Source Sheet: How Does Torah Study Affect the Rest of Our Lives? [Updated]
I have a few thoughts about this question, but first, are some traditional thoughts on the matter. (Thanks to EL for pointing me to these sources. All errors are my own.)
1. Torah Study and Freedom
אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי:.."והלחת מעשה אלקים המה והמכתב מכתב אלקים הוא חרות על הלוחות" (שמות לב). אל תקרא חרות אלא חירות, שאין לך בן חורין אלא מי שעוסק בתלמוד תורה.
--מסכת אבות, פרק שישי, משנה ב'
And it says: “The Tablets are God’s handiwork and the script is God’s script charut (engraved) on the Tablets.” Do not read “charut” (engraved) but “cherut” (freedom), for you can have no freer person than one who engages in the study of Torah.
-- Ethics of the Fathers 6:2
2. Torah Study and Peace
|אמר רבי אלעזר אמר רבי חנינא תלמידי חכמים מרבים שלום בעולם שנאמר (ישעיהו נד) וכל בניך למודי ה' ורב שלום בניך אל תקרי בניך אלא בוניך (תהילים קיט) שלום רב לאוהבי תורתך ואין למו מכשול (תהילים קכב) יהי שלום בחילך שלוה בארמנותיך (תהילים קכב) למען אחי ורעי אדברה נא שלום בך (תהילים קכב) למען בית ה' אלהינו אבקשה טוב לך (תהילים כט) ה' עוז לעמו יתן ה' יברך את עמו בשלום:|| |
Rabbi Elazar said on behalf of Rabbi Haninah: Torah scholars increase peace in the world, as it is said: “And all your children will be students of God and your children will have peace” (Isaiah 54:13)—do not read “your children” (“banayich”), but “your builders” (“bonayich”).
-- Bab. Talmud, Tractate Brachot 64a
|ומפני דרכי שלום כל התורה כולה נמי מפני דרכי שלום היא דכתי' (משלי ג) דרכיה דרכי נועם וכל נתיבותיה שלום|| |
And for the sake of the paths of peace is the whole of Torah. Here too [in the case at hand] is it promoting peace, as it says, “Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are paths of peace” (Proverbs 3:17).
-- Bab. Talmud, Tractate Gittin 59b
3. Torah Study and Positive Actions
These are the precepts whose fruits a person enjoys in this world but whose principle remains intact for him in the world to come. They are: the honor due to father and mother, acts of kindness, early attendance at the house of study morning and evening, hospitality to guests, visiting the sick, providing for a bride, escorting the dead, absorption in prayer, bringing peace between people—and the study of Torah is equivalent to (“k’neged”) all of them.
-- Daily morning prayers (culled from various Talmudic sources)
Irritatingly enough, this passage from the traditional morning prayers does not appear anywhere in the Mishna, Talmud, or anything else I could find online. I believe that it is a combination of:
Tractate Shabbat 127a[the Rinat Yisrael siddur attributes the passage to Masechet Shabbat 127a, but that's incorrect]
Tractate Gittin 39b
- ילקוט שמעוני תהילים רמז תשכב
- עיון תפלה
- השכמת בית המדרש
- providing for a bride
- escorting the dead
And one final source about Torah study and positive actions:
|וכבר היה רבי טרפון וזקנים מסובין בעלית בית נתזה בלוד נשאלה שאילה זו בפניהם תלמוד גדול או מעשה גדול נענה רבי טרפון ואמר מעשה גדול נענה ר"ע ואמר תלמוד גדול נענו כולם ואמרו תלמוד גדול שהתלמוד מביא לידי מעשה|| |
Rabbi Tarfon and the elders were reclining in the house of Nitzeh when the question was asked of them: “Is the study of Torah greater or are actions greater?” Rabbi Tarfon answered that actions are greater. Rabbi Akiva answered that study is greater. Everyone [finally] answered that study is greater, because study leads to action.
Bab. Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin 40b
My thoughts about Torah study are not all that complicated at the moment.
Mostly, I really enjoy learning Torah. Not always. (Certainly not in shul on Shabbat morning. I have an irrational dislike of divrei Torah given in shul. I much, much prefer to hear divrei Torah over lunch.) But I enjoy it, so I do it. I learn with BZ, I try to go to a Gemara class on Sunday mornings, and I putter around putting things like this and this together and sifting through paper and online sources in pursuit of answers to questions I have, because it makes me happy. It provides good grist for the ever-churning mill of my brain. Above and beyond that, I like the feeling of connection that it gives me to past, present, and future Jews. So, in summary, two reasons that I learn Torah: for the sheer intellectual joy of it and for the sense of community and belonging it provides.
The question I asked, though, was not why do I do it, but "How does it affect my life?" The answer is that it makes me happy and it connects me more strongly to Judaism and the Jewish community, as well as to a subset of the Jewish community ("learners" or whatever you want to call them--people who actually find Torah interesting, as opposed to people who engage in Torah study because they feel that they are commanded to do so). Perhaps more on commandedness another time...
I like the idea of Torah study promoting freedom, peace, and good deeds in the world, but I'm not sure I buy it. I'll have to think about it more.
In the meantime, Shabbat shalom!
Labels: Torah (broadly defined)
nitpicky point: contrary to waht basically everyone thinks, "bonayich" actually means "those who understand you," a la "binah," hence the reference to Torah sages. Of course, "your builders" has come in handy for centuries of dedication plaques in shuls...