Rabbi Herschel Shachter
Rabbi Herschel Schachter

Various Aspects of Torah Learning

I

Many have the mistaken notion that the mitzvah of Torah study applies only to students of school age. The Rambam writes explicitly (Hil Chos Talmud Torah, 1:8) that this mitzvah applies to people of all ages, single or married, and even to one who is very old and feeble.

Others think that the ongoing mitzvah of Torah study only applies to rabbis or teachers of religious studies. This too is incorrect. Every day we all ask in our tefilah "v'sein chelkeinu b'Torasehca", that G-s should grant us our portion in His Torah. Every Jew has a share in the Torah.

II

Many who have studied in Yeshivot in their youth are so trained in learning Talmud in depth with all the supercommentaries, that after leaving the Yeshiva they think that to study Gemorah without Rav Chaim or Rav Shimon is of no value. This is not correct. One who studies Gemorah with Rashi - even without Tosafos - has also fulfilled a marvelous level of this great mitzvah of Talmud Torah. Even mishnayos with the commentary of the Bartenura, or for that matter any other commentary, is also quite an accomplishment.

III

The rabbis have told us (Seder Olam Zuta) that since the passing of the last three prophets, Chagai Zecharia and Malachi, a new period of Torah study has begun; while emphasis should be placed on the study of the Torah She'b'al Peh, the oral law, this does not mean that there is no longer a Mitzvah to study Torah She'b'ksav. As elementary as it may seem, it must be stated that even study of the twenty four books of the Tanach still constitute a fulfillment of the mitzvah of Talmud Torah.

According to the Rambam's understanding (Tosafot quotes the Geonim who had a totally different understanding), one should always see that his knowledge of Torah should be balanced. Approximately one third of his knowledge should be in Torah She'b'ksav, one third in halacha pesuka, and one third in talmud.

The term "talmud" refers to understanding of the halachot: which are biblical and which rabbinical in nature; and if biblical, what is the derivation; what is the guiding principal, to know what would the halacha be in all the variety of cases.

IV

Many feel that to study "pesak halacha" constitutes a "pegimah" in one's learning Torah l'shma. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The Talmud considers studying Torah l'halacha as the highest level of talmud Torah. We believe that the Torah is not merely an abstract discipline which one studies to intellectual entertainment; but more important than that, it shows us a way of life. One's emphasis on learning l'pask halacha is an indication of this most important principle.

V

Many only feel successful in learning when they are able to be "mechadesh": to come up with some sharp clever original kasheh (question), or some original interpretation, or "teirutz" (answer) on some famous kasheh. True these are aspects of learning, but nonetheless should not really the core of our focus in our Talmud study. According to the Talmudic tradition, all of this "pilpullah shel Torah" was originally only intended to be transmitted to Moshe Rabbeinu for him to transmit only to his descendents. And Moshe Rabbeinu, out of an act of kindness and good-heartedness, gave even this aspect of the oral Torah to all of Klal Yisroel. Obviously, this aspect of "pilpulah shel Torah" was intended to serve as the icing on top of the cake.

The essence of learning is to be knowledgeable of all of the 613 mitzvos, and of all of the details concerning their observance. [The Rambam's Sefer Hamitzvos was clearly intended as his introduction to his Mishne Torah. Before each section of the Yad Hachazakah, the Rambam mentions which particular mitzvos will be covered, before ge proceeds to elaborate on all the details of their observance.]

The rabbis of the Talmud derived from the Tanach that the correct approach to study of Talmud must be to first cover all the information transmitted from the previous generations, and only then to begin to analyze. Many will have the attitude that from the very start, when opening a new Gemorah, they are only interested in seeing what original insights (chiddushim) they can come up with. The Chasam Sofer pointed out that in the opening chapter of Sefer Tehilim, King David says that a truly religious Jew should have a great desire to learn "G-d's Torah", and only later will that individual have the fortune to come up with some of "his own" (original) Torah. This last point, apparently, has been a problem in many generations.

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