A Mystical Exposition of the Blessing of the Torah


The Blessing of the Torah - A Mystical Exposition


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The Sages have given us three Blessings to make before we learn Torah. Avraham Sutton, a well known author and scholar gives us a deeper understanding of the meanings of these Blessings.


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."

The triad of blessings comprises one single unit and lesson

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 HaTorah).

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 from it."

Why Make a Blessing on the Torah?

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.

'Noten'- Giver of the Torah

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 are correct.

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 lost.

Learning Torah Before Birth !!

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 Chadash ).

Why Learn Torah Before Birth?

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 to give.

Torah - Blueprint of Creation

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).

Torah and Light

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.

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 Gra explained why the word Or-light appears five times in the first day of creation, whereas the word Mayim-water appears five times on the second day of creation. Light, it is known, is associated with Chesed [love, the positive pole of expansion, for it is the nature of light to spread out without bounds]. This is the first Light that shone from one end of the universe to the other. Water, on the other hand, although by itself representing Chesed, represents Gevurah [judgment, the negative pole of constriction] in comparison to Light...

Now, behold, by virtue of the fact that the Light is hidden, the revelation of Gd's Love is withheld and prevented from shining in all its perfection. If this were not so, perfection would be revealed into the concealment of the world. Evil would then be immediately destroyed, there would be no free will and no evil inclination. He was therefore impelled to hide the Light... in such a way that it only shines through a slitin the partition [i.e. indirectly

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 Secret of the Hidden Light

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 thus wrote:

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.

We mentioned that the Torah that Gd gives us has something of Gd Himself in it. Our blessing thus also indicates a sort of equivalency between the Giver, the thing that is given (the Torah), and the act of giving. In his Mishnah Torah (Yesodey HaTorah 2:10), as well as in his Moreh Nevuchim (1:68), Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam) speaks about Gd's absolute Oneness:

Gd recognizes His own true nature and knows it exactly as it is. This knowledge is not something that can be separated from His Essence. In this way, it is very different from ours. For our knowledge is not the same as our identity. In the case of Gd, however, He, His knowledge and His life are One in every possible way and in the fullest sense of Unity.

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 Torah is Always Being Given

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: asutton@netvision.net.il. 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: asutton@netvision.net.il.


from the October 1997 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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