Brachos 21

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The Land Became Lost

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: What does the verse mean when it says: Who is the man who is wise and can understand this? This (the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple) was asked to scholars and prophets and they could not explain it, until Hashem explained it Himself, as it says: And Hashem said that it is because they left my Torah. Isn’t the phrase “and they did not listen to My voice the same as the phrase “and they did not go in its ways”? Rav Yehudah explains in the name of Rav: This means that they did not recite a blessing before learning Torah.

The Chanukas HaTorah explains: The Gemora asks: From where do we derive that one should recite a blessing prior to studying Torah? Rabbi Yishmael says: It is derived by means of a kal vachomer. If a blessing is recited before partaking in “sustenance for the moment” (food), it certainly follows that a blessing should be recited on “eternal sustenance”! The Gemora (Brochos 38a) also states: Prior to reciting a blessing, the land belongs to Hashem; after the blessing is recited, the land is given over to man.

Accordingly, it can be said that if they refrained from reciting a blessing before studying Torah, it is clearly evident that they did not recite a blessing before eating as well. For if they would have made a blessing before the consumption of food, they certainly would have made a blessing before studying Torah (based upon the kal vachomer). Since they didn’t recite a blessing on their food, the land became lost, for prior to a blessing, the land belongs to Hashem.


Birchas HaTorah

Rabbi Yehuda Balsam

The Gemora in Nedarim (81a) records that Hashem told the Jewish people that Eretz Yisroel was lost due to the fact that the Jews did not say Birchas HaTorah.

The Ran (s.v. davar zeh) cites Rabbeinu Yonah who explains that the Gemora is telling us that although the Jewish people were learning Torah, they didn’t consider it worthy of meriting its own Birchas HaMitzvah. Rather, they viewed it as any other subject that was to be studied in order to increase one’s knowledge, but not something that carried an inherent spiritual value. Therefore, their Torah study did not achieve for them what it should have, and as a result, the Jews were left spiritually barren.

From this Gemora, we see the value of saying Birchas HaTorah as an enhancement of our Limud HaTorah. But what about the mitzvah itself?

Our Gemora asks: How do I know that Birchas HaTorah is Biblical? Because the verse says: When I call in the name of Hashem, I must give praise to our master. The Gemora continues and attempts to prove that brachah rishonah is Biblical as well using Birchas HaTorah as a source of a Kal Vachomer. It seems clear from this Gemora that Birchas HaTorah is a Biblical mitzvah.

This is the opinion of the Rashba, and the sefer Hachinuch. However, the Rambam leaves this mitzvah out of his Minyan Hamitzvos, and the Ramban takes him to task for this. He writes (paraphrased): The fifteenth mitzvah (that the Rambam neglected) is that we are commanded to thank Hashem any time that we read from the Torah for the great gift that he has given us… Just as we are commanded to bless Hashem after we eat, so too we are commanded in this. The Ramban continues and says that there is no way that the Gemora would have tried to prove that brachah rishonah is Biblical using Birchas HaTorah if it had not assumed that Birchas HaTorah itself is Biblical. He then explains that one should not assume that Birchas HaTorah should be included in the mitzvah of Talmud Torah, (thereby disproving the notion that perhaps the Rambam agrees that Birchas HaTorah is Biblical, and his oversight of its inclusion in his Minyan Hamitzvos is due to the fact that it is included elsewhere) just as we do not include the recital of bikkurim in the overall mitzvah of bringing the bikkurim, nor do we include the mitzvah of relating about the Exodus from Egypt in the mitzvah of eating Korban Pesach.

Thus, we see that the Majority of Rishonim claim that Birchas HaTorah is Biblical, and the Rambam assumes that it is only Rabbinic in origin. (

However, the Aruch Hashulchan (siman 47, sif 2) claims that even the Rambam agrees that Birchas HaTorah is Biblical, and he includes it in the mitzvah of Talmud Torah.

Concerning the Ramban’s disproof to this explanation, he explains that recital of bikkurim and the mitzvah of relating about the Exodus from Egypt are both mitzvos that are done at separate times from their general categories, whereas Birchas HaTorah is said immediately preceding the act of learning, and is the same action.

Whether we accept the Aruch Hashulchan’s understanding of the Rambam or not, it is clear that the consensus opinion is that Birchas HaTorah is a mitzvah min HaTorah.

The most obvious practical difference in any clarification of a mitzvah’s biblical status is what to do in a case of doubt. Generally, if one is unsure if he recited any brachah (except Birchas HaMazon) we say that he need not repeat it because of safek brachos l’hakel. However, this is generally assumed to be based on the rule of sfeikah d’rabanan l’kulah. Therefore, by Birchas HaTorah, this would seemingly not apply, and one would be required to repeat Birchas HaTorah in a case where he was in doubt as to whether he has already said it. Indeed this is the opinion of both the Aruch Hashulchan (sif 6) and the Mishnah Berurah (s.k.1). They recommend (based on the aforementioned Sha’agas Aryeh) that one should only recite the brachah of Asher Bachar Banu, because that itself is enough to satisfy the Biblical requirement. The Mishnah Berurah further recommends, that due to those whose opinion is that one should not repeat Birchas HaTorah in a case of doubt, one should ideally try to hear the brachos from someone else and discharge his obligation through, him, or to have in mind during Ahavah Rabbah that he wishes to fulfill his obligation of Birchas HaTorah and to learn immediately after Davening.


They didn’t Recite the Blessing on the Torah “First”

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: What does the verse mean when it says: Who is the man who is wise and can understand this? This (the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple) was asked to scholars and prophets and they could not explain it, until Hashem explained it Himself, as it says: And Hashem said that it is because they left my Torah. Isn’t the phrase “and they did not listen to My voice the same as the phrase “and they did not go in its ways”? Rav Yehudah explains in the name of Rav: This means that they did not recite a blessing before learning Torah.

The language of the Gemora is that they didn’t recite a blessing on the Torah “techilah.” What is that word coming to exclude? We do not recite any blessings after we conclude learning Torah! (The Levush says that the two blessings that we recite before studying Torah are actually “one before” and “one after,” except that we never finish studying Torah, so the Rabbis instituted that both blessings should be recited beforehand.)

The Orach Yesharim explains: When a person receives a present, he values both the gift and the giver. Even if the gift is a small one, he will value it, if it was given to him by a prominent person. Similarly, he will appreciate something given to him by an ordinary person, if the item is a valuable one.

The Torah is praised with both elements. It is written: Ki lekech tov nasati lachem, the Torah itself is valuable, and that it is being gifted to Klal Yisroel from Hashem.

This could be the explanation as to why we recite two blessings before studying Torah. The first brachah is asher bachar banu, Hashem chose us; Torah is special because Hashem has given it to us. The second brachah is v’chayei olam nata b’socheinu, Torah is precious because of its inherent value.

This is the meaning of the Gemora: They appreciated the value of Torah, and therefore, they recited the second blessing. However, they were not fully appreciative of the Giver of the Torah, and they therefore refrained from reciting the first blessing on the Torah. This is why the Torah did not continue to flourish with their children.

Birchas Hamazon and Birchas HaTorah

Orchos Chaim

The Gemora teaches us of the Torah’s commandment to bless Hashem after we eat a meal – Birchas Hamazon. “[After] you have eaten and become satisfied bless Hashem your G-d on the good land that He gave you.”

Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk opens our eyes to a new dimension of this fundamental mitzvah. Our Gemora attempts to prove that in addition to the grace after the meal we should also be obligated by Torah law to make a blessing before partaking of the meal. The sages apply a familiar form of logic to prove this position. It is called a kal v’chomer – a fortiori , i.e. it is logical to infer that if we have two situations, case A and case B, and we see that the Torah requires the application of a law in case A then in the event that case B is a more compelling situation, certainly the same law should also apply. In our discussion, the Talmud applies this method to the law of blessing Hashem for our food. Here is the argument: Since we know from the above mentioned verse that the Torah requires a blessing after our hunger has been satisfied it follows all the more so that we should bless Hashem before we eat, while our burning urge for food is at its peak and we are about to obtain something from Hashem’s creation in order to satisfy our acute need of food and sustenance. Simply put; the greater the need the more compelling it is to bless Hashem. Common decency would certainly dictate to ask permission before taking something, even more so than giving thanks for it after the fact. However this position is rejected by an earlier discussion. The halachic conclusion of the Gemora is that the Torah law requires only a blessing after eating whereas the blessing before eating is only of rabbinic origin.

Rav Meir Simcha explains why ultimately the Gemora does not accept this apparently logical argument. It all depends on the reason for requiring the blessing in the first place. If the purpose of the blessing is to acknowledge Hashem as the provider of our physical needs, then there is even a more compelling reason to bless Hashem before we eat since we are in a state of great need and if not for Hashem providing the food that sits in the plate in front of us we would continue to feel the distress of hunger. Before we award ourselves as recipients of His great kindness we should acknowledge it with a blessing. Rav Meir Simcha explains that if acknowledgment and gratitude were the only reason for the mitzvah of grace after the meal then it would indeed be logical to deduce from it an additional Torah binding requirement to make a blessing before we eat. But there is a more fundamental reason for the mitzvah of grace after the meal. After enjoying the physical pleasures of eating one is likely to forget Hashem and even come to rebel against His kindness. This we can see from the verses that follow the mitzvah of grace after the meal. In chapter 8 verses 11-20 Moshe warns of the character flaws that can develop as a result of indulgence in the pleasure of eating. “Be cautious that you do not forget Hashem your G-d and disobey His commandments, laws and statutes that I command you today. You will become arrogant and forget Hashem. And you will come to say that it is through my own strength and power that I produced all of this wealth” It appears that indulgence in the physical brings with it the potential to bring out the worst within us that in turn could cause great damage to our character.

The Gemora (Brachos 32) tells us that the lion does not roar on an empty stomach, only on a full one. Similarly, the evil inclination yetzer harah has a tendency to erupt after a good meal. Unlike on a fast day when we are less likely to be enticed by our primal instincts; after a good meal the yetzer harah will raise its ugly head. The pleasure of eating can lead to feelings of levity, haughtiness, arrogance, laziness and smugness. The danger of falling into this harmful mindset increases greatly after we have eaten and become satisfied, whereas an empty churning stomach will assist us in acknowledging that Hashem is the source of all that is good. It is only after our stomach is filled with His goodness that we tend to forget it. This is why the Gemora concludes that one cannot deduce the obligation to bless Hashem before we eat from the mitzvah of Birchas Hamazon after we eat. The two blessings are totally different in their core reasons. The mitzvah to bless Hashem after the meal is to remind us not to allow a false and haughty sense of satisfaction to corrupt our character. The blessing before we eat is common decency; to acknowledge the benefactor before becoming the beneficiary.

In order to help us avoid the character hazards of eating, the Torah requires us to recall that the good sensation after a hearty meal is a gift from our Creator; as it is with all of our physical pleasures and possessions; all are gifts from Hashem. To the extent that we internalize this truth we will be able to avoid haughtiness and arrogance and numerous other character flaws with which the yetzer harah attempts to blind us.

Our Gemora draws some interesting comparisons between the mitzvah of Birchas Hamazon grace after the meal and the blessing we recite over the study of Torah. The Torah requires us to make a blessing before we begin Torah study each day, whereas no blessing is required after we finish our study. This is just the opposite of the food blessings where the Torah requires us to make a blessing only after we have finished our meal, whereas the blessing before we eat is only a rabbinic requisite. Rav Meir Simcha reveals to us a unique parallelism between the two. Often, when we begin Torah study our initial intention is to gain knowledge for personal benefit or gratification. The wisdom of the Torah is so deep and intriguing that anyone who possesses it, in addition to feeling a high degree of self-satisfaction, will likely receive a lot of recognition and credit for his outstanding wisdom. If we were to continue our study of Torah for anything other than altruistic reasons we could easily fall into the trap of arrogance and make use of Torah knowledge for personal gain. This would render our Torah study to nothing more than a “spade for digging”. To use the Torah as a “spade”, as a means to manipulate others or attain admiration is a gross defilement of the Torah, to which the destruction of the land of Israel is attributed. Our sages stated this in tractate Nedarim 81 “Why was the land destroyed because they did not make a blessing before beginning their Torah study!” They did not acknowledge that Torah is a gift from Hashem in order to purify and elevate our character. Instead they used the Torah as a means of personal advancement while corrupting their character.

Before we begin the study of Torah each day it is imperative to remind ourselves that Hashem gave us the Torah to elevate and purify our souls, to become holy servants of Hashem, not to use it for egocentric gain. On the other hand after we have indulged ourselves in Torah study we need not remind ourselves of anything because through immersing ourselves in Torah study, the Torah itself will elevate us from selfish self-centeredness to sanctity and purity of deed and heart. The Torah is the dwelling place of the Shechinah and one who clings to Torah clings to Hashem. Even though before we begin our Torah study we may be tempted to approach it with selfish motivations; after we have immersed ourselves in its study it has the spiritual force to transform us and elevate us above the petty nature of man. This thought is expressed in the Midrash Rabbah Vayikra 10: “When Moshe spoke to the people he stood them all between the two staves of the Holy Ark to teach us that the souls of all of the Jewish people are rooted and united in Torah. When they stand together within the confines of the staves of Torah, Hashem rests His presence upon them.” After indulging in Torah study we are in an intimate state of closeness to Hashem and it is not necessary to remind ourselves by means of a blessing of Hashem’s presence in our life. May we all experience the advantages and pleasures of clinging to Hashem in all situations even after a great meal!


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