Learning Torah Without Kavana

Page of Talmud
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By Rabbi Berach Steinfeld

The Shulchan Aruch in Orach Chaim, Siman Samech, seif daled paskens that mitzvos require kavana, and when one does not have kavana when doing the mitzvah, one is not fulfilling his obligation of that mitzvah. The Mishna Berurah in seif koton alef clarifies what is considered proper kavana. It is explained that when one does a mitzvah, the person must have in mind that by doing that particular mitzvah he is fulfilling the command of Hashem. The question arises; does the mitzvah of Limud HaTorah have the same obligation of kavana as other mitzvos?

The Sefer Reishis Chochma, Shaar Hakedusha, Perek Vov paskens that one who learns Torah without kavana is not mekayem the mitzvah of Limud HaTorah. If he learns without kavana, it is considered as if he never learned. The Dvar Avraham quotes Reb Elchanan Wasserman as saying that it is possible for a person to have learned Torah and it would  be considered as if he is not doing the Mitzvah if he has the kavana not to do the mitzvah.

Reb Refael Reichman asked the Brisker Rov zt”l if there is a requirement to have kavana when learning Torah. He responded that yes, it is required; however, in the event that he did not have kavana, it is still considered Torah. There is a difference between Torah with kavana and Torah without kavana. We mentioned last week, in the name of Reb Chaim Brisker, that birchas HaTorah is not just a bracha on a mitzvah. It is also a birchas ha’shevach. If one would say that birchas HaTorah is just a birchas HaMitzvah, then one would not need to make a bracha before learning in order to be yotzei if he is learning without kavana. According to Reb Chaim Brisker even if one learns without kavana, he would be required to make the birchas ha’shevach since it is still considered Torah.

We can also differentiate between learning with kavana and learning without kavana by determining whether learning without kavana would be considered bittul Torah or not.

The Brisker Rov explained the inyan of bittul Torah in the following way: The Rambam in Perek Alef in Hilchos Talmud Torah, halacha yud says that a person must learn Torah until the day he dies so he should not transgress the posuk that says we are not allowed to remove Torah from our heart all our life. When one stops learning, it causes the removal of Torah from one’s heart; thereby causing him to forget. We see that the main point of bittul Torah is that one should not forget about Torah. When one learns without kavana it would not fall under the status of bittul Torah since he is obviously not forgetting about Torah if he is learning it.

The Chayei Adam quoted in the Mishna Berura says that one is required to have kavana when one does a mitzvah only when the mitzvah occurs once in a while. Shaking a lulav or blowing a shofar may be an example of this type of mitzvah. These mitzvos are not done all year long, they are specific mitzvos at specific times. If this particular mitzvah is done on Yom Tov  without kavana, it may be misconstrued as being done not l’sheim mitzvah. The mitzvah must therefore be done again with the proper kavana. Limud HaTorah, a mitzvah which applies all the time, would therefore default as leshem Mitzvah unless he has the express kavana that he is doing it not for the sake of the mitzvah.

Let us stop and think and pay attention to what we are doing!

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