Siman 46:9-47:4 Birkot HaTorah

  • Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #23:Simanim 46:9 - 47:4

Pages 149 - 151


by Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon





Berakhot 21a:


"From where do we know that [reciting] birkat ha-Torah before [engaging in Torah study] is biblically mandated?  For it says, 'When I will call the name of God, ascribe greatness to our Lord' (Devarim 32:3)."


            Is this a true source or just a textual support?


            The majority of Rishonim believe that the berakha is indeed biblical in origin (Ramban in Sefer Ha-mitzvot, mitzva 15 [he counts it as number 10]; Rashba [Berakhot 48b]; Sefer Ha-chinukh [mitzva 430]; Ritva [Berakhot 21a]; Me'iri [ibid]; and Rashbatz [ibid]).


            The Megillat Esther (medieval commentary on the Rambam's Sefer Ha-mitzvot, mitzva 15), though, points out that the Rambam did not count it as a mitzva, and it is therefore plausible to say that he believes it is rabbinic, with the verse being merely a support.  This view is found also in the responsa of the Penei Moshe (1:1, cited in the Peri Chadash and in Acharonim).


            Most poskim do not agree with the Megillat Esther and explain instead that the Rambam did not count this as a mitzva only because it is included within the mitzva of talmud Torah (the Mabit in Kiryat Sefer, Hilkhot Tefilla).  This touches upon a fundamental difference of opinion between the Rambam and the Ramban and is parallel to their debate regarding the building of the mishkan and the building of its vessels; the Ramban counts these as two mitzvot and the Rambam as one.  (It is likely that this issue is what separates the Rambam and the Ramban on the mitzva of settling in the land of Israel, but that is beyond the scope of our discussion.)


            The nafka mina, or practical difference, manifests itself in a case of  doubt.  See M.B. 47:1 who rules that the berakha should, in theory, be recited in such a case, though he suggests some alternate solutions.




Nedarim 81a and Bava Metzia 85a:


"Why was the land destroyed? ... 'Because they abandoned My Torah ... and they did not obey My voice, and they did not walk therein' (Yirmiyahu 9:12-13).  Is not 'they did not obey My voice' the same as 'they did not walk therein'?  Said R. Yehuda in the name of Rav, 'It is to say that they did not say a berakha on the Torah beforehand.'"


            Rashi in Bava Metzia explains that the Torah was not important enough in their eyes to say a berakha over it.  This view is found in the Ran as well, citing Rabbeinu Yona.


            The commentary attributed to Rashi in Nedarim (as is well known, it was not authored by Rashi) explains, "since they were accustomed to it..."


            The Maharal understands that they learned Torah as if it were any other field of study.




            The Sefer Ha-chinukh (430) offers a reason for the fact that the Torah mandates birkat ha-mazon AFTER partaking of food but birkat ha-Torah BEFORE "partaking" of Torah.  He explains that the animalistic part of the soul can appreciate what it has been given only after it has been satiated, but this is not the case with the spiritual part of the soul.


            As we have seen, the character of the learning is of the utmost importance.  It could be that the berakha is said beforehand in order to assist in imbuing the process with the proper spirit.




            The gemara in Berakhot 11b cites a difference of opinion in this matter:


"Said R. Huna, 'For mikra [scripture] one must recite the berakha, while for midrash one need not recite the             berakha.'  And R. Elazar said, 'For mikra and midrash one recites the berakha, while on mishna one need not recite    the berakha.'  And R. Yochanan said, 'On mishna one must also recite the berakha, but for talmud one need not recite the berakha.'  And Rava said, 'Even on talmud one must recite the berakha...'" 


            See the ruling of the Shulchan Arukh in se'if 2.




            The Ra'avad, cited in the Agur, and the Rambam in a responsum both say that any learning of Torah is forbidden before birkot ha-Torah.  In the words of the Rambam, "[It is forbidden] even to read one verse, and it makes no difference if he were to read it in a manner of pleading and supplication ..."  In contrast, the Agur cites the Mahari to the effect that one may recite verses before birkat ha-Torah in the context of supplication.


            See the Shulchan Arukh se'if 9.  See also the Rema there who writes that the custom is to be lenient in this matter, but adds, "The custom is to place birkot ha-Torah immediately after the berakha of 'asher yatzar,' and one should not deviate from this."  According to the Mishna Berura 46:27, the Rema with this sentence intends to convey that birkat ha-Torah should be said at the beginning of the day, and no verses should be recited beforehand even in the context of pleading and supplication.


            In light of the above, Sephardim should be stringent in this matter, and Ashkenazim - while they do have a lenient ruling on which to rely - should avoid any type of learning before birkat ha-Torah as well.


            The following are some practical ramifications:


1) If one arrives at synagogue when the congregation is up to the Shema and he has not yet said birkot ha-Torah: the Mishna Berura (65:8) rules that one should say the first verse of the Shema along with them.


2) If one arrives at kedusha: though the Mishna Berura does not discuss this, it appears that one should indeed say the proper responses (even though they are verses - "kadosh," "barukh," and possibly even "yimlokh") as in the previous case.  This opinion appears in Yabia Omer 4:7 and 8:24.


3) If one is afraid lest the permitted time period for Keri'at Shema will end before he manages to say birkot ha-Torah: this too is not explicitly mentioned in the Mishna Berura, but it can be deduced a fortiori - kal va-chomer - from the cases mentioned above.  This ruling appears in Shraga Ha-me'ir vol. II, responsum 60 (which stands in opposition to the ruling of the Be-tzel Chokhma vol. I, responsum 1).




            There is a dispute mentioned several times in the Gemara regarding whether thinking something in one's mind is the same as verbalizing it.  The majority of Rishonim believe that it is not.  Hence, theoretically, it should be permissible to mull over Torah thoughts before reciting birkot ha-Torah.  See the lenient ruling of the Shulchan Arukh in se'if 4.


            However, it is possible to separate the question of whether one may think about Torah before birkot ha-Torah from the issue of whether thinking is akin, halakhically, to verbalizing, in one of two ways:


A. The Gra (in Biur Ha-gra; also found in M.B. 46:7) writes that it is forbidden to think Torah thoughts prior to birkot ha-Torah.  Even if thinking is generally not to be considered as verbalizing, the Gra believes, one still fulfills the mitzva of talmud Torah by simply thinking, as it is written, "Ve-hagita" - "And you shall meditate [in it day and night]" (Yehoshua 1:5).  (Incidentally, the Mishna Berura points out that it is, nevertheless, permissible to fulfill other mitzvot before birkot ha-Torah even according to the Gra, despite the fact that one doubtless is thinking about the nature of the halakha which he is fulfilling.)


B. The majority of Acharonim, though, believe that it is permitted to think about Torah without having said birkot ha-Torah, even if by so doing one fulfills a mitzva.


            The Sha'agat Aryeh (siman 24) writes that birkot ha-Torah were only formulated for learning which is expressed verbally, since this concept is, after all, derived from the verse "When I will call the name of God" (Devarim 32:3).


            The Peri Megadim (Mishbetzot Zahav 46:2) avers that even if the mitzva is fulfilled through mere thinking, the berakha is not recited for a different reason:  berakhot are not said on "devarim she-balev" - purely cerebral activities (similarly, one does not say a berakha on bitul chametz, nullification of ownership of chametz).


[Regarding the opinion of the Sha'agat Aryeh:  The Rishonim debate the meaning of the passage in the gemara relating to the verse "When I will call the name of God, ascribe greatness to our Lord" - "Ki shem Hashem ekra, havu godel lei-lokeinu" (Devarim 32:3).  Rashi explains that Moshe taught Torah, reciting birkot ha-Torah ("Ki shem Hashem ekra") and instructing the nation to answer "amen" ("Havu godel").  According to the Avudraham, though, Moshe taught Torah ("Ki shem Hashem ekra") while telling the nation which was listening to his lesson, "Havu godel" - i.e., recite the berakhot.  This means that the nation actually said the berakhot over hirhur - thinking while listening to the shiur - unlike the opinion of the Sha'agat Aryeh.  To be sure, one can distinguish between hirhur and the listening in our case and say that listening is the more serious because of the halakhic principle "shomei'a ke-oneh" - "listening is akin to declaring."  See Yabi'a Omer (vol. IV 8:18 and further) who writes that one who hears a halakha must recite the berakha because of "shomei'a ke-oneh."]




            See the comment of the Rema regarding the "paskening" of halakha prior to the recitation of birkot ha-Torah, and see M.B. 47:7, who cites the Gra.


            In light of this, the question arises: may one write words of Torah before birkot ha-Torah?  At first glance, it would appear that one who permits hirhur would permit writing as well.  However, the Tashbetz Katan (siman 194) writes that the latter is forbidden because it involves the performance of an action (or possibly because of the fear that one may come to verbalize while writing).  See the ruling of the Shulchan Arukh in se'if 3.


            The Mishna Berura seems to contradict himself in this matter.  On the one hand, consider 47:5, which indicates that if one learns Torah silently, without any movement of the lips, after birkat ha-Torah, he is not considered to have really learned.  Compare this with 47:6, where he seems to say that one may not learn anything at all before birkot ha-Torah - including even a simple halakhic ruling without its explanation.  One could posit that the Mishna Berura chose to be stringent in all aspects of this question.  Alternatively, it could be that he believes that only spoken Torah requires birkot ha-Torah, but that one must still avoid writing since in the course of writing one is liable to enunciate what he has written.



(This shiur was translated by Pnina Baumgarten.)