master, as a son who seeks favor before his father, and as a woman who searches for her beloved, His left hand under her head, and His right hand embracing her.

Together, Torah and prayer create perfection in the relationship between man and his Creator, through both the faculties of the intellect and the faculties of the emotions. Indeed, there is no prayer without Torah, and there is no Torah without prayer. The intellectual faculties provide a solid foundation for the feelings and agitation stirred up by the love and fear of God evoked through prayer. The emotional faculties provide fiery intensity to one who meditates on God's Torah, making it his own Torah and part of his personality, as it is stated: "And Your Torah is within my heart" (Tehillim 40:9).

Chazal in various places praise the connection between prayer and Torah study. Thus, for example, in the first chapter of Berakhot:

Rabbi Ammi and Rabbi Assi, though they had thirteen synagogues in Tiberias, prayed only between the pillars where they used to study. (Berakhot 8a)

Apparently, because there were thirteen synagogues in Tiberias, it would have been right for Rabbi Ammi and Rabbi Assi to pray in any one of them, in keeping with the principle: "In the multitude of people is the king's glory" (Mishlei 14:28). However, they attached special importance to prayer connected to learning, and therefore preferred to pray "between the pillars where they used to study."[4] The place where they studied and connected themselves to God who gave the Torah, who gives intelligence and understanding, was the same place they chose to pray before their Maker, enriching and deepening their relationship with Him with a heart full of love and fear, hope and longing.

Here, we see the importance of connecting prayer to Torah study. Later in the tractate, the Gemara relates to connecting Torah study to prayer:

Rabbi Levi bar Chiyya said: One who goes into the Beit Midrash and studies the Torah immediately upon leaving the synagogue is deemed worthy to welcome the Shekhina, as it is stated: "They go from strength to strength, every one of them appears before God in Zion" (Tehillim 84:8). (Berakhot 64a)

Those who go from the strength of a feeling and loving heart to the strength of a learning and intellectual mind achieve a perfect combination, a union of heart and mind. The mind provides the heart with the content that it has learned, thus enhancing the person's spiritual world and deepening the emotions of his heart. At the same time, the heart influences the mind so that the content absorbed does not remain merely on the rational and intellectual plane, but rather excites his entire being. With this union, argues Rabbi Levi ben Chiyya, a person merits welcoming the Shekhina; "every one of them appears before God in Zion."

We see then that the service of God refers to the totality of man's worship of God on the one hand, while, on the other hand, it refers to specific mitzvot, i.e., the mitzva of prayer and the mitzva of Torah study.

III. The Service of God in the Temple

            In fact, the Temple service as well is referred to in the Torah and by Chazal as "service." The Torah states:

And I, behold, I have taken your brothers the Levites from among the children of Israel: to you they are given as a gift for the Lord, to perform the service of the Tent of Meeting. Therefore you and your sons with you shall keep your priest's office for everything that concerns the altar, and within the veil: and you shall serve: I have given your priest's office to you as a service of gift, and the stranger that comes near shall be put to death. (Bemidbar 18:6-7)

Similarly, Chazal write at the beginning of tractate Avot:

Shimon the Righteous was one of the last of the men of the great synagogue. He used to say: The world is based upon three things: The Torah, the service, and the practice of lovingkindness. (Avot 1:2)

The overwhelming majority of commentators understand the term "service" as referring to the sacrificial service in the Temple. Rabbeinu Yona, for example, writes:

"And the service" – Because the Holy One, blessed be He, chose Israel from among all the nations and the Land of Israel from among all countries, and He chose Jerusalem from all of the Land of Israel, and He chose Zion from all of Jerusalem, as it is stated: "For the Lord has chosen Zion: He has desired it for His habitation" (Tehilim 132:13). And He chose the Temple for the sake of the service, regarding which "acceptance" is mentioned, as it is stated: "That he may be accepted before the Lord" (Vayikra 1:3). This indicates that the entire world was created for the sake of the [Temple] service.[5] (Rabbeinu Yona, ad loc.)

It would appear that the reason that the general term, "service of God," is applied to specific mitzvot, lies in the fact that the essence of these mitzvot is seen as a way to place man before God. As has been explained, this is the essence of the service of God, overall. By virtue of this fact, these specific mitzvot are also called "service," representing the general mitzva of serving God.

The Temple service in general, and the sacrificial service in particular, take place in the house of God, the king's palace, in the place where He chose to rest His name, before God.

IV. Torah Study and Prayer as Substitutes for the Temple Service

In this context it should be noted that in many places we find that Chazal view prayer and Torah study as substitutes for the Temple service. Chazal base this notion on the verse in Hoshea which states:

We will offer the words of our lips instead of calves. (Hoshea 14:3)

In Pesikta de-Rav Kahana this verse is expounded as follows:

"We will offer the words of our lips instead of calves." Rabbi Abahu said: Who offers those calves that we used to sacrifice before you? Our lips, with the prayer that we offer before You.[6] (Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, Pesikta 24)

Accordingly, this is stated in a Baraita in Berakhot, which is stated in the course of a discussion of whether the daily prayers are based on the prayer of the Patriarchs or upon the daily offerings brought in the Temple:

It has been taught in accordance with Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi: Why did they say that the morning prayer could be said until midday? Because the regular morning sacrifice could be brought up to midday. Rabbi Yehuda, however, says that it may be said up to the fourth hour because the regular morning sacrifice may be brought up to the fourth hour.

And why did they say that the afternoon prayer can be said up to the evening? Because the regular afternoon offering can be brought up to the evening. Rabbi Yehuda, however, says that it can be said only up to the middle of the afternoon, because the evening offering could only be brought up to the middle of the afternoon.

And why did they say that for the evening prayer there is no limit? Because the limbs and the fat which were not consumed [on the altar] by the evening could be brought for the whole of the night.

And why did they say that the additional prayer could be said during the whole of the day? Because the additional offering could be brought during the whole of the day. Rabbi Yehuda, however, said that it can be said only up to the seventh hour, because the additional offering can be brought up to the seventh hour… He must hold therefore that the Patriarchs instituted the prayers and the Rabbis found a basis for them in the offerings. (Berakhot 26b)

At the same time, we find that Torah study takes the place of a substitute for the Temple service. Here, let us suffice with a collection of statements at the end of tractate Menachot which express this idea nicely:

Rav Shemuel bar Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan: This refers to Torah scholars who devote themselves to the study of the Torah wherever they are: [God says,] I account it unto them as though they burned and presented offerings to My name…

"A song of Ascents. Behold, bless you the Lord, all you servants of the Lord that stand in the house of the Lord in the night seasons."  What is the meaning of "in the night seasons"? Rabbi Yochanan said: This refers to Torah scholars who devote themselves to the study of the Torah at nights: the Holy Writ accounts it to them as though they were occupied with the Temple service.

"This is an ordinance for ever to Israel"… Rabbi Yochanan said: This refers to Torah scholars who are occupied with the laws of Temple service: the Holy Writ imputes it to them as though the Temple were built in their days.

Resh Lakish said: What is the meaning of the verse: "This is the law for the burnt-offering, for the meal-offering, for the sin-offering, and for the guilt-offering"? It teaches that whoever occupies himself with the study of the Torah is as though he were offering a burnt-offering, a meal-offering a sin-offering, and a guilt-offering… Rava said: It means that whoever occupies himself with the study of the Torah needs neither burnt-offering, nor meal-offering, nor sin-offering, nor guilt-offering.

Rabbi Yitzchak said: What is the meaning of the verses: "This is the law of the sin-offering"; and "This is the law of the guilt-offering"?  They teach that whoever occupies himself with the study of the laws of the sin-offering is as though he were offering a sin-offering, and whoever occupies himself with the study of the laws of the guilt-offering is as though he were offering a guilt-offering." (Menachot 11a)

The root of this idea, according to which the Torah and study in the Beit Midrash "replace" the sacrificial service in the Temple, is already found in the request put forward by Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, on the eve of the destruction of the Temple, close to the time of the termination of the sacrificial service: "Give me Yavne and its Sages" (Gittin 56b). Give me the Beit Midrash, which substitutes for the service in the Temple. Torah study sets man before God as if he were offering a sacrifice: "In all places where I cause My name to be pronounced, I will come to you, and I will bless you" (Shemot 20:21).

(Translated by David Strauss)


[1] See the Rambam's Shemona Perakim, chapter 8:

It is, indeed, an axiom of the science of the divine, i.e., metaphysics, that God does not know by means of knowledge, and does not live by means of life, so that He and His knowledge may be considered two different things in the sense that this is true of man; for man is distinct from knowledge, and knowledge from man, meaning that they are two different things. If God knew by means of knowledge, He would necessarily be a plurality, and the primal essence would be composite, that is, consisting not only of God Himself, but also of the knowledge by which He knows, the life by which He lives, the power by which He has strength, and similarly all His attributes. I shall only mention one argument, simple and easily understood by all, although there are strong and convincing arguments and proofs that solve this difficulty. It is manifest that God is identical with His attributes and His attributes with him, so that it may be said that He is the knowledge, the knower, and the known, and that He is the life, the living, and the source of His own life, the same being true of His other attributes.

See also Rambam, Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah 2:10.

[2] "The Torah and the Holy One, blessed be He, are one" (see Zohar, Vayikra, Acharei Mot 73a-b).

[3] The reference here is to Midrash Vayikra Rabba, where it is stated:

Resh Lakish said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Menasya: The apple of Adam's heel outshone the globe of the sun; how much more so the brightness of his face! Nor need you wonder. In the ordinary way of the world a man makes trays, one for himself and one for his household; whose will he make more beautiful? Not his own? Similarly, Adam was created for the service of the Holy One, blessed be He, and the globe of the sun for service of mankind." (Vayikra Rabba, Acharei Mot, 20, 2).

This means that man's task is to illuminate and reveal God's light in the world.

[4] See Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona (4a in Alfasi) who cite a disagreement as to whether praying in the place where one studies is preferred even at the cost of praying with a quorum.

[5] See the commentators on the Mishna who discuss the source of this assertion that the world is based on the sacrificial service (see especially Tosafot Yom Tov).

[6] And in many other parallel sources.