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THE BLESSINGS ON THE TORAH
By Avraham Sutton
The Three Blessings:
"Baruch Atah Hashem... VeTzivanu LaAsok BeDivrei Torah
(Sefardic: VeTzivanu Al Divrei Torah) - Blessed
are You... who instructed us to occupy ourselves with/immerse
ourselves in the words of [His] Torah (Sefardic: who instructed
us concerning words of Torah)."
"VeHaarev Na Hashem... Divrei Toratcha BeFinu... Kulanu
Yodei Shmecha VeLomdei Toratcha Lishmah. Baruch Atah... HaMelamed
Torah LeAmo Yisrael - Hashem, please make the words of
Your Torah pleasant in our mouths... may all of us be knowers
of Your Name and learners of Your Torah for its own sake [i.e.
in order to fulfill Your Will]. Blessed are You... who teaches
Torah to His people Israel."
"Baruch Atah Hashem... Asher Bachar Banu Mikol HaAmim VeNatan Lanu Et Torato. Baruch Atah... Noten HaTorah - Blessed are You... who chose us from all the nations [of the world] to give us His Torah. Blessed are You... Giver of the Torah."
Hashem commands us to make the Torah our primary occupation (LaAsok
BeDivrei Torah). It is only thus that a reciprocal relationship
can be established, that we will be able to learn the Torah that
He wishes to teach us (HaMelamed Torah LeAmo Yisrael).
Finally, in the third blessing, Hashem gives us the Torah (Noten
The third blessing can actually be said to be "first in thought
and only last in deed." Hashem first wishes to give us His
Torah, i.e. to reveal to us the inner reason why the world was
created, the purpose of our existence, the inner meaning of our
lives. In order to do this, however, He instructs us in how to
make the first move. Certainly, He has already arranged for the
possibility of all our moves; nevertheless, if we do not expend
the effort to move towards Him, we will not understand what He
wants to give us.
In a sense, the commandment to immerse ourselves in the Torah
is the opening that Gd gives us to come close to Him. It is the
secret of the angels, the secret of "[First] we will do and
[then] we will understand" (Shabbat 88a). For what
is Torah? The word Torah is a combination of four ideas:
Orah-light,* Horaah-teaching, Horeh-parent,
and Harah-to become pregnant. This yields, "Teaching
(light-illumination ) transmitted from parent/teacher to child/student
that takes root and comes to full fruition as the child himself
matures." (*See Zohar 3:53b:) "The Torah is a
tree of life. Why is it called Torah? For it Moreh-illuminates
and discloses that which was concealed and unknown. Why is it
called life? For the source of eternal life is in it and emerges
Torah is the deepest teaching that Hashem wishes to bestow on
mankind. It is a ray of Gd's infinite light that He shines down
through the inner pipelines of creation. In order to become worthy
of receiving this Torah that Gd so wishes to give us, we must
transform ourselves into appropriate vessels.
The first move involves, again, exposing ourselves to the ideas,
the thought processes, the inner motions of Torah. This is then
the beginning of a relationship with the Giver of the Torah. Now,
He can teach us. Our lives, the whole world, will then begin to
reveal hints of His wisdom, His providence, His presence. Slowly,
we begin to learn. Again, He will only teach us - the ideas will
only have meaning - when we first take the Torah seriously enough
to make it our primary occupation, when we let its wisdom begin
to permeate all the various facets of our lives. We will then
be able to receive the light of the Torah that elevates our vessels
beyond our particular intellectual abilities. This will allow
Hashem to "give" us His Torah.
The Zohar (2:99a) likens the Torah to a wondrously beautiful woman
who hides in the inner recesses of a high palace. She knows that
a certain man loves her, but she does not reveal herself to him
all at once. The Zohar says:
Come and see the way of the Torah. At first, when she begins to
reveal herself to a person [for a split second], she gives him
a little hint. If he picks up on it, fine. If he does not understand,
she sends her messengers to him saying, "Tell that simpleton
to come here so that I may speak with him." This is the meaning
of the verse, "O [tell the] simpleton, lacking brains, turn
in here" (Proverbs 9:4). He is brought close to her. She
begins to speak with him from behind a curtain. She speaks in
the language of his own thoughts, until he starts to understand
little by little. This is the level of derashah. Then she
speaks to him from behind a thin veil. She speaks in enigmatic
parables. This is the level of aggadah. After he becomes accustomed
to her, she reveals herself to him face to face, speaking with
him of her most concealed mysteries, all the concealed paths which
have been hidden in her bosom from ancient days... She says, "Do
you remember the hint I gave you back at the very beginning of
your search? Do you see how many secrets were embedded in what
I said? Do you see how it all fits together now?!"
This sublime and precious parable can change our entire perception
about what the Torah is. Hashem is always teaching us. Even before
we know anything about Hashem and His Torah, He is teaching us.
If this is true of the individual, how much moreso of the entire
nation of Israel. Especially now. The Torah is calling to our
generation. We are the simpletons who have misunderstood. But
Hashem does not give up on us. He created us to give us His Torah.
His purpose will not be frustrated.
We have chosen to translate the word Noten as "Giver,"
that is, as an noun describing Gd. It can also be translated
in its verb form, "Who gives the Torah." Both translations
Through the double usage of the word Noten, this blessing
thus indicates two very important principles that define our relationship
with Gd. First, Gd not only "gave" His Torah to the
Jewish people 3300 years ago on Mt. Sinai. He continually "gives"
of this same Torah to each one of us every day of our lives. And
yet, the more He gives, the more we realize that the Torah is
like an inexhaustible fountain which can never be depleted. Second,
and the very reason for the Torah's limitlessness, the Torah that
Gd gives us has something of Gd Himself in it. Just as He is
infinite and limitless, so is the Torah. We shall now briefly
explore these two ideas.
As with all blessings, and with the prayers in general, we are
being reminded here of something that we already know, something
that is deeply rooted in our consciousness. The problem is that
we become somehow disconnected from this innate knowledge, and
it is our job to reconnect. Somehow, we must use this blessing
to reawaken something that was once ours and which was subsequently
The Talmud (Niddah 30b) teaches that before each of us is born,
while we are still in our mother's womb, "A lamp shines over
our heads with which we learn the entire Torah and see from one
end of the universe to the other." The light over our heads
is held by an angel, a being of light. This being teaches us who
we are, what is expected of us, what our purpose and our mission
is. In this sense, learning the entire Torah means the entire
blueprint of our lives (Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Chaver, Pitchey Shearim,
Netiv Partzuf Zer Anpin, Part II, pp. 23a-23b). But it is no less
true that we are taught the entire Torah, or at least allowed
to perceive, in this embryonic prophetic state, a glimpse of the
infinite vastness and magnitude of the Supernal Torah. For in
the womb, no effort is involved. The light merely shines "over
our heads." It is for this reason that we can "see from
one end of the universe to the other" [which, according to
Kabbalah, does not only mean "from east to west and north
to south," but from the highest poin the spiritual dimension
down to the lowest point in our physical world (space), and from
the beginning of time to the end (time)]. Since, in the womb,
we exist in a bodiless state in which our minds are not yet limited
by our physical brains, we are not subject to the normal limitations
of time and space.
But, of course, no one leaves the womb without being struck on
the upper lip by the same angel. As the Maharal of Prague explains:
While the child is still in the womb, its soul is detached from
its body. Consequently, the soul is still completely spiritual
and is able to know and remember the entire Torah. When the time
comes to depart the womb, the soul now enters into and bonds with
the body. At this point, the soul is now limited by the physical
[capacity of the brain]. As a result, it immediately forgets the
Torah it learned... This is the meaning of the angel's slap on
the mouth of the child. It signals the completion of the soul's
bonding with the body... For the mouth is the organ of speech...
As long as the child is in the womb, it has no power of speech.
Only when it is time to be born does it receive a slap on the
mouth in order to signal that the spiritual soul has completed
its bonding to the physical body... (Gevurot Hashem 28).
The angel's little slap on our mouths puts us into a state of
amnesia. Now, when we try to learn Torah, it is hard. It is faintly
familiar; it is good, sweet. But it is only with tremendous effort
that even the tiniest ray of light begins to penetrate our little
minds... In effect, we spend the rest of our lives remembering
a tiny portion of the infinite Torah we learned in the womb. The
Tikuney Zohar thus states, "If one struggles in it [the Torah],
he will recall all that he was taught in his mother's womb"
(Tikun 70, Gra edition, p. 160b; Margoliot edition, p. 136b).
Similarly, it is stated, "Whoever immerses himself completely
in Torah [during the day] merits to have his Neshamah taken up
Above while he is fast asleep. There they [the angels] teach him
the deepest secrets of the Torah. When he speaks Torah the next
day, it is based on what he learned the previous night" (Zohar
But why go to all the trouble of teaching it to us if we will
be made to forget and have to learn all over again with such tremendous
exertion? That is the point. The little that we can learn now
is much more precious because of the effort. But, again, why go
to such trouble of giving it to us first and then taking it away?
As we shall see in a number of instances (too many to be coincidental),
this is the way Gd "gives" us what He wants to give
us. First, it is given on loan. Then it is taken away, hidden
somehow. Then we work for it. In the end, He gives us back the
infinite Torah that we could not possibly have acquired by our
own efforts. But a gift given after strenuous effort is not the
same as a gift given before. Now, after having strained ourselves,
we become transformed in the process. We become capable of receiving
what Gd Himself truly wishes to give us.
The Torah is like a never-ending spring which continually gushes
forth and is never depleted. The more Torah Gd gives to us, the
more we realize that the Torah is endless. There is always more
For what is the Torah? Our sages tell us that it is the very blueprint
of creation. More. It is the very good that Gd wishes to bestow
on His creation. And this goodness is nothing less than Gd Himself.
As Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto explains:
Gd's purpose in creation was to bestow of His good to another...
Since Gd desired to bestow good, a partial good would not be
sufficient. The good that He bestows would have to be the ultimate
good that His handiwork could accept. Gd alone, however, is the
only true good, and therefore, His beneficent desire would not
be satisfied unless it could bestow that very good, namely, the
true perfection that exists in His intrinsic essence... His wisdom
therefore decreed that the nature of this true benefaction be
His giving created beings the opportunity to attach themselves
to Him to the greatest possible degree (Derech Hashem 1:2:1).
Gd therefore granted us one particular means which can bring
man closer to Him than anything else. This is the study of His
revealed Torah... The words [of this Torah] have the unique property
of causing one who reads them to incorporate in himself the highest
excellence and greatest perfection. [The only condition is that
they be studied] with holiness and purity, with the proper intent
of fulfilling Gd's will (ibid. 1:4:9).
But this still does not exhaust what we know about the awesome
greatness of the Torah. What is the Torah? As we have seen, the
Torah is somehow related to light, to the light with which Gd
created the world. This light emanates continually from the Infinite
Source of Light. In the Torah itself is hidden the Infinite Light
that was constricted and hidden away on the first day of creation.
The Torah that we presently have is none other than a constricted
form of the Infinite Light which Gd wishes to bestow to His creation.
The Talmud thus states:
The [spiritual or mental] Light that Holy One brought into existence
on the first day of creation [was so great that] with it Adam
could see from one end of the world to the other. When the Holy
One foresaw the wicked deeds of the generations of the Flood and
the Tower of Babel, however, He decided to store this Light away
for the righteous [who would be resurrected] in the Ultimate Future.
It is thus written, "Gd saw the light, that it was good,
and Gd separated the light from the darkness" (Genesis 1:4).
That is, He set it aside for the righteous
The Mystical Aspect of the Torah - Constriction of the Light
Why did Gd constrict His light and thereby conceal it? Two reasons
are given. First, if He had not done so, there would have been
no possibility of creating a world. Simply, nothing else could
have existed except Gd Himself. Second, the world He would have
created would have been so perfect - Gd's existence would have
been so obvious - that there would have been no place for free
will and hence no possibility of ever earning our closeness to
Gd's constricting and concealing His light is likened to His
making fruits with peels The peel of a fruit is often either tasteless
or bad tasting. This peel protects the fruit in a number of ways.
One way is that if someone comes along who is not worthy of eating
the fruit, he will encounter the peel first, take a bite, and
immediately spit it out. The peel has effectively prevented such
a person from tasting the luscious fruit within. This is actually
a metaphor about the light that is hidden in the Torah. As the
Talmudic passage quoted above has made clear, one of the explanations
for why Gd hid the light of the first day of creation was in
order to prevent wicked people from having access to it. But the
question is obvious. If Gd had not hidden His Light, could a
wicked person ever have existed?! As we have tried to show, the
answer is no. For Gd's Light dispels all darkness.
The Sages said: "In the Ultimate Future, the Holy One will
remove the [Light of the] sun from its sheath. This same Light
will be a punishment for the wicked and a healing for the righteous"
The truth is, if He had not hidden [the Light] in this sheath,
there would be no wicked people in the world! This is the hidden
meaning of the Talmud's statement, "When the Holy One foresaw
the deeds of the wicked... He decided to store this Light away
[in its sheath]," for only thus [by hiding the Light] could
He insure that they [the wicked] would not be punished, nor the
righteous receive their reward, so long as This World continues
to exist [in its present state of concealment]
The Talmud and Midrash indicated that the Light was set aside
and stored away. The question is, where was this light stored
away? The Baal Shem Tov asked this question, and answered, "The
place in which Gd stored this light was the Torah"
We learn from this that the Light with which Adam saw in the Garden
of Eden was not the light that shines from the sun. That Light
was not a physical light; it was the primeval Light of the Creator
Himself that was necessarily hidden in order to allow creation
to exist. It is for this reason that the Torah is limitless. It
contains within its teachings and its commandments the light of
the Infinite Creator.
The Baal Shem Tov referred to this idea many times in connection
with the verse, "The Torah of Hashem is complete, it restores
the soul" (Psalms 19:8). Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Chernobel
Gd's Infinite Light is clothed within the external garb of the
Torah. This Light that is hidden in the Torah is [called Or Haganuz
(the Concealed Light)]. [It is also] called Ayin (Nothingness),
for it is impossible for any created being to grasp it. It is
beyond human comprehension because it is identified with the Blessed
Creator Himself who is the Source from which the Torah emanates,
such that He and the Torah are One... It is for this reason that
the Inner Light of the Torah is also called the Torah of Hashem
[as opposed to the Torah of Moshe - for it is forever one with
its Source]. Regarding this, the holy Baal Shem Tov said, "The
Concealed Light is still complete, whole and untouched. [Despite
the achievements of all the great teachers of our people who have
never stopped revealing the most profound secrets of creation
via the Torah] no man in the entire history of the world has even
begun to touch upon an infinitesimal part of this great Light,
as it is written, 'The Torah of Hashem is complete...'"
In another place, he writes:
With the Concealed Light a man can see from one end of the universe to the other, and merit complete Gd-awareness. The Holy One foresaw that the wicked would not be worthy of utilizing this Light. He therefore stored it away for the righteous... in the Torah, as is known. As we have written elsewhere, this Light - which is concealed in the Torah, and is the mystery of the drawing down of Supernal Knowledge, the spiritual delight of the Gdly Torah - is not revealed except to the righteous tzadikim who immerse themselves in the Torah with awe and love, who attach their thoughts and their energies to His Blessedness that resides in the letters of the Torah. It is to them that He reveals the Concealed Knowledge, each according to his station... as the Sages said, "The Light in it [the Torah] restores them to the good [path]," namely, the Light that is concealed in the Torah.
Rambam continues and repeats:
Gd is One in every possible way, in the fullest sense of Unity.
We must therefore say that He Himself is the Knower, the thing
that is known, and the knowledge itself. It is all one.
In light of this, we may say something similar about the inexhaustible
Torah of Hashem which He continually gives us. Just as Gd is
the Knower, the Known and the Knowing, so is He the Giver, the
Given and the Giving. When He gives us the Torah, specifically
the Light that fills the Torah, He gives us Himself. This is alluded
to in the Talmudic statement concerning the first word in the
Ten Commandments. Gd said, "Anochi-I am Hashem your
Gd who brought you out of the land of Egypt" (Exodus 20:2).
The word Anochi ("I") is an acrostic for Ana
Nafshi Chativat Yahavit, meaning, "I have given you My
very Essence in the words (writing) of this Torah".
The Torah is full of hidden teachings - fruits encased in peels.
This was intentional. For the "righteous" people referred
to by the Talmud and the Midrash quoted above are none other than
those people who want to remember the Torah they learned in the
womb. Now they are prepared to give their very lives in order
to transform themselves in the process of getting close to the
Light. They realize that, as Ramchal states, "The purpose
of all that was created was to bring into existence a creature
who could experience the bliss of Gd's own good." But they
also understand the importance of their own efforts in receiving
that gift. They understand that, "Gd's wisdom decreed, however,
that in order to be a perfect gift, the one enjoying Gd's goodness
must be its master. He must be one who earned it for himself".
The problem, again, is that Gd has never stopped giving us His
Torah, His Light, His Perfection, and His Oneness. He knows, however,
that in order for us to make it ours, to internalize it, He must
not present us with the gift of perfection on a silver platter.
He can only give us the possibility of attaining perfection. With
the effort we then expend on acquiring this perfection, it becomes
ours. The Light was hidden in order to create a world in which
a human being could make the effort to acquire that which Gd
wants nothing more than to give to him. But Gd cannot give it.
As much as He will give, if we do not do something to receive,
it will pass us right by.
Copyright (c) Avraham Sutton, Telz-Stone 112/1, Jerusalem, Israel
90840, Ph. 972-2-534-3677; email: firstname.lastname@example.org. This
essay is Part V of a series on Blessings (the entire series is
part of a larger unpublished work on Jewish Prayer and Meditation
presently entitled "Realizing the Unity"). If you would
like sources for the author's works, please contact him through
his e-mail address: email@example.com.
from the October 1997 Edition of the Jewish Magazine