Torah Lishmah and Torat Eretz Yisrael: Learning in Memory of Sara Lamm Dratch z"l Shavuot 5776


As Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah, it is customary to explore the fundamental mitzvah of Talmud Torah, Torah study. In particular, the rabbis emphasized that the ideal fulfillment of Torah study is “Torah lishmah,” Torah study for its own sake. They also indicated that there is a degree of uniqueness associated with Torah studied in Eretz Yisrael. This module explores various approaches to these principles, including that of Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin (analyzed extensively by Rabbi Norman Lamm in his classic book Torah Lishmah), as well as additional perspectives that intersect with Sara z"l’s life and legacy.

(א) שנו החכמים בלשון המשנה. ברוך שבחר בהם ובמשנתם. רבי מאיר אומר כל העוסק בתורה לשמה, זוכה לדברים הרבה. ולא עוד אלא שכל העולם כלו כדאי הוא לו.

(1) The Rabbis taught in the language (style) of the Mishnah: Rabbi Meir says: Anyone who involves himself in Torah for its own sake merits many things, and moreover the entire world is worthwhile for his sake.

Questions to Consider

1. How do you understand the concept of Torah Lishmah?

2. Why do you think one who studies Torah Lishmah considered to be on such a high level?

Let's now turn to some classic sources that define Torah Lishmah. We'll start with the Hasidic view, briefly summarized - and rejected - by Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin (1749-1821) in his classic work Nefesh Ha-Hayyim.

נפש החיים שער ד פרק א

ענין עסק התורה לשמה. האמת הברור. כי לשמה אין פירושו דביקות כמו שסוברים עתה רוב העולם. שהרי אמרו רבותינו זכרונם לברכה במדרש שבקש דוד המלך עליו השלום מלפניו יתברך שהעוסק בתהלים יחשב אצלו ית' כאלו היה עוסק בנגעים ואהלות. הרי שהעסק בהלכות הש"ס בעיון ויגיעה הוא ענין יותר נעלה ואהוב לפניו יתברך מאמירת תהלים.

ואם נאמר שלשמה פירושו דביקות דוקא ורק בזה תלוי כל עיקר ענין עסק התורה - הלא אין דביקות יותר נפלא מאמירת תהלים כראוי כל היום.

Nefesh HaHayyim 4:1

Regarding the issue of Torah lishmah – the clear truth is that lishmah” does not mean deveikut (“attachment” to God) as most people currently think. For our Sages commented in the Midrash (Shocher Tov) that King David may his memory be blessed asked God that one who studies Tehillim should be considered by Him as one who studies [the mishnaic tractates] Negaim and Ohalot. Studying the halakhot in the Talmud with intensity and exertion is thus a higher and more beloved matter than the recitation of Tehillim.

And if we say that “lishmah” means specifically [study for the sake of attaining] deveikut, and the entire concept of studying Torah lies specifically in this – is there a more wondrous deveikut than properly reciting Tehillim all day?

Questions to Consider

1. Apparently, the Hasidic approach defines Torah Lishmah as dveikut, cleaving to Hashem. How do you understand this concept?

2. What weaknesses does Rav Hayyim identify with this approach?

Having seen Rav Hayyim's rejection of the Hasidic definition of Torah Lishmah, now let's turn to Rav Hayyim's own definition of Torah Lishmah:

נפש החיים שער ד פרק ג

אבל האמת כי ענין לשמה פירש לשם התורה. והענין כמו שפירש הרא"ש זכרונו לברכה על מאמר רבי אליעזר ברבי צדוק (נדרים נ"א א') עשה דברים לשם פעלן ודבר בהן לשמן. ז"ל עשה דברים לשם פעלן. לשמו של הקב"ה שפעל הכל למענהו. ודבר בהן לשמן. כל דבורך ומשאך בדברי תורה יהיה לשם התורה כגון לידע ולהבין ולהוסיף לקח ופלפול ולא לקנטר ולהתגאות.

דקדק לבאר שינוי לשונו דרבי אליעזר ברבי צדוק, שבעשיה אמר "לשם פעלן", ובדבור אמר "לשמן". לכן בענין העשיה פירש לשמו של הקב"ה שפעל הכל למענהו. ובענין הלמוד פירש לשם התורה.

וכוונתו זכרונו לברכה מבואר היינו כי עשיית המצוה ודאי שצריכה להיות למצוה מן המובחר בדביקות ומחשבה טהורה שבטהורות כפי שכלו והשגתו. כדי שיתקלס עילאה לגרום תיקוני העולמות וכחות וסדרים העליונים. זהו 'לשם פעלן' כי "כל פעל ה' למענהו" ואמרו רבותינו זכרונו לברכה "לקילוסו".

Nefesh HaHayyim 4:3

But the truth is that the concept of "lishmah" means “for the sake of Torah,” and this means, as the Rosh z”l explained Rabbi Elazar ben Tzadok’s comment (Nedarim 62a): “‘Do things for the sake of their Maker’ – for the sake of the Almighty, who made everything for His own sake; ‘and speak in them for their sake’ – all your speech and discussion in words of Torah shall be for the sake of the Torah, such as in order to know and understand, and to increase knowledge and analysis, and not for contention or to pride oneself.”

He [the Rosh] was careful to explain the shift in Rabbi Elazar ben Tzadok’s terminology. Regarding performance [of mitzvot] he said, “for the sake of their Maker,” whereas regarding speech he said “for their sake.” Therefore, with respect to performance he [the Rosh] explained, “for the sake of the Almighty, who made everything for His sake,” and with respect to learning, he explained “for the sake of the Torah.”

His intention is clear. Namely, performing a mitzva must certainly be – in order to be at the highest standard – with deveikut and the purest of thoughts in accordance with one’s intelligence and understanding, so that he may be praised up above to bring about the perfection of the upper worlds, forces and orders. This is “for the sake of their Maker”: “for all that the Lord made – was for His own sake” (Mishlei 16:4), and the Sages explained “for His own praise.”

Questions to Consider

1. Rav Hayyim claims that Torah Lishmah means for the sake of the Torah itself, and he goes on to explain that somehow our Torah study builds heavenly worlds. This concept seems quite esoteric. How might we understand what these heavenly world refer to?

2. Which view resonates more with you - the Hasidic view or that of Rav Hayyim? Why?

There is a third, more basic approach to Torah Lishmah that seems to have earlier roots in the rishonim (medieval commentaries) and even the Gemara itself. Let's begin with a striking ruling of the Rambam (1135-1204). To appreciate the Rambam, one introductory halakhic note is in order. As a general matter, the Gemara teaches that one who is involved in a mitzvah is exempt from another mitzvah that arises (osek be-mitzvah pattur min ha-mitzvah). The question arises, does this principle apply to Torah study? Rambam addresses this question:

(ד) הָיָה לְפָנָיו עֲשִׂיַּת מִצְוָה וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה. אִם אֶפְשָׁר לַמִּצְוָה לְהֵעָשׂוֹת עַל יְדֵי אֲחֵרִים לֹא יַפְסִיק תַּלְמוּדוֹ. וְאִם לָאו יַעֲשֶׂה הַמִּצְוָה וְיַחֲזֹר לְתַלְמוּדוֹ:

(4) If one has the opportunity to do some [other] mitzvah or to learn Torah, and the mitzvah could be done by someone else, he should not interrupt his learning. Otherwise, he should do the mitzvah, and return to his studies.

Questions to Consider

1. Rambam seems to be saying that the exemption of osek be-mitzvah pattur min ha-mitzvah does not apply to Torah study. In other words, one who is in the middle of the mitzvah of Torah study stops one's learning to perform other mitzvot. What might be the logic for this ruling?

Next, we will see a comment of another thinker, R' Menahem ha-Me'iri (1249-1310, Southern France). Commenting on a Gemara in Mo'ed Katan, Meiri explicitly provides an explanation for the Rambam's principle that osek be-mitzvah does not apply to one who was previously engaged in Torah study:

בית הבחירה מועד קטן ט:

ואע"פ שהעוסק במצוה פטור מן המצוה לא נאמר כן בתלמוד תורה הואיל ועקרה לידיעת קיום שאר מצות.

Beit Ha-Behira Moed Katan 9b

And even though one who is engaged in a commandment is exempt from another commandment, this is not stated in regard to Torah study, whose primary purpose is for the knowledge of the fulfillment of other commandments.

Questions to Consider

1. According to Meiri, why does the exemption of osek be-mitzvah not apply to one who is studying Torah?

2. How might Meiri define Torah Lishmah?

Picking up on the theme of Torah as relevant to life, Rav Avraham Yehuda HaKohen Kook (1865-1935, first Chief Rabbi of Mandate Palestine) goes so far as to suggest that herein lies the difference between Torah generally and the Torah of Eretz Yisrael.

אורות התורה להרב קוק, יג:ב

"וזהב הארץ ההיא טוב, אין תורה כתורת ארץ ישראל" (מדרש רבה). בכל דור היינו צריכים לחבב הרבה תורת ארץ ישראל. וביותר אנו צריכים לזה בדורנו, דור הנבילה והתחיה, בן הזמן של האפלה והאורה, היאוש והגבורה. בשבילו אנו צריכים סם חיים דוקא מתורת ארץ ישראל. אנו צריכים להראות לו את האמת והבהירות שיש באוצרנו האלהי, בדעותיה והגיונותיה של תורת אמת, ואת היפה והנשגב, הנעם וההוד שיש במצותיה המעשיות, ובתיאור הליכות החיים כולם שעל פיה ובתוכה, כמה היא תורת אמת ותורת חיים גם יחד, - לזה צריכים אנחנו לטעום ולהטעים טעמה של תורה מעומקה ויסודה, וזה לא אפשר לחוש, להשיג ולהרגיש, כי אם בארץ ישראל.

Orot HaTorah of Rav Kook, 13:2

"And the gold of that land was good, there is no Torah like the Torah of the Land of Israel" (Midrash Rabba). In every generation we are required to crave the Torah of the Land of Israel. And this is even more necessary in our generation, a generation of death and rebirth, the child of a period of darkness of light, of forgetfulness and heroism. For its sake we require a potion of life specifically from the Torah of the Land of Israel. We need to demonstrate to [this generation] the truth and clarity in our divine storehouse, with its ideas and thoughts of truthful Torah, as well as the beautiful and elevated, the pleasantness and glory in its practical commandments; and in describing the pathways of life in the entirety of life, how deeply it is the Torah of truth and the Torah of life at once - for this we are required to taste and give others to taste the taste of Israel from its depth and foundation. And this is only possible to sense, to grasp and feel, in the Land of Israel.

Questions to Consider

1. For Rav Kook, what is unique about the Torah of Eretz Yisrael?

2. What does he mean by the distinction between "Torah of truth" and "Torah of life?"

3. To which events do you think Rav Kook refers when he says that his generation needs the Torah of Eretz Yisrael even more than others?

4. In what way does Rav Kook's notion of Torat Eretz Yisrael connect to Torah Lishmah?

Let's now see a midrash that echoes Rav Kook's theme of Torat Eretz Yisrael:

הודו ליי' קראו בשמו. אמר רבי יוסי בר חלפתא לרבי ישמעאל בריה אתה מבקש לראות את השכינה בעולם הזה עסוק בתורה בארץ ישראל שנאמר דרשו יי' ועוזו בקשו פניו תמיד.

Praise Hashem call out in His name. Said Rabbi Yose son of Halafta to Rabbi Yishmael his son, "You Seek to see the divine presence in this world? Engage in Totah study in the Land of Israel. As it states, 'Seek out Hashem and His strength, ask for His face at all times.' "

Questions to Consider

1. In your opinion, why it is specifically through Torah study that the midrash suggests we come to see the divine presence in Israel?

Turning back to Torah Lishmah, let's look at one final source. The Gemara in Sukkah offers an explicit definition of Torah lishmah:

וא"ר אלעזר מאי דכתיב (משלי לא, כו) פיה פתחה בחכמה ותורת חסד על לשונה וכי יש תורה של חסד יש תורה שאינה של חסד אלא תורה לשמה זו היא תורה של חסד שלא לשמה זו היא תורה שאינה של חסד איכא דאמרי תורה ללמדה זו היא תורה של חסד שלא ללמדה זו היא תורה שאינה של חסד:

R. Elazar further stated: What is it that is written, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the Torah of loving kindness is on her tongue?” (Proverbs 31:26): Is there then a Torah of loving kindness and a Torah which is not of loving kindness? Rather Torah [which is studied] for its own sake is a ‘Torah of loving kindness’, whereas Torah [which is studied] for an ulterior motive is a Torah which is not of loving kindness. There are those who say, Torah [which is studied] in order to teach it is a ‘Torah of loving kindness’, but Torah [which is] not [studied] in order to teach it is a Torah which is not of loving kindness.

Questions to Consider

1. Which definition of Torah Lishmah do you think the Gemara Sukkah supports and why?

Closing Thoughts

In so many ways, Sara embodied the third and final view of Torah Lishmah. In her view - and in her life - Torah was not just a subject of abstract study but was fully integrated with everyday life. Following Meiri, her Torah facilitated the practical performance of mitzvot. Along the lines of Rav Hutner, she was even willing to act in an iconoclastic fashion to drive a point home and make sure that Torah never led to arrogance, hypocrisy or any other undesirable characteristic. And with Rav Kook, she believed in a Torah that was vibrant, exciting, compelling, and deeply related to Zionism and Israel. In the end, Sara's entire life was a tribute to the Gemara's moving definition of Torah Lishmah as Torah that manifests itself in acts of hesed, lovingkindness. In that spirit, let us all recommit ourselves to a life committed to Torah study that leads to heightened observance and increased acts of hesed.