Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
The Basis of Jewish Education – Torah Study on Shabbat
Many people are concerned about the question of educating our youth: how to strengthen their connection to Torah? Quite a few understand that this issue depends on a more general question: How can the spiritual lives of adults be raised? For it is clear that if adults were able to impart deeper meaning to maintaining religious traditions, they would be more successful in educating their children. Moreover, if the religious community as a whole was able to elevate its life, overcoming the urges and ills modern society suffers from, and infuse life with values – it would constitute a remarkable example for the ideal way of life. Many of our fellow, secular Jews would take notice, and be drawn to the path of traditional Judaism, thus creating a window to ‘tikun olam b’Malchut Shadai’ (perfection of the world in the Kingdom of God), as the role the Lord our God has bestowed upon us.
Apparently, the main key to all these questions is Torah study on Shabbat.
Torah in the Lives of Working People
The issue warrants further clarification. Ostensibly, it seems that a decree has been placed on every Jew to choose between the holy and the secular. Either you engage in Torah study in the framework of ‘kollel’ (an institute for full-time study of Torah) all your life, as many in the hareidi community do, or go out to the practical world, work in a variety of jobs or even study one of the various sciences, but your connection to spiritual life is flimsy. True, there are numerous ‘tzadikim’ (righteous people) who manage to create various arrangements, combining between the holy and secular, but in general, the schism is clear and painful, and many are forced to choose between the two options – none of which suits them perfectly, and none of which convey the message of ‘tikun olam’.
The study of Torah on Shabbat is designed to solve this difficult dilemma.
The Place of Torah in a Jew’s Life
Without constantly engaging in Torah study, it is impossible to lead an appropriate Jewish life. Regarding the mitzvah of ‘Talmud Torah’ (studying Torah), our Sages have already said that it is equal to all the other mitzvoth. There are two reasons for this: first, the mitzvah of studying is fulfilled through man’s most supreme capacity – his intellect. Secondly, the study of Torah leads man to the complete fulfillment of the mitzvoth, as our Sages said: “Study is greater for it leads to action” (Kiddushin 40b).
Therefore, one must set aside regular times each day for Torah study, as it is written: “This book of the Torah shall not depart out of your mouth; but you shall meditate therein day and night” (Yehoshua 1:8). Consequently, one must learn a chapter in the morning, and a chapter at night (Menachot 99b); in other words, between a half hour to an hour in the morning and at night. Obviously, though, this is not sufficient in order to maintain a proper adherence to the Torah, and additionally, in this way it is impossible to reach an adequate level of Torah knowledge to illuminate one’s life.
Regular Torah study on Shabbat is intended to solve the problem.
The Purpose of Shabbat: Learning Torah
Our Sages said: “Thus God said to Israel: My son’s! Have I not written in my Torah, ‘This book of the Torah shall not depart out of your mouth’? Although you work all six days of the week, devote the Sabbath day entirely to Torah” (Tana D’bei Eliyahu Raba, chap.1).
Hence, our Sages said: A person should always rise early and learn on Shabbat, go to the ‘beit knesset’ (synagogue) and ‘beit midrash’ (learning hall), read from the Torah and Prophets, and afterwards go home to eat and drink, thereby fulfilling the verse “Go your way, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart…” (Kohelet 9:7).
Especially in Eretz Yisrael
It is particularly important to be meticulous about Torah study on Shabbat in the Land of Israel, as our Sages said: “The Torah said before God: ‘Master of the World! When Israel enters the Land, this one will run to his vineyard, and this one will run to his field. What will be with me’? God said to the Torah: ‘I have a partner for you, whose name is Shabbat, and [on that day] they will be free from their work and will thus be able to engage in [the study of] you." (Tur, Orach Chaim 290). Several ‘poskim’ (Jewish legal authorities) cite this Midrash in their halachic decisions, coming to teach us that, indeed, one must devote the Shabbat to Torah study (Mishna Berura 290:5).
Truthfully speaking, this poses a difficult question: Why did the Jewish nation have to enter the Land of Israel? God could have kept them in the desert, in order to learn in the ‘kollel’ of Moshe Rabbeinu and the Seventy Elders, devoid of any economic crises affecting their government benefits! In the morning, they ate ‘manna’, and at night, quail. Their clothes and shoes never wore-out. As a result, they were able to engage in the study of the holy Torah day and night. However, Israel’s destined role is to reveal ‘kedusha’ (holiness) in practical life, within the Land of Israel. This was the sin of the Spies, who wished to remain in the desert.
Nonetheless, the penetrating question still remains: What will become of the Torah?! Torah study must be taken seriously. How can this possibly be done, while at the same time, pursuing the development of the world? Seemingly, one might expect the answer to be, that if we have the proper fear of Heaven, miracles will be performed for us, and we won’t need to work. This, however, was not the reply, because such a reality will only occur after a complete ‘tikun’, in the World to Come. Here in the present world, however, we must work, and in this fashion, perfect it. Therefore, God’s answer was to study Torah on Shabbat, for this is the purpose of Shabbat – to give us a taste of the World to Come, here in our present world.
Holidays As Well
Not only is Shabbat intended for Torah study, but rather, all the holidays which we are commanded to celebrate from the Torah, are also designed for Torah study, as indicated by the mitzvah to study on each ‘chag’ (holiday) matters related to that specific holiday – in halacha and ‘machshava’ (thought), whereas Shabbat is intended for general Torah study. This is the general division between weekdays, which were designed for work, and the holy days, whose purpose is Torah.
All Problems Stem from ‘Bitul Torah’ on Shabbat
The basis of all our educational and ethical problems is due to ‘bitul Torah’ (wasting Torah-learning time) on Shabbat. How can we expect a person to successfully elevate his life in the direction of eternal values, when he fails to devote a considerable amount of time to Torah study, and is unable to absorb enlightenment for his soul from the holidays?
Needless to say, this does not mean thumbing through the Shabbat leaflets, or books containing ‘parpar’a’ote’ (short discourses on Torah topics), but a serious study of the fundamentals of Torah, every Shabbat, until one merits encompassing all the essentials of ‘emunah’ (faith), ‘mussar’ (ethics), and halacha, repeating them many times over, and delving into them.
The high level one can reach by spending a minimum of six hours of Torah study on Shabbat is beyond description. The wonderful effect hours of Torah study on Shabbat has on all the weekdays is unimaginable!
Educating Our Youth
Torah study on Shabbat can also raise our youth to incredible heights. However, Shabbat is similar to all good things – if not used properly, instead of blessing, the opposite is obtained. What can boys and girls do, having one day a week in which work is forbidden, and plenty of leisure time? True, a major amount of time is devoted to prayers, meals, and sleep – thank God, but there still remains many hours of inactivity. And, as is well-known, when a pit is empty devoid of water, it gets filled with snakes and scorpions.
Thus, we find in towns and cities, in Samaria and B’nei Brak, droves of teenagers on Shabbat eve, wandering back and forth, chatting, gossiping and making noise, shouting and laughing; engaging in all the secular matters of the week, and arguing passionately about all the nonsense in the world. Cheering-on the trouble-makers and the brazen, whose idle day of Shabbat is their big day, while condemning the righteous “nerds” whose vacation day from school is their weakest. They go to sleep in the wee hours of the night, and find it hard to get-up for prayers in the morning. Instead of honoring the Sabbath day, they denigrate it, exploiting its sacred moments in idleness. And the squandered time escalates, until it eventually impinges on times previously devoted to prayers and Shabbat meals, and every Shabbat parents once again have to argue with them to get-up for prayers, and show consideration for the Shabbat table.
There is a wonderful solution to all this – to be meticulous about learning Torah for six hours on Shabbat.
True, our Sages did not fix a specific amount of time one should learn on Shabbat, but certainly, they intended we invest a significant amount of time. They would not have said “the entire Shabbat day should be devoted to Torah” in regards to four or five hours of study. And seeing as our Sages said that at least half of the Shabbat should be devoted to Torah study (Pesachim 68b), clearly, it is impossible to say that four or five hours is considered half a day. Several of the ‘poskim’ have written this as halacha, as the author of ‘Ohr Zarua’ wrote: “Shabbat or Yom Tov – half [of the day] to eating and drinking, and half [of the day] to the ‘beit midrash’ (study hall). And it is a ‘kosher minhag’ (proper custom) that after leaving the synagogue following Shabbat morning prayers, to go home and eat, and then take a nap for Shabbat pleasure, and afterwards, learn Torah” (Section 2, paragraph 89). It is likewise written in the book “Mitzvoth Gadol” (Hilchot Yom Tov 27:73), Rabbeinu Yerucham (Netiv 12, pg. 65), Maharshal (Yam Shel Shlomo, Beitza 2, note 4), the responsa “Tzedaka U’Mishpat” (Orach Chaim 4), and many more.
However, given that our Sages did not set a specific amount of time, the sacred matter of Torah study on Shabbat has been squandered. Therefore, anyone wishing to fulfill Shabbat properly, must accept upon himself to study at least six hours every Shabbat, this being the most minimal interpretation of “half [the time] to the ‘beit midrash”.
If fathers act accordingly, and accustom the youth to learn Torah on Shabbat from an early age, they are likely to continue doing so all their lives, growing in Torah and mitzvoth, establishing exemplary families, and all their lives will be illuminated by the light of the Torah and Shabbat.