Rabbi's Message

Halachically Speaking - Shavuos 5777

Start With Birchas Hatorah-End with a Firm Commitment to Study Torah
By Rabbi Yeshaya Siff
Young Israel Synagogue of Manhattan

Morning minyan services begin with the recitation by the Baal Tefila of a long series of blessings, called Birchos Hashachar. This practice originated in the days before Siddurim were printed and many daveners did not know the text of the brochos. Therefore, the chazzan would recite the blessings aloud, the followers would listen and answer “Omain” and it was thus  considered as if they had personally recited the brochos.  Parenthetically, that is also the reason that the role of a “chazzan” or Baal Tefila was instituted for all tefillos.

However, there are two sets of brochos which were considered so important and so vital that they were almost always committed to memory and recited by each person individually before joining the minyan for the prescribed davening.  An unintended consequence of that practice is that many daveners in later years are not even aware that these brochos exist and surely do not recognize their importance.

Foremost among these brochos are those that are termed “Birchos Hatorah” the blessings recited before learning Torah each day. They are considered the most important brochos in the entire davening.  According to many opinions the obligation  to recite “Birchos Hatorah” is M’doraisa - directly from the Torah.  Women are also obligated to recite these brochos.

Our sages teach that one of the reasons for the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh was the failure to recite these blessings before beginning Torah study. The sages explain that although B’nei Yisroel did learn Torah, their motive was not to study for the sake of the sanctity of the Torah, but for its “wisdom”, the “secular” knowledge contained therein. Thus, they did not appreciate the kedusha of Torah and their study could not protect them from the churban - the destruction.

Reciting the brochos before davening, the constant reminder of “Kedushas Hatorah”, is that which we must emphasize that we are learning G-d’s Torah and connecting to Him through His wisdom. That concept applies to the Oral Torah as well as the Written Torah.  That is the meaning of the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah.

So on this Shavuos, which is the anniversary of the Giving of the Torah, let us remember not only to recite the Birchas Hatorah, but to recite them with  Kavanah (intent) and to truly cherish the treasure which we possess.  In addition to our appreciation we should add a firm personal commitment to learn a portion of Torah each day and to recite the Birchos Hatorah with gratitude for the singular treasure which is “in our mouths and in our hearts to do”.


On Link Rabbi Siff's biography.