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Simcha Groffman

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Kinder Torah
For parents to share with children at the Shabbos Table

Parashas Voeschanan

Bircas HaTorah

"Class, today is a very big day."

"What day is it, Rebbe?"

"Today is the day that we begin our study of Bircas HaTorah."

"That sounds exciting, Rebbe, however, during the past few shiurim we have been learning about tefillah in general and brachos in particular. What is so special about Bircas HaTorah?"

"Very good, Fayvel. Let us begin by answering your question. Most Rishonim rule that Bircas HaTorah has the status of a mitzvah d'oraysa (from the Torah). The Gemora (Brachos 21a) cites its source as a verse in sefer Devarim (32:3), 'When I call out the Name of Hashem, ascribe greatness to our G-d.' The Torah Temima mentions the Gemora (Yuma 37a) which explains that Moshe Rabbeinu 'called out the name of Hashem' in blessing. He was referring to learning Torah, which was alluded to in the previous verse. Klal Yisrael responded by answering 'Amen' to Moshe Rabbeinu's blessing on the Torah. This is considered a blessing on the Torah. This source from the Chumash sets Bircas HaTorah apart from the standard brachos, which only have the status of mitzvos D'rabannan (of Rabbinic origin). Therefore, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 47:1) cautions us to be exceedingly careful when saying Bircas HaTorah. The Mishna Breurah warns that the penalty for not making Bircas HaTorah is very severe. The Ran (Gemora Nedarim 81a) reveals a frightening fact. Eretz Yisrael was destroyed only because the residents did not make Bircas HaTorah before learning."

"Why did they receive such a strict punishment for neglecting a bracha?"

"Excellent question, Hillel. The answer is that they did not consider learning Torah important enough to warrant a blessing. This was a huge mistake. The Shulchan Aruch HaRav (Orach Chaim 47:1) describes how Hashem cherishes the Torah so much that He plays with it (so to speak) all day. Therefore, it is fitting for us to make Bircas HaTorah with a simcha greater than all the pleasures of the world! We have the privilege of enjoying Hashem's most valued possession! This shows that we are learning lishma (for the sake of Hashem). May we all merit reaching such a madrayga (spiritual level). Another indication of the magnitude of Bircas HaTorah is the fact that we make three brachos before learning Torah. Almost all other mitzvos require only one bracha."

"What are those three brachos Rebbe?"

"The first one states that we are commanded to toil in Torah. The second one requests that our learning be pleasing to us. And the last bracha praises Hashem for choosing us and giving us His Torah. Let us examine these brachos one by one. The first bracha is a blessing of thanks to the Almighty, who sanctified us with His mitzvos, and commanded us 'la'asoke' - to make an 'eisek' - of our Divrei Torah. 'Eisek' is something that requires a lot of effort. We use our intelligence to its fullest by discussing the words and ideas of the Torah that we are learning over and over again; back and forth, forward and back, from this angle, and that angle. We compare them to other Torah concepts, break them down into components, analyze them, re-analyze them, apply them, and think of new ways to understand and explain them. This is what Rashi refers to in the beginning of parashas Bechukosai as (Vayikra 26:3) as 'amelim bi'Torah' - toiling in Torah.

"After this bracha we make a request from the Almighty. We ask Him to make the words of Torah pleasing in our mouths. Let me ask you a question, class. Toiling is not usually appealing. How can we ask that our toil be pleasant?"

"Isn't that the uniqueness of learning Torah, Rebbe? It requires a lot of effort, but in the end Hashem makes it sweeter than all of the pleasures of the world."

"Precisely, Moishie! Our job is to put our maximum effort into learning. We request from Hashem that He reward us with success in understanding and enjoying the fruits of our labors. The Gemora (Brachos 11b) goes one step deeper. We ask Hashem to help us achieve the madrayga of 'limud me'ahava' - learning with love (for Hashem and His Torah). The bracha then goes on to ask that our offspring and all the offspring of Am Yisrael know Hashem's Name and learn His Torah lishma."*

"How do we know Hashem's Name, Rebbe?"

"The Vilna Gaon zt"l answers your question, Shimon. He relates that all of the Torah is composed of the different Names of Hashem. Knowing the Torah is knowing Hashem's various Names. The bracha then finishes by referring to Hashem as the One Who teaches (in the present tense) Torah to His nation Yisrael. He did not stop teaching after Moshe Rabbeinu passed away, nor even after the last Novi departed. He is still teaching each and every one of us Torah to this very day. The Siddur Ohr HaChama relates that one who learns Torah merits a new Kaballas HaTorah, just like the original one at Har Sinai. Each day that you learn, the Torah should be new to you, as if you just received it at Har Sinai. That is an amazing motivation to learn Torah with all of your koach. And so, we come to the third and final bracha which thanks Hashem for choosing Klal Yisrael from amongst all the nations, and subsequently giving us His Torah. What an honor! What a privilege! What a responsibility! The word 'nosein' (gives) is also written in the present tense. As we said before, Hashem gives the Torah anew each day to the one who learns it. Therefore, we have to feel today that we are at maamad Har Sinai receiving the Torah amidst the fire and thunder. The Yesod Vi'shoresh Ha'avodah states that we should say this bracha with tremendous simcha! Hashem chose us to serve Him and learn His Torah! He gave us His precious holy gift at Har Sinai. It is our very life! What could be more exalted! What could be a better motivation to say this wonderful bracha with tremendous excitement! Oh Hashem, how much we appreciate and love Your Torah!

Kinderlach . . .

The Bircas HaTorah are a very special part of our tefillos. According to most opinions, they have the status of a mitzvah d'oraysa. They show our great reverence and love for Hashem's favorite thing - His holy Torah. Therefore, we must be very careful to say them properly. Failure to do so is punished severely. We make three brachos - thanks to Hashem for the mitzvah of toiling in Torah, a request that the Torah be sweet in our mouths, and that we and our descendants know and learn the Torah 'lishma'. Finally, we express our gratitude that the Almighty chose us from amongst all the nations to be the one to serve Him and learn His Torah. Hashem gives and teaches the Torah every day to those who want to learn it. Kinderlach, make Bircas HaTorah with special enthusiasm! It shows that you appreciate Hashem's most precious gift to us.

*The sefer Ateres Zikaynim notes that this is a proper time for parents to request that their children become 'lomdei Torah' (Torah learners), tsaddikim, and 'baalei middos tovos' (master good character traits). There are two other places in the formal tefillah where this request can be made - in the blessing of 'ahavah rabba' and in the tefillah of 'u'va li'tzion goel'

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