With all the well-earned accolades and fanfare that surrounded last week’s monumental Siyum HaShas, one would expect to find numerous direct references in the Torah mandating the study of Torah. It therefore comes as a great surprise that there is not one direct statement in the Torah commanding its study.
Of course, this omission has been a subject of discussion among the rabbis for millennia.
There is no question that the study of Torah is regarded in Jewish tradition as a primary mitzvah. It is even equated in value to all the other mitzvot combined. All the classical codes of Jewish law regard the study of Torah as a mitzvah.
The Sefer Ha’Chinuch (the classic work on the 613 commandments, their rationale and their regulations, by an anonymous author in 13th century Spain) lists the mitzvah “to study Torah and to teach it” as positive mitzvah number 419.
The proof text cited by the Chinuch is the well-known verse from the Shema prayer (Deuteronomy 6:7), “Veshinantam levanechah” – “and you shall teach them to your children.” Only through the Talmudic explication of the verse (Kiddushin 30a) do we learn “one must learn Torah diligently in order that the words of the Torah shall be well organized in your mouth, so that when a person asks you something, you should not stutter or stammer, but be able to respond immediately.”
While the Chinuch also cites other scriptural sources in support of Torah study, all but one of the verses refer to teaching Torah to one’s children, not one’s personal obligation to study Torah. How strange is it that there is no direct mitzvah of studying Torah other than a Talmudic deduction from the command to teach one’s children.
On August 1more than 90,000 people gathered in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, to celebrate the conclusion of the seven-and-a-half year cycle of the study of Talmud. Studying all the folios of the Talmud every single day is a monumental accomplishment. Even to study the Talmud in a cursory manner requires an investment of at least one hour of daily study.
The commitment is rigorous, requiring an almost obsessive devotion to the program. This regimented routine and directed system of Torah study was established by Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin, Poland in 1923 and has unquestionably evolved into the most successful mass educational program for Jewish adults in the past century. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people are studying the daily Talmud daf, and have had their lives profoundly enriched.
And yet it seems that one element, perhaps the most important element, of the study of Torah is missing: that of “Velimadetem et b’neichem” – “And you shall teach your children.” Ironically, many men have little or no spare time to study with their children precisely because they are so deeply involved in the daily daf. Obviously, seeing one’s parent regularly studying Talmud serves as a great source of inspiration for children. But the Torah mandates parents to teach their children. In other words, parents have the obligation to personally educate their children. Only if parents are unable to teach their children can they send them to a yeshiva or hire a professional teacher.
An Orthodox man who has four, five or six children would certainly have difficulty finding fifteen minutes a day to study with each of them. That is why I would like to suggest that a new program be added to the Daf Yomi routine, perhaps to be known as Sha’ah Yomit, the daily hour. Those fathers (or grandfathers) who study the daf should make a commitment to study with their children or grandchildren one hour a day. In this way, they will properly fulfill the full mitzvah of studying Torah, the way it was originally intended.
If a parent has only one hour to spare and is faced with the decision to either do the daf every day or to study with his children, which one of these important duties should assume priority? I will leave that for the parent’s rabbi to decide.
The Daf Yomi should not be used as an excuse not to study with one’s children. It would certainly be a monumental and long overdue correction for the rabbis to boldly declare that parents or grandparents who study the Daf Yomi should set aside one hour a day to study with their children. It is not only the right thing to do, it is the necessary thing to do. Too many fathers, for too long, have abrogated their responsibility of educating their children directly.
Implementing this radical proposal would result in a most fundamental improvement in Jewish education and bring about a basic transformation in many parent-child relationships.
Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald is director of the National Jewish Outreach Program.
About the Author: Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald is director of the National Jewish Outreach Program.
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