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Wednesday
Dec282016

LEARNING NEVER ENDS

Selected Halachos from the “One Minute Halacha” project
By HaRav Yosef Yeshaya Braun, Shlita, Mara D’asra and member of the Badatz of Crown Heights

WHY YOU SHOULD SUPPORT TORAH LEARNING

The mitzvah of hachzakas Torah (supporting Torah learning) is independent of our general obligation of giving tz’daka (charity). It is greater than any other form of tz’daka and includes supporting even a wealthy talmid chacham (Torah scholar) so they can learn with peace of mind free of financial worry. In addition to monetary support, the mitzvah includes providing them with food, coffee, electricity, s’farim (holy books) and any assistance their families may need. Even though charitable giving is usually capped at twenty percent of a person’s earnings, the amount of money contributed to the cause of hachzakas Torah is not restricted.

Supporting Torah learning should be fulfilled by everyone—even those who are talmidei chachomim themselves, poor people (who might not earn enough to obligate them to give regular tz’daka) and women (whose obligations to Torah study differ from men). The Torah says in Parshas Ki Savo: “Baruch asher yakim es divrei ha’Torah hazos” (Blessed are those who uphold the words of this Torah). We are told this pasuk refers to those who support Torah learning (and are warned that the opposite applies—chas v’shalom—to those who are negligent in this regard). In Parshas Eikev, it states “U’vo sidvak” (and you should cling to Him)—it is a positive mitzvah to connect to Hashem, and the path to do so is through sustaining talmidei chachomim. Likewise, the lav (Torah prohibition) in the next parsha of “Hishamer lecha pen ta’azov es ha’Levi” (watch over yourself, lest you abandon the [tribe] of Levi)—who were a tribe of Torah scholars—is an admonition to us to be vigilant in supporting Torah scholars.

An individual’s responsibility of Talmud Torah (Torah study) is so great, that there are many admonitions associated with bittul Torah (squandering [time that can be used] for Torah study). We are informed by Chazal that the pasuk (verse) in the Shma, “Vedibarta bam” (and you should speak in it [Torah]) is an obligation to constantly converse in Torah learning—“velo b’devarim acherim” (and not any other subject). But if bittul Torah does occur (intentionally or not), there is an opportunity to repair some of the damage by partnering with talmidei chachomim. By supporting them, we earn s’char (reward) equal to learning ourselves—both in this world and in olam haba (the World to Come).

This also applies to those who lack the aptitude to devote themselves to complex Torah study and therefore pursues another occupation. They fulfill the minimal “expending effort by day and night” with a period of learning in the morning and in the evening (devoting this time to learning practical halachos so they can fulfill the mitzvos properly without having to constantly ask for guidance, as well as with musar and Chassidus—see Halacha #773). The rest of the day, when involved in conducting their business, they emend the lack of Torah study by supporting talmidei chachomim with part of their profits, which will be considered as though they studied all day themselves.

DON’T FALL ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL!

A driver who falls asleep at the wheel (chas v’shalom) is responsible for injuries caused to passengers, pedestrians and other drivers, as well as for damage to the car being driven, to other cars, and for all collateral damage. There is a rule: “Adam mu’ad l’olam bein shogeg bein meizid, bein eir bein yashein” (a person is always as if forewarned [i.e., responsible]) regardless of whether [he inflicts damage] unknowingly or willfully; whether he is awake or asleep).

How can a person be held responsible for something that occurs when they are incognizant?

There is much discussion among poskim about responsibility in the case of hezek (damage) caused b’ones (unwillingly). Tosafos (12th to 15th century Talmudic commentaries) make a distinction for a hezek that occurs due to ones gamur (complete accident). According to Tosafos, an adam hamazik (person who causes damage) is liable only for an ones which is karov l’pshiah (nearing negligence). To further distinguish between different types of ones, Tosafos refers to them as ones k’ein gnaiva (accident which is similar to theft) versus ones k’ain aveida (accident similar to disappearance). Both theft and disappearance are not considered negligence (see also Halacha # 398) and both occur unwittingly. But when it comes to degree of responsibility, aveida is clearly closer to p’shiah than geneiva, which is closer to ones. Therefore—according to Tosafos—there is no liability in cases that are similar to geneiva or any other ones gamur. Other Rishonim (early authorities) disagree with Tosafos, and hold a person liable regardless of the level of control they had at the time.

Practically speaking, we are lenient with regard to hezek in cases of ones gamur (ruling as Tosafos), but uphold accountability for any damage resulting from ones karov l’pshiah. Therefore, if a person falls asleep and causes harm to others they are always held responsible. However, if another person influences the type or amount of damage that occurs while a person is asleep—such as by lying down next to them (and therefore putting themselves in harm’s way) or putting fragile items in their way (so they break the objects while asleep)—the slumberer is not responsible, since these particular circumstances are ones gamur.

None of this applies to falling asleep at the wheel. It is a person’s responsibility to remain awake while operating a vehicle and necessary precaution must be taken to remain alert. Ones sheinah (unwittingly [causing damage] while asleep) isn’t an excuse when driving even though the driver did not intend to doze off—regardless of whether we accept the position of Tosafos or other Rishonim. Someone who is driving long distances, particularly at night, should take necessary safety measures, and is advised to take a break every hour in order to remain fully alert throughout the road trip.

LEARNING FOR LIFE: A HALACHIC HIERARCHY

A fundamental aspect of the mitzvah of talmud Torah (Torah study) is chazara (review), which is crucial for retaining our learning. In days of yore, the custom was to review the subject matter one hundred times—and even more—in order to remember it forever. That was the case up until just over one hundred years after the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash, when the Torah Sheba’al Peh (the Oral Torah, i.e., Mishna, Gemara etc.) was transcribed for all time by Rabbinic decree. Even today, extensive review applies more to the study of Torah Sheba’al Peh than to Tanach (The Five Books of Moses, Prophets and Writing). We are still obligated to review our learning not just once, twice (or thrice) so as to understand it in its entirety, but as many times as it takes to instill it in our memory.

One who fails to properly review their learning raises three halachic issues:
The metaphoric meaning of the mitzvah “
ve’shinantam l’vanecha” (and you shall teach your children) plays on the root of the word shanen (to sharpen), as in the pasuk (verse),“chitzei gever shinunim” (men’s sharpened arrows), and tells us that the learning should be as sharp in the mind, so recall should not fade with time. (The word “Mishna” is also derived from this root-word).

In addition, there is an explicit lav (Torah prohibition) of, “Hishamer lecha ushmor nafshecha me’od pen tishkach” (watch yourselves and guard your soul very well lest you forget).

Thirdly, the Mishna states that a person who forgets their learning is k’ilu mischayev b’nafsho (as if he is guilty [of terminating] his life). A person may therefore erroneously conclude: “Better avoid learning altogether so as not to be guilty of putting my life on the line.” But a person who does not learn at all is not “k’ilu mischayev” (as if guilty), but actually mischayev b’nafsho—which is obviously a more serious offense.

In this light, the task of advancing in Torah learning may appear insurmountable; however the Mishna counsels us, “Lo alecha hamelachah ligmor” (it is not upon you to complete the work)—sincere effort, not achievement, is paramount, and it is up to us to learn and review as expected.

In the hierarchy of subjects to learn in the vast sea of Torah, a particularly forgetful person is instructed to focus on studying and remembering halacha l’maaseh (practical law), as opposed to studying other aspects of Torah Sheb’aal Peh (like Gemara)*. In addition, we should focus on musar and chassidus which will inspire us to serve Hashem with emotional investment and not merely by rote as well as the occasional learning of Tanach.

“One Minute Halacha” is a succinct daily presentation on practical Halacha in video, audio, and text formats, and can be accessed by phone at 718.989.9599, by email, halacha2go@gmail.com, or by WhatsApp 347.456.5665.

 

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