Entry and Exit Prayers
The mishna teaches: “Rabbi Nechunya ben Hakaneh would recite a short prayer upon entering the Beit Midrash and upon exiting. He was asked, ‘What is the nature of this prayer?’ He said, ‘When I enter I pray that no mishap should be caused by me, and when I exit I give thanks for my portion.’”
This concept of saying a prayer when entering and exiting the Beit Midrash for Torah study immediately follows our being taught in the previous mishna the suitable times for daily prayers. The juxtaposition of these two mishnayot teaches that it is ideal to go to the Beit Midrash for Torah study immediately after completing the morning prayers. (With a breakfast break as needed, of course, which is recommended.) This halacha is taught in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim (155), “After one goes out from the Synagogue, one should go to the Beit Midrash and set a time for Torah study.” Elsewhere in the gemara, it states, “One who exits the Synagogue and enters the Beit Midrash and learns Torah, merits receiving the Divine Presence.” (Berachot 64a)
A beraita in our sugya expands the wording of the prayers to be said when entering or exiting the Beit Midrash. Although, based on the wording of the mishna, it is not clear that these prayers are obligatory, from the wording of the beraita it is unmistakable that there is an obligation to say them. (Rambam, Bartenura, Tosefot Yom Tov and Mishna Berurah 110:36) There are minor variations of the text as based on rulings of the Rishonim and Poskim
What is the essence of these two prayers? The one said upon entering the Beit Midrash is a prayer for Divine guidance to not err in deriving halacha during one’s Torah study. The prayer said when leaving the Beit Midrash is one of thanks to Hashem for the Torah and for the opportunity to enjoy the study of it in the Beit Midrash.
These prayers are often posted in the back of the Beit Midrash so that one will see them immediately upon entering and also right before exiting, and be able to read them at those times in a manner that is consistent with the manner taught in our mishna: “Upon his entrance… and upon his exit.” The text of these prayers is also often found in the front of volumes of Gemara, so that, alternatively, one can read it from there before he “enters his Torah study.”
Although the Mishna Berurah and other halachic authorities rule that these prayers are an obligation, the Aruch Hashulchan writes that the custom in our days is that these prayers are not said. The reason he gives to explain this custom is that nowadays those who learn in a Beit Midrash are not arriving at halachic decisions, and the Rav who issues halachic rulings is located in his home.
It would seem that according to the reasoning of the Aruch Hashulchan there may be a distinction between the before and after prayers. Despite not saying the first prayer for Divine guidance since the halacha is not being ruled upon in the Beit Midrash, the second prayer, a prayer of thanks to Hashem, should nevertheless be said upon exiting. This prayer is purely one of praise and gratitude to Hashem for giving us the Torah to study and live by.
This second prayer states, “I thank You Hashem that You gave me a place with those who dwell in the Beit Midrash… that I get up early… I rise to words of Torah… I toil and they toil (i.e. others not involved in Torah study)… I toil and receive reward; they toil and don’t receive reward… I run to life in the World-to-Come.”
The Chafetz Chaim (author of the Mishna Berurah and many other Torah works that are an essential part of our Batei Midrash and our homes today) told a parable to help us understand this prayer. He asks, “Doesn’t someone who works and toils in something else, other than Torah, also receive reward (lit. “sachar,” meaning “compensation”)? The answer is “No.” Let’s say the person is a tailor who was hired by someone to make him a suit. The tailor took measurements, bought material, and cut and sewed until it was ready. But when the customer returned to take-and-pay, lo and behold — it didn’t fit right and the person refused to accept it. And he refused to pay anything for it. The work and toil of the tailor turned out to be all for naught. His reward is for his final product, not for his effort.
But this is not the case regarding learning Torah, explained the Chafetz Chaim. One who is involved in Torah study receives reward from Hashem for the very act and effort of his study, even if he somehow misunderstands (hopefully only temporarily) or completes his session of Torah study with unanswered questions. There is great reward for his toil and speaking words of Torah.
- Berachot 28b