Birkas Hatorah on shavuos (5776)

מרן הגאב"ד שליט"א

Introductory Note

Every morning, before studying Torah, one must recite the Birkas HaTorah [the blessing on the Torah].

There is a widely accepted custom by many to stay up the entire night of Shavuos and occupy themselves in the study of Torah. The question arises: Is one obligated in this case to recite the blessing on Shavuos morning?

Sleep During the Day

The Shulchan Oruch[1] writes as follows:

“A fixed sleep on one’s bed during the day is considered a break[2]. Some say that it is not considered a break, and this is the common practice.”

The first opinion is the opinion of the Rosh[3]. The second opinion is the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam.[4]

There is an important point of clarification necessary. The rule in the Shulchan Oruch[5] is that when an opinion is quoted without comment, and then a dissenting opinion is quoted as “some say,” we assume that the first opinion is the one preferred by the Shulchan Oruch. If so, when the Shulchan Oruch wrote after the second opinion “and this is the common practice” it should be pointed out that he does not personally approve of the common practice, however he was not willing to rule against it. Indeed, the Mishnah Brurah[6] cites many authorities[7] that one indeed should make a blessing, and comments afterwards that one who does make a blessing has not committed a wrongdoing.

Understanding the Rosh and Rabbeinu Tam

It seems that the Rosh and Rabbeinu Tam argue in a fundamental point regarding Birkas HaTorah. The Rosh seems to be of the opinion that Birkas HaTorah is similar in nature to other blessings on commandments, which are governed by rules of interruption.[8] Therefore, since during sleep it is impossible to learn, sleep is considered an interruption and requires a new blessing. However, Rabbeinu Tam seems to be of the opinion that Birkas HaTorah is like the daily blessings of praise to Hashem[9]-which are not governed by interruption at all, and are only said once a day.

One Who Didn’t Sleep

With this understanding it seems that we have a resolution for our starting question. According to the Rosh, if one stayed up all night there should be no need to recite Birkas HaTorah, since one has not made an interruption since his last recitation of Birkas HaTorah. On the other hand, according to Rabbeinu Tam, since it is a new day one is obligated to recite Birkas HaTorah. Therefore, since our practice with regards to sleeping during the day is in accordance with the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam, it seems that one should recite Birkas HaTorah if one was awake all night.

This argument is also made by the Magen Avraham,[10] although he adds that it is preferable that one find someone who slept to recite the blessing on his behalf, since according to the Rosh one is not entitled to recite the blessing.

Making the Blessing Oneself

Rebbe Akiva Eiger[11] argues that it is difficult to state that one should make the blessing oneself, because-as we mentioned earlier-the Shulchan Oruch rules in favour of the Rosh. It is only common practice like Rabbeinu Tam. The reasoning for the common practice could be because we are being stringent with regards to the blessing[12], and accordingly perhaps we are also stringent if one stayed up all night, and one should not make a blessing.

Therefore, Rebbe Akiva Eiger suggests that one should sleep on Erev Shevuos, and thereby on Shevuos morning one will be obligated to say Birkas HaTorah both according to the opinion of the Rosh and Rabbeinu Tam. According to the Rosh one needs an interruption-and he had one by sleeping. According to Rabbeinu Tam one needs a new day-and he has one.

This idea of Rebbe Akiva Eiger was practiced by the Chasam Sofer, as cited by one of his prime disciples in Zichron Yehuda.[13]

In my opinion if one can sleep on Erev Shevuos and act as per Rebbe Akiva Eiger [reciting Birkas HaTorah oneself] it would be best, since Shevuos morning-especially after learning the entire night-is a natural once-a-year opportunity for one to recite Birkas HaTorah with the appropriate enthusiasm and concentration. It is a shame to have to rely on someone else saying it on one’s behalf if one has a way to circumvent such a need.

Proof for Rebbe Akiva Eiger

The Shulchan Oruch, in the next Halacha, writes as follows:

“Even if one learns at night, the night is connected to the day that passed and one does not need to go back and make a blessing [Birkas HaTorah] as long as one has not slept.”

Some Acharonim[14] interpret these words of the Shulchan Oruch to mean that one does not make a blessing even if one was awake all night. This would seem to contradict the earlier statement of the Shulchan Oruch that common practice is like Rabbeinu Tam, for according to Rabbeinu Tam one is indeed obligated in a new blessing in the morning. This would indicate against the above understanding of the Magen Avraham.

However, in my opinion this understanding of the Shulchan Oruch seems erroneous. The Shulchan Oruch does not discuss the case of one who was awake all night and wants to recite a blessing in the morning. Rather, he is discussing one who wants to learn at night. The Shulchan Oruch is teaching us that even though regarding most other Halachos the night is considered as connected to the following day and not the preceding day[15], even so regarding Birkas HaTorah it is not so. Rather, it is dependent on the practicality of the day, and since the way a person functions is to start the day in the morning and end it at night, one’s Birkas HaTorah covers oneself for this entire period.

Questioning Rebbe Akiva Eiger

As mentioned, Rebbe Akiva Eiger said that if one sleeps on Erev Shevuos one can definitely say Birkas HaTorah on Shevuos morning. The problem with this is that which the Shulchan Oruch writes[16] that the recitation of Ahavah Rabbah[17] in the morning will exempt one from reciting Birkas HaTorah. The Mishnah Brurah[18] mentions that this also applies to the recitation of Ahavas Olam[19]. If so, it would seem that even though according to the Rosh one was obligated to recite Birkas HaTorah due to one’s sleep on Erev Shevuos, one has fulfilled this obligation by one’s recital of Ahavas Olam during Ma’ariv on Shevuos night. If so, by Shevuos morning, it would seem that one has only the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam in one’s favour to recite Birkas HaTorah!

However, in my opinion this is not an issue, since during the year no one ever has intent that Ahavas Olam during Ma’ariv should count as one’s Birkas HaTorah. Therefore, one can definitely rely on Rebbe Akiva Eiger’s idea in order to allow one to recite Birkas HaTorah oneself on Shevuos morning.

Re-examining the Opinions of the Rosh and Rabbeinu Tam

Going back to what we mentioned in the beginning: It seems that in the opinion of the Rosh, Birkas HaTorah is similar to other blessings on commandments, therefore it is governed by rules of interruption. On the other hand, Rabbeinu Tam is of the opinion that Birkas HaTorah is one of the daily blessings of thanksgiving and praise.

It would have seemed that both aspects are present in Birkas HaTorah. The first blessing, which contains the words, “Blessed are you Hashem, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments…[20]”, seems to be a blessing on the commandment, while the second blessing, “Blessed are you Hashem, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has chosen us from all the nations…” seems to be a blessing of thanksgiving. Accordingly, it would have seemed appropriate to say that the first blessing should be dependent on interruption, while the second should be dependent on the day. However, we do not find anyone making such a split.

One could have posited that this is because the first blessing is really also a blessing of praise. Even though it is formulated just as all other blessings on commandments, we find examples of blessings which are formulated as blessings on commandments and are really considered blessings of praise. Three examples:

  1. The Taz[21] writes that the blessing on slaughtering is a blessing of praise.
  2. The Rosh[22] writes that the blessing on marriage is a blessing of praise.
  3. Tosfos[23] writes that the blessing of the father by the circumcision of his son is a blessing of praise.

However, in each of these cases there are specific reasons given by the above commentators why these acts are not a fulfilment of a positive commandment. Slaughtering allows one to eat this animal-one is not commanded to go about slaughtering animals. The act of betrothal allows one to have marital relations with this woman in a permissible manner. However, the act of learning Torah is most certainly a fulfilment of a positive commandment! On what account can one say that the blessing on Torah is not a blessing on a commandment?!

Therefore, it seems that although one could split these two blessings, they are defined as one unit and are inseparable, just as we find regarding the two blessings before Shema and the four blessings of Birkas HaMazon [Grace after Meals].

 



[1] Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim 47:11

[2] It breaks the effect of one’s blessing from the morning and one must therefore recite the blessing again before studying Torah.

[3] Teshuvos HaRosh Klal 4 Siman 1

[4] Tosfos Brachos 11b. [Ed. Note] The specific statement of not making a blessing after a fixed sleep is cited by the Agur [Siman 1] in the name of his father. The Beis Yosef [Orach Chaim Siman 47 d”h Vekosav Od Ha’Agur] states that the opinion of the Agur is based upon the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam.

[5] Shach Klalei Hora’ah Os 5 [printed at the end of Shulchan Oruch Yoreh De’ah 242]

[6] Mishnah Brurah Siman 47 Se’if Katan 25

[7] Divrei Chamudos to Piskei HaRosh Brachos Perek 1 Siman 13 Se’if Katan 77; Chayei Adam Klal 9 Se’if 7; Bi’ur HaGra to Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim 47:11; Pri Chadash Orach Chaim 47:12; Elyah Rabbah Orach Chaim 47 Se’if Katan 9

[8] I.e. if one interrupts between the blessing and the commandment one must make a new blessing. Although this parallel is not exact, because even the Rosh agrees that if one does not learn all day one still does not require a new blessing, still, the idea of making a new blessing due to a break is indeed the same idea which is found in most blessings on commandments.

[9] See Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim 46. One is obligated to give thanks to Hashem each day for the different things which He has bestowed upon us, for example, ones clothes.

[10] Magen Avraham to Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim 47:12 and 494

[11] Hagahos Rebbe Akiva Eiger to Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim Siman 47 Se’if Katan 2

[12] That is, being careful to avoid the possibility of making a blessing which is not necessary [which is the case according to Rabbeinu Tam].

[13] Zichron Yehuda Os 161

[14] See Magen Avraham to Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim 47:12

[15] See Mishnah Chullin 5:5

[16] Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim 47:7

[17] The second of the two blessings preceding Shma in the morning

[18] Mishnah Brurah Siman 47 Se’if Katan 13

[19] The second of the two blessings preceding Shma at night

[20] This formula is the standard introductory formula for all other blessings

[21] Taz Yoreh De’ah Siman 1 Se’if Katan 17

[22] Piskei HaRosh Kesubos 1:12 and Tosfos HaRosh Kesubos 7b d”h Asher Kidshanu

[23] Tosfos Shabbos 137b d”h Avi HaBen