Revivim, rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Revivim, rabbi Eliezer Melamed

The Importance of Torah Study on Shabbat and Holiday

The quality time that the holidays and Shabbat afford us to study Torah creates the possibility of living an active life combined with Torah, and not having to choose between the two * Studying on Shabbat should be more in-depth and uplifting than the limited set times on weekdays * When one refrains from studying on Shabbat, one’s intellect diminishes, leading to fears resulting in controversy

On the holiday of Sukkot and the upcoming new year 5782, we must return to the basics. The big question facing us is: how can observant Jews successfully elevate their lives, thus serving an example and role model for the entire nation, until all Jews who see them will want to become observant, and as a consequence, the Jewish nation as a whole will be able to serve as an example to the nations of the world, and bring blessing to all the families of the earth, as God spoke to our forefathers.

Torah study is the key to all – both because of its supreme virtue – it being equal in weight to all the mitzvot combined – and because of the greatness of Torah study, for “Torah study leads to action” (Kiddushin 40b). This refers to Torah study that illuminates life, and guides it.

However, the question arises: how is it possible for a person to learn Torah properly when man was created to engage in yishuvo shel olam (contributing to civilization) – as the Torah says of man’s task on earth, “To work and guard it”? The answer is – on Shabbatot and holidays when the Torah forbade work! As our Sages said:

Shabbat and Yom Tov were given to the Jewish people only for Torah study” (Yerushalmi Shabbat 15:3).

In practice, our Sages instructed to dedicate half of Shabbat to Torah study (Pesachim 68b), and in order to fulfill this, one must study a minimum of approximately six hours on Shabbat (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 5: 1).

By studying Torah on Shabbat and holidays, the Torah illuminates practical, everyday life and elevates it, and as a result, the blessing of the Torah spreads to all of one’s actions. Apparently, this is what the Kabbalists meant when they said that one hour of Torah study on Shabbat has a greater impact than a thousand hours of Torah study on weekdays (Ben Ish Chai, introduction to Parshat Shemot, 2nd Year).

Torah and Life

Without the study of Torah on Shabbat, every Jew would be condemned to choose between the holy and the profane – either one studies Torah all his life in ‘kollel‘ like many men in the Haredi community do, while avoiding engaging in yishuvo shel olam and all the enormous mitzvot it entails; or conversely, go out into the practical world,  work at various jobs or academic research, but with a weakened connection to Torah and mitzvot. Each one of the choices is heartrending and painful, and in neither way can the vision of the Torah be fulfilled, to bring tikkun (rectification) and blessing to the world. Studying Torah on Shabbat and holidays solves this difficult dilemma.

This is what our Sages said in Tanna Debei Eliyahu Rabbah, Chapter 1:

The Holy One Blessed be He says to Israel did I not write to them in my Torah, “You should not remove this Book of Torah from your mouths” [Joshua 1:8] even though you do work all six days, Shabbat you should make fully Torah. From here, it is said a man should arise early and learn on Shabbat. And go to the Synagogue and to the House of Study. And he should read Torah verse, then learn in the Prophets, and afterward go to his house and eat and drink…”

The Torah’s Place in the Life of a Jew

Indeed, times for Torah study should be set every day of the week, as it is written: “You should not remove this Book of Torah from your mouths, meditate on it day and night” (Joshua 1: 8), and therefore, every person should set a little time for Torah study during the day, and also at night. This study is helpful in maintaining a permanent connection to the Torah, and by means of it, one is also able to review words of Torah in order to retain them in his heart, but such study does not have the power to elevate a Jew to an adequate level of Torah knowledge, to illuminate life, and to rectify the world.

Setting a substantial amount of time of study on Shabbatot and Chagim is intended to be the solution.

Oneg Shabbat: How?

Ostensibly, if Torah study on Shabbat were so important, it would have been appropriate to devote the entire Shabbat to study! Why then is it a mitzvah to delight (le’aneg) the Shabbat with meals? Not only that, but in regards to someone who succeeds in delighting in Shabbat, our Sages said, “Whoever delights in Shabbat is spared from imperial subjugation”; “Whoever enjoys Shabbat is given everything his heart desires”; “Whoever makes Shabbat enjoyable receives boundless territory” and merits wealth (Shabbat 118-119). We see then, that oneg Shabbat is not a simple matter.

Indeed, oneg Shabbat is a subtle and very profound mitzvah, requiring a balance and integration of neshama (soul) and guf (body); only when one successfully enjoys meals together with significant Torah study can he truly merit oneg Shabbat. This is in accordance with our Sages statement that Shabbat should be divided, “half for eating and drinking, and half for the beit midrash” (Pesachim 68b). These two halves should complement each other; in other words, the meals should be linked to Torah study, and Torah study linked to the meals, and all in pleasure.

A Taste of the World to Come

In this way, Shabbat is me’ain Olam HaBa – a kind of ‘taste’ of the World to Come, by means of which kedusha (holiness), ora (spiritual light) and bracha (blessing) are drawn from Olam HaBa to Olam HaZeh (This World). What is Olam HaBa? It is the world after Techiyat HaMeytim (Resurrection of the Dead) where the souls of the tzadikim (righteous) reunite with the body, and together, experience eternal ascent. In a similar way, Shabbat connects the soul and body in a proper manner, and thus the great light of Olam HaBa is drawn from above, illuminating our world. However, if someone eats, drinks, and rests without devoting half of Shabbat to Torah study, his soul is lacking; he is unable to truly delight in Shabbat, and does not merit me’ain Olam HaBa.

When we will merit to observe Shabbat properly, delighting with both soul and body in unity, we will reveal for ourselves, and for the entire world, the good life that every person longs for. At that point, we will truly be able to say to all, “Taste, and see that God is good. How blessed are those who take refuge in him!” (Psalms 34:9), and the entire world will repent. Perhaps this is what our Sages meant when they said that if Israel kept two Sabbaths properly, they would “immediately be redeemed” – namely, the two facets of Shabbat – the material, and the spiritual, in pleasurable meals, sleep, and Torah study.

The Torah of Land of Israel

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, OC. 290).

Seemingly, 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 study in the ‘kollel‘ of Moshe Rabbeinu! In the morning, they would eat manna, and at night, quail; their clothes and shoes would never have worn-out, and they could have studied the holy Torah, day and night. Rather, the main objective of the Torah is to be revealed in this world, in practical, everyday life, by means of which, man becomes a partner in yishuvo shel olam, and all deeds are blessed. Only when the Torah sanctifies all spheres of life, the spiritual and the material in all their variations, is belief in the Oneness of God completely revealed, and the light of the Torah revealed in its entirety. That is why the Torah was given so the Jewish nation would fulfill it in the Land of Israel – because it is a land whose physicality is able to reveal the sacred values.

However, this is all on condition that the Sabbaths and holidays are dedicated to Torah study; only in this way can practical, everyday life be enlightened and guided by the Torah, and only in this way will we properly understand the Torah, and the word of God be revealed in its entirety.

When Torah is Not Studied on Shabbat

When working people and professionals who engage in yishuvo shel olam do not set times for themselves for study of Torah on Shabbat, the light of the Torah is diminished and darkened, and observant Jews are forced to give up on important principles in the Torah, in order to keep the private mitzvot represented by Orthodox Jewry which  helped us survive while we were in Exile.

After all, everyone agrees that the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel) is equal in weight to all the mitzvot in the Torah (Sifri, Re’ah 53). Why then do some avoid it, in the name of the Torah? Because they believe that if they engage in settling the Land, they will deteriorate religiously.

Likewise, all admit that it is a important mitzvah to serve in the army and protect the People and the Land of Israel, for in addition to the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, this mitzvah helps defend all the People of Israel – and if concerning the saving of one soul from the Jewish people, the verse ascribes one credit as if he sustained an entire world, how much more so is this the case regarding someone who enlists in the army and guards Clal Yisrael. Nevertheless, they fear that if they enlist in the army, they will deteriorate religiously.

Similarly, all acknowledge that there is a mitzvah to study the sciences, which are part of “ma’aseh Bereshit” (the account of creation), however, when there is little faith, there is fear that as a result of studying ma’aseh Bereshit, they will deteriorate religiously.

In the same way, everyone admits that it is a mitzvah to work and earn a living and engage in yishuvo shel olam, that it is forbidden for those who are able to work to live off charity, and that it is forbidden to cause people to be poor and rely on handouts. Nevertheless, they fear that if they learn a profession and go to work, they will be less religious.

By the same token, everyone admits that Jews must not be hated and boycotted, let alone entire Jewish movements, for we are all sons of God, and even idolaters are considered the sons of the Living God – all the more so, a religious group who are not idolaters. So why do they hate and boycott? Because they fear that if they do not boycott, Judaism will be destroyed.

This is how the position is created that in order to maintain the embers of the Torah tradition, we must forgo the most important principles in the Torah until the time when God shows us a spirit from above and saves us, and only then we will be able keep the Torah properly.

The Blessing in Study on Shabbat

However, if men of deeds, professionals, scientists, settlers, and soldiers, together with the Talmedei Chachamim (Torah scholars), merit setting for themselves meaningful Torah study on Shabbat, and as a result, merit adhering to the mitzvot and uplifting everyday practical life, we will be able to understand the Torah properly – one thousand times more than the limited study on weekdays – and be able to fulfill all of the Torah’s commandments properly, and thus, receive all the blessings written in the Torah.

Because we have gotten used to the weekday type of study, we have become accustomed to emphasizing the details over the general principles, the secondary over the primary, and the sharp-witted explanations over thorough and logical ones. However, the proper study for Shabbat is a clear and deep study of halakha and machshava (Jewish thought and philosophy), a study that illuminates, inspires, and guides towards refining of middot (good virtues) and fulfilling the mitzvot accurately, and elevates faith in the Redemption of Israel, and the world.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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