There was a fellow I’d see occasionally whom I would encourage to learn in our yeshiva. He was always very cordial and polite, but he never took me up on my offer. I finally decided to be more direct: “There are so many Torah learning opportunities at our yeshiva. Is there a reason why you aren’t taking advantage of them?” I asked. “Honestly, Rabbi, Gemara is not for me,” he replied. “I like to learn mussar or say Tehillim.” I told him what he is doing is great, but again, why not Gemara? He looked at me and said, “Rabbi, you’re right. I never had the chance to go to yeshiva growing up. I did hear some Gemara shiurim here and there, but I never really engaged in it,” he said.
“That’s it!” I said. “You really should come to the yeshiva and take some time to focus and get into the depth of Gemara. I’m sure you’ll taste the sweetness of Gemara learning!” Once he started, I soon convinced him to start coming regularly.
There was another person who was reluctant to join a shiur. “Rabbi, I would like to, but I am so busy with my work and business, I can’t commit to coming.” I responded, “I have noticed you’re a smart businessman and are always looking for a good investment. Every morning, you are declaring the best business investment when you recite Bircas HaTorah. You say, “Baruch Atah Hashem… la’asok b’divrei Torah, Blessed are you Hashem … who commanded us to study Torah.” The word la’asok means to be involved in Torah as one would be with eisek—business. Every Jew’s “business” is to be engaged in Torah learning. Most business ventures have partners. The partner in this business venture is Hashem, the best partner one could have, Who ensures a guaranteed return on investment!!”
Parshas Bechukosai opens with many blessings for those who observe the Torah’s mitzvos. It continues with harsh curses for those not following the Torah’s mitzvos. The Gemara says Parshas Bechukosai needs to be read before Shavuos since the purpose of the world is Matan Torah, and we want to maximize our blessings to be ready to receive the Torah in a positive state. The best way to get a person to behave in a positive manner is by positive reinforcement. Reading the brachos in Bechukosai motivates us to do the right thing, even more than reading the curses scares us not to do the wrong thing.
The parsha opens with the words “Im bechukosai teileichu umitzvosai tishmeru…, If you will walk in My laws and guard My mitzvos…” Rashi quotes the midrash which explains that “walking in My laws” refers specifically to studying Torah.
Everybody wants brachos. The Torah gives us a formula to do that. People spend time on things they enjoy. As such, learning Torah really needs to be done in a way that’s enjoyable, so it will become a daily activity.
But people still work at their job even if they don’t enjoy it, because they want their paycheck. Learning Torah is also work, sometimes hard work, but we can request from Hashem that He give us enjoyment from our learning, in addition to the reward for doing so, in order that we be motivated to learn each day.
A friend of mine approached Rav Ephraim Wachsman for a bracha to be able to understand his learning and truly enjoy it. For him, learning Gemara was very difficult. He struggled to understand and was often tired and exhausted. Rav Wachsman responded, “When you recite the bracha of Bircas HaTorah in the morning and say “v’ha’arev na—Hashem, please make the Torah sweet,” have in mind that you want Hashem to make the Torah learning sweet for you, and then you will be successful in achieving enjoyment in your study.”
A similar incident took place when the same person asked Rav Dovid Schustal for a bracha for his children to enjoy their Torah learning. He told him to concentrate when reciting the bracha of v’ha’arev na, as the words are a request for the Torah to be sweet not just for us, but for our children and grandchildren as well.
My blessing to all of you is that Hashem should make Torah learning sweet for you, and when your family sees how much you enjoy it, they will also want to taste that sweetness.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged, but contributions are always welcome. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.