Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 26 December 2020 / 11 Tevet 5781

Learning Torah (Part 1)

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Library Library Library

Life is short, and it is up to you to make it sweet!

(Sarah Louise Delany)

“Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to occupy ourselves with words of the Torah. Please, Hashem, our G-d, sweeten the words of Your Torah in our mouth and in the mouth of Your people, the family of Israel. May we and our offspring and the offspring of Your people, the House of Israel, all of us, know Your Name and study Your Torah for its own sake. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who teaches Torah to His people, Israel.”

The word that the blessing uses in Hebrew for “being occupied” (in learning Torah) is “la’asok.” Rabbi David HaLevi Segal, known as the Turei Zahav (or the Taz for short) after his seminal work on the Code of Jewish Law, and one of the most eminent authorities in sixteenth century Poland, explains that the word “la’asok” carries with it the inference that it is something that requires much toil to achieve. Due to its incomparable depth and breadth, learning Torah in a comprehensive and thorough fashion requires extraordinary levels of concentration and an intensity that is second to none. The wording of the blessing is teaching us that learning Torah successfully requires an ability to block out the countless distractions that are forever encroaching on our lives. The word “la’asok” emphasizes that it is not easy to reach such exalted levels. But the word “la’asok” is also teaching us that such singular focus is a requirement for reaching proficiency in understanding Torah.

The essential concept of toiling over Torah study can be seen in G-d commanding us to toil over it “day and night.” (Joshua 1:8) The Maharal of Prague explains that the Torah is the essence of the Creation, and one therefore should be careful to use one’s time wisely for the study of Torah — and not for superfluous matters.

Without both an overwhelming desire to learn Torah, and the power to block out every single extraneous distraction, there is no way that a person can reach the kind of levels of scholarship that create the potential for becoming an acknowledged Torah leader. Binyamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, related that on several occasions he came to discuss extremely weighty and sensitive matters with Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef (1920-2013), one of the greatest Torah authorities in the generation. Among many other things, Rabbi Yosef was renowned for becoming so engrossed in his studies that he was completely unaware of what was happening around him. Mr. Netanyahu, who was always accompanied by close aides and a significant security contingent that was always the cause of much tumult, said that when they arrived, they would wait until Rabbi Yosef became aware that he was there. Sometimes it would take a few minutes, and, often, much longer, but the Prime Minister would not interrupt the Rabbi’s studies because he felt that Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef was dealing with the past, present and future of the Jewish People as he learned the precious Torah!

To be continued…..

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