(5776) Enjoying One’s Learning and Lishmo

מרן הגאב"ד שליט"א

Introductory Note

Our Sages[1] have greatly commended one who learns Torah לשמה-Lishmo-literally, for its own sake.[2] Many times in the Talmud [Pesachim 50b, Nazir 23b, Horiyos 10b, Sotah 22b, Sotah 47a, Sanhedrin 105b, Erchin 16b] they have stated that one should always learn Torah, even if it not Lishmo, for through this one will eventually reach Lishmo. The goal, though, is total Lishmo.

Two questions have to be dealt with: Firstly, is there anything negative or positive if one enjoys one’s learning?

Secondly, what precisely is Torah Lishmoh?

Position One-Enjoyment Is Not Ideal

The Agrah D’Kallah[3] states that the disciples of the Ba’al Shem Tov asked their master if there is a problem if one enjoys learning Torah. He answered that since this is the very nature of Torah, as is written in Tehillim[4], “the statutes of Hashem are straight, [they] gladden the heart,” Hashem will not act unfairly towards a person[5] and punish him for having had such enjoyment. This statement seems clear that the ultimate aim would be not to derive any enjoyment from one’s learning.

A similar sentiment seems to have been echoed by Rav Chaim Volozhiner. He seems to writes[6] that one who enjoys his learning does not commit a sin.[7]

On the other hand, the Eglei Tal[8] writes that he has heard some people make a grave mistake, thinking that the ideal is for one to learn without enjoyment. He argues vehemently that one must love and enjoy one’s learning.

The one whom the Eglei Tal was arguing with was the Yismach Yisrael. He writes[9] that the true learning of Torah is only when one learns with no intention of any enjoyment at all.

My feeling is that there is room for both the position of the Eglei Tal and that of the Yismach Yisrael to be correct. On one hand, Hashem wants us to enjoy His Torah, and, as we shall discuss in length soon, it is the proper way for one to study Torah. However, there are many instances where one does not enjoy learning, either because one has had a bad day, or because it is a piece of material which really does not grab his interest. In such a case, one needs to recall the words of the Yismach Yisroel that one needs to study Torah even if one does not have any enjoyment.

Position Two-Enjoyment Is Ideal

In my opinion, it seems clear from many Rishonim that enjoyment and pleasure in one’s learning is an integral part of the process of Torah study.

Firstly, the Mishnah in Avos[10] states that when one studies Torah one needs to know in front of Whom one toils. Rabbeinu Yonah[11] explains that just as the Torah was the plaything of Hashem[12], so to speak, before the creation of the world, so too one’s Torah should be one’s own plaything. This seems to state clearly that deriving pleasure for Torah study is an ideal.

Secondly, the general rule regarding commandments is that they were not given for pleasure[13], and therefore the pleasure of having fulfilled a commandment is not Halachikally considered pleasure. For example, if one took a vow not to derive pleasure from one’s fellow, one’s fellow may still blow the Shofar on his behalf, since the mere fact that one’s fellow is enabling the fulfilment of one’s commandment is not considered pleasure.[14] However, regarding the commandment of Torah study, Rabbeinu Avraham Min HaHar writes[15] that the essence of the commandment is to enjoy one’s learning. Therefore, says Rabbeinu Avraham, if one forbade one’s fellow from using one’s Torah scroll, one’s fellow may not use it. Again, this is a clear statement that enjoying one’s learning is ideal.

[A note of explanation is in order. It is difficult to understand how Rabbeinu Avraham can state that enjoyment is the essence of learning Torah. It is understandable how it is an integral part-but to be the essence?


I think his intent is as follows. The Shulchan Oruch HaRav[16] argues that there are two separate commandments of learning Torah. One is to study the Torah, and the other is to know the Torah. In my opinion this particular formulation is difficult, since we do not find that the Rishonim count the commandment of Torah study as two separate commandments.[17] Rather, it seems that these two categories make up the commandment. The commandment is to learn, while the essence and purpose of this learning is in order to know the Torah. The proof to this understanding of the commandment is that the commandment of Torah study is the verse ושננתם לבניך-“And you shall teach your children,”[18]and our Sages explain[19] that the word ושננתם is to be expounded from the root שנן-sharp. The words of Torah should be totally clear to oneself, to the extent that if one is asked about a given Torah matter one should be able to answer immediately, without babbling. This teaches us that the essence of the study is to achieve clear knowledge. Since the clarity of Torah knowledge is the essence of the commandment of Torah study, and this clarity of knowledge brings one great pleasure, Rabbeinu Avraham writes that the essence of the commandment of Torah study is to have pleasure from it.]


A third proof: If deriving pleasure from the study of Torah is not the ideal state, how could it be that our Sages instituted the words, “והערב נא ד' אלקינו את דברי תורתך וכו'-and make pleasurable, Hashem, our G-d, the words of Your Torah etc.” in the morning blessing on the Torah?

However, it could be that this is not a proof. The Avudraham[20] cites two verses to explain the word והערב in this context. The first is from Malachi[21]-וערבה לד' מנחת יהודה וירושלים כימי עולם וכשנים קדמוניות-“And the flour-offering of Yehudah and Yerushalayim will be pleasing to Hashem as the days of old and the years past.However, his second verse is from Tehillim[22]-ערוב עבדך לטוב, which the Ibn Ezra[23] explains is the same root as an ערב-a guarantor-“Guarantee Your servant for good”. Accordingly, the blessing is to be understood as a request from Hashem that He should act as a guarantor that our children should know the Torah, and does not refer to a request for having pleasure from the Torah.

On the other hand, Rashi[24] explains that this blessing is a request that the study of Torah be with the tremendous pleasure of loving, feeling loved by, and being close to, Hashem. His interpretation is also cited by the Avudraham.[25] According to this interpretation, there is strong proof that pleasure is an ideal part of the study of Torah.

Defining Lishmo-Three Opinions

We find throughout the generations what seem to be three differing opinions as to the definition of Lishmo.

  1. The opinion of the Ba’al Shem Tov, as seems clear from the opinion of one of his major disciples[26] and from two disciples of subsequent generations[27] is that Lishmo means that one has intent purely to fulfil the will of Hashem. Due to this, the early Chassidic practice was to stop in the middle of learning in order to refocus one’s mind on this thought.
  2. Rav Chaim Volozhiner writes[28] that it is improper to be pausing in the middle of learning. Furthermore, we say לשמה, not לשמו [for “its” sake, not “for His sake”]. Rather, says Rav Chaim, one should have intent solely to understand the Torah which one is learning. This is also the understanding of the Chasam Sofer.[29]
  3. The Reishis Chochmah[30] and the Shlah[31] writes that Lishmoh means for the sake of the מצוות-commandments. One needs to learn in order to know what to do. Accordingly, the word לשמה is to be understood as the feminine singular-for her sake-i.e. for the sake of the מצוה-commandment. This is similar with the requirement stated in the Yerushalmi[32] that one must learn Torah in order to fulfil it.

Support for these Positions

All three of these opinions seem to have a basis in the words of the Rishonim.

  1. Rav Chaim Volozhiner quotes the Rosh[33] as his source. The Gemara in Nedarim states as follows: עשה דברים לשם פעלן ודבר בהן לשמן, which the Rosh explains as follows: “Perform the commandments for the sake of Hashem, and learn Torah for its own sake, that is, to know and to understand and to increase one’s knowledge.”
  2. The Mefaresh[34] had a different text in this Gemara, and his text reads, ודבר בהן לשם שמים-learn Torah for the sake of Heaven. This is also seems to have been the text of the Rambam, for he writes[35] that Lishmo is when one learns Torah purely out of love for Hashem. This would seem to indicate like the opinion of the Ba’al Shem Tov.
  3. In support of the opinion of the Reishis Chochmah, both Rashi[36] and Tosfos[37] write that Lishmo means in order to act.

Uniting the Opinions

However, in my opinion, it seems that these are really three sides to one coin. Before I demonstrate this, I would like to show some indications in this direction:

  1. Although Rashi in Brachos[38] writes that Lishmo means in order to find out what to do, however in his commentary to Ta’anis he writes[39] that Lishmo means to fulfil Hashems will.
  2. Although the Ba’al Shem Tov seems to be of the opinion that Lishmo means in order to fulfil the will of Hashem, however two of his main disciples[40] write that one must learn in order to act.

Therefore it seems to me that all these three interpretations are really three parts of one whole. The first step is that one has to learn in order to fulfil the will of Hashem. However, what is His will? It is that one should learn and know clearly His Torah. What is the purpose of us knowing his Torah? In order that one should know what to do.

In light of this, it would seem that we can understand that which we quoted from Rav Chaim Volozhiner in the beginning of the Shiur[41], even though at face value his statement that “there is no sin,” seems to contradict that which we quoted later in the Shiur from him.[42] According to my understanding of Lishmo it is not a contradiction. The earlier quote is directed at one for whom part of his motivation to learn is because of his enjoyment. The motivation, ideally, should be purely because Hashem said so. But one should most definitely enjoy one’s learning when one is learning.

[1] For example, Mishnah Avos 6:1 and Sanhedrin 99b

[2] We shall later discuss another manner to translate this word.

[3] Agrah D’Kallah Parshas Chayei Sarah d”h BeMidrash BeParsha Zu Kad Damich Rebbe Avahu

[4] Tehillim 19:9

[5] Avodah Zarah 3a

[6] Ruach Chaim to Avos 3:9, d”h Kol Shema’asav Merubin Mechachmoso

[7] We shall return to this statement in the end of the Shiur

[8] Hakdamah to Eglei Tal

[9] Yismach Yisrael Parshas Bechukosai

[10] Mishnah Avos 2:14

[11] Rabbeinu Yonah ibid d”h VeDah Lifnei Mi

[12] Mishlei 8:30

[13] Rosh HaShannah 28a

[14] Ibid, as explained by Rashi d”h Mutar Litkoah Lo

[15] Peirush Rabbeinu Avraham Min HaHar Nedarim 48a d”h Sefarim

[17] See, for instance, Rambam Sefer HaMitzvos Mitzvah 11

[18] Devarim 6:7

[19] Kiddushin 30a

[20] Avudraham Seder HaShkamas HaBoker, Birkas HaTorah

[21] Malachi 3:4

[22] Tehillim 119:122

[23] Ibn Ezra ibid

[24] Rashi Brachos 11b d”h Ha’arev

[25] Avudraham Seder HaShkamas HaBoker, Birkas HaTorah

[26] Degel Machane Efraim Parshas Vayishlach d”h Ba Na El Shifchasi

[27] Yosher Divrei Emes Os 7 [disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch, who was a major disciple of the Ba’al Shem Tov]; Ma’or VeShemesh Parshas Vayetzei d”h Vayomer Eilav Lavan [disciple of the Noam Elimelech, who was a major disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch]

[28] Nefesh HaChaim Sha’ar 4 Perek 2 and 3

[29] Chiddushei Chasam Sofer Nedarim 81a d”h Shelo Borchu

[30] Reishis Chochmah, Hakdamah

[31] Shnei Luchos HaBris, Chelek 1, Ba’asarah Ma’amaros, Ma’amar 6, Os 187

[32] Yerushalmi Brachos 1:2

[33] Peirush HaRosh Nedarim 62a d”h Vedaber Bahen

[34] Mefaresh (Rashi) Nedarim 62a d”h Vedaber Bahen. [There is doubt whether the commentary printed as Rashi on Nedarim is actually from Rashi, hence this commentary is commonly referred to as “the Mefaresh (commentator)”]

[35] Rambam Hilchos Teshuvah 10:5

[36] Rashi Brachos 17a d”h Ha’Oseh Shelo

[37] Tosfos Pesachim 50b d”h Vekan

[38] Rashi Brachos 17a d”h Ha’Oseh Shelo

[39] Rashi Ta’anis 7a d”h Lishmo

[40] Likutei Amarim of the Maggid of Mezeritch (otherwise known as Maggid Devarav LeYa’akov) Siman ??, Sod Yachin U’Boaz Perek 2

[41] Ruach Chaim to Avos 3:9, d”h Kol Shema’asav Merubin Mechachmoso

[42] [Ed. Note] According to the later quote, as is clear from the end of Nefesh HaChaim Sha’ar 4 Perek 4, learning for the love of the pure understanding of Torah is Lishmoh.