Tu B'Av: Talmud Torah at Night
הרב מרדכי גרינברג
A. "Whoever Adds, He Will Add."
The gemara in Ta'anit (31a) discusses the historical significance of Tu B'Av. Raba and Rav Yosef explain that on this day they would cease chopping trees for the altar. The gemara concludes:
From here on, whoever adds, He will add. (Rashi: From Tu B'Av on, whoever adds nights to the days in Torah study, G-d adds years to his life.) But one who does not add (Rashi: To learn Torah at night) ... his mother will bury him. (Rashi: In other words, he will die early.)
This sharp and unusual statement, "his mother will bury him," requires explanation. Furthermore, why is it a punishment specifically for one who doesn't increase Torah study at night?
Chazal attribute special value to learning Torah at night. In Eruvin (65a), Reish Lakish says, "The night was created only for learning." On the verse, "Kumi roni balayla -- Arise, cry out [in song] at night" (Eichah 2:19), Chazal remark, "The song of Torah is only at night." (Vayikra Rabbah 19:1) This idea finds expression in halacha as well. The Rambam writes (Hil. Talmud Torah 3:13), "One who wants to acquire the crown of Torah should be careful with all his nights." Similarly, the Shulchan Aruch writes (O.C. 238:1), "One must be more careful with the learning of the night than of the day, and one who neglects it is deserving of great punishment."
What is the advantage of learning Torah at night over the day, since it says explicitly, "You should contemplate it day and night?" (Yehoshua 1:8) And what is the idea of "singing" at night -- "Arise, cry out [in song] at night," "So now, write this song for yourselves" (Devarim 31:19); why is the Torah considered "song?"
B. Emunah (Belief) and Song
The Mechilta links emunah with song (Beshalach 6:31):
As reward that Israel believed in G-d [at the splitting of the Red Sea], Ruach Hakodesh (The Divine Spirit) rested on them, and they said song, as it says, "They believed in G-d ... Then Moshe and Israel sang." (Shemot 14:31, 15:1)
What is the connection between emunah, the Divine Spirit, and song? In order to explain this, we need to define these terms and their interrelationship more clearly.
Regarding emunah, the Rambam writes in Sefer Hamitzvot (mitzvah #1), "He commanded us in the BELIEF of G-d." In contrast, he writes in Hil. Yesodei HaTorah (1:1), "To KNOW that there is a First Being." R. Chaim Brisker explains that belief and knowledge complement each other; where a person's knowledge ends, there begins his belief, since a person is incapable of reaching the totality of knowledge. The Rambam explains (Hil. Teshuva 8:2) that the material aspect of man, "the dark and lowly body," is what limits his knowledge, so that in the purely spiritual world to come, the soul will perceive G-d in a truer manner.
Regarding ruach hakodesh and prophecy, the Rambam writes (Hil. Yesodei Hatorah 7:1):
Prophecy only descends on a person who is great in wisdom, mighty in character, and is never overcome by his evil inclination ... A person who is filled with all of these traits ... and has a proper intellect to understand ... and who sanctifies himself and separates himself from the ways of the masses who walk in the darkness of time ... immediately ruach hakodesh descends upon him.
Two conditions are required, according to the Rambam, to achieve ruach hakodesh: greatness in Torah and strength of character; a proper intellect, and a separation from the ways of the masses. This is the very same idea that the Rambam writes in Hil. Teshuva, that "the dark and lowly body" limits a person's knowledge of G-d's truth. Therefore, once a person achieves his potential in human knowledge and frees himself from the chains of corporeality by ruling over his inclination, he merits ruach hakodesh. Moshe Rabbeinu, who purified his material completely, merited to see with an "aspaklarya meira," a clear prophetic vision. (Rambam, Introduction to Perek Chelek).
At the splitting of the Red Sea, Israel achieved the level of prophecy after first reaching the climax of human knowledge, so that corporeality no longer separated between them and G-d. As such, even the fetuses who were still encased in their mother's wombs were able to perceive Him. (cf. Maharal, Gevurot Hashem) This nullification of the material was expressed through their willingness for self-sacrifice, entering the sea up until their noses even though they didn't know that the sea would split. This expression of their "penimiut" (inner self) brought them to song, as we say daily (in the evening prayers), "His sovereignty they willingly accepted upon themselves; Moshe and Bnei Yisrael sang to you with great joy."
Regarding song, the Maharal explains in a number of places (cf. Netzach Yisrael, ch. 19) that song is an expression of happiness flowing from a feeling of "sheleimut" (perfection, wholeness), which is only possible for the spiritual soul and not for the corporeal body. In contrast, the mourner, who is in a state of loss and incompleteness, does not sing, but rather, "Let him sit in solitude and be silent." (Eichah 3:28) Similarly, at the time of the destruction of the Temple, Chazal decreed against song and music, and the wings of the heavenly "chayot" who sing were shortened.
The distinction between knowledge and belief parallels the distinction between speech and song. Knowledge is external, tied to and dependent on the senses of the physical body. Emunah, on the other hand, flows from the inner spirit, after it detaches from the body's limitations. So too, speech is external, inspired by the world around and used for the purpose of communicating with others. Song, on the other hand, is internal, subjective, flowing from one's own feelings, as explained above. While the entire world was created through speech, "G-d said: Let there be ...," man was created from G-d's own self (figuratively), "He blew into his nostrils the soul of life." (Bereishit 2:7) "One who blows, blows of himself" (Zohar), from his inner self, his essence. This is song, the climax of the "ruach memalela" (verbal spirit) in man, which goes deeper than the merely external speech.
When Israel perceived G-d at the seashore, they believed in Him, and met with the source of the soul, the source of the breath of life. The soul was, correspondingly, aroused towards its source and burst forth in song. "An`im zemirot veshirim eerog ki eilecha nafshi ta'arog -- I will make music and sing songs because my soul longs for you." When a person's most inner desire is aroused to closeness with G-d, it bursts forth with song.
C. Torah Lishma (for its Own Sake)
This encounter between Israel and G-d through emunah, which culminated with ruach hakodesh and song, was not a unique historical event. From the time of Matan Torah, every Jewish person has the ability to connect with G-d, just that this occurs on varying levels. So writes the Ramban (Vayikra 18:2), that the degree of "life" that the mitzvot provide is relative to a person's preparation for them. He lists four levels:
Those who do mitzvot in order to receive reward.
Those who do mitzvot to merit the world to come.
Those who perform mitzvot out of love, along with involvement in worldly pursuits.
"Those who abandon all worldly matters, and pay no attention to this world as if they are not corporeal, and all of their thoughts and intentions are towards their Creator alone, like Eliyahu and Hanoch. When their spirit will cling to the Honored Name, they will live eternally with their body and soul, as appears in Tanach about Eliyahu, and as known about him based on tradition."
The Netziv, in his introduction to the Shealtot, derives from this Ramban that there are two types of "lishma," i.e., love of G-d. The first is serving G-d for His honor without expecting reward, but without losing a sense of one's material, physical self. Although this is a holy way of life, still the person does not merit to have his thoughts cling to G-d, and his human nature still separates. The second type is clinging fiercely to the love of G-d, so that the person loses his rational nature entirely. This is the ultimate level of Chasidut, that even the Chasidim of old did not achieve constantly. He concludes that if a person were to achieve this level non-stop, he would not die, just like Eliyahu!
The Netziv proceeds to discuss at length the differences between these two levels of service motivated by love. He concludes, though, that this applies only to acts of mitzvot, but not to involvement in Torah. Although it is a mitzvah like any other, and it is possible to learn lishma without nullifying one's sense of self, nevertheless, the Torah stimulates love. Once a person delves in it for a short time, Torah's nature is to bond the Jewish soul to it fiercely to the point that the person forgets himself, like Raba, who bled from his fingers and was unaware because of his complete dedication to Torah. (Shabbat 88a)
This is the intent of the Zohar, "Israel, the Torah and G-d are one," that the Jewish soul is connected at its root with the Torah, and it causes love toward and clinging with G-d. Similarly, the Ramchal writes (Derech Hashem 4:2) that Torah is the vehicle though which G-d distributes of His Glory to His creatures.
This love which comes through Talmud Torah is referred to in Tanach as "kissing from mouth to mouth," as Chazal associate the pasuk, "may He kiss me with the kisses of His mouth" (Shir Hashirim 1:2) with Matan Torah. The Baal Hatanya writes about this (Igeret Hateshuva, ch. 9), "True love is the closeness of spirit with spirit." This is because normal love is expressed through physical contact, but closeness with G-d via the Torah is through spiritual contact. About this Chazal state: "Veahavta et Hashem -- You shall love G-d." I do not know how one loves G-d? Hence, the pasuk teaches, "Vehayu hadevarim ha'eileh -- These matters that I command you [i.e., Torah] should be upon your heart." (Sifrei Vaetchanan) The Ba'al Hatanya furthermore writes that one who learns Torah, "is like one who hugs the King."
Parallel to the "kiss" of G-d which is an expression of His spiritual love, we are aroused to love which we express through song, the inner speech of man. This is why the Torah is called "song," since it penetrates deeply to man's essence. And this is why Chazal speak severely of one who learns without a melody, and apply to him the verse, "I too gave them decrees that were not good." (Yechezkel 20:25)
This is what the midrash says, "From the day of creation ... we do not find anyone who sang before G-d. When Yisrael entered the sea and it was split for them, immediately they sang before Him." Although a miracle occurred to Avraham Avinu to save him from the furnace, it was not for the express purpose of having him cling to G-d, and therefore he didn't sing. Israel, however, could have been saved through some natural means. Yet, since G-d split the sea for them, they understood that He desired to cling to them and to extend to them a supernatural influence. Therefore, they were aroused to song, since song is the means for man to rise out of his material covering.
The Gra writes about the study of music (quoted in the introduction to Pe'at Hashulchan):
It is most praiseworthy, and most of the "taamei Torah" (cantillations or reasons behind the Torah), the secrets of the Levite songs, and the tikkunim of the Zohar are impossible to understand without it ... Moshe Rabbeinu brought some melodies with him from Mt. Sinai, and the others are blends.
Music and song are necessary for the proper understanding and knowledge of Torah, because they are interconnected.
D. Song at Night
This kind of Torah study, which brings to a clinging of "spirit with spirit," kissing of the mouth, is attainable primarily at night. The advantages of the night in achieving closeness to G-d are enumerated in Chovot Halevavot (Love of G-d, ch. 6):
The body's desire for food and drink is less at night than in the day ... and at night [a person] is free of worldly distractions, and of interruptions by other people ... He can dedicate himself exclusively to contemplation of G-d.
He quotes various supporting verses, such as "My soul desired You during the night" (Yeshayahu 26:9) and "Arise, cry out [in song] at night."
Rav Kook, zt"l, explained based on this the dispute in Berachot (27b) as to whether the evening prayers are optional or obligatory. The doubt is not because of the insignificance of the evening prayers, but rather because at night "there are those who rise far above nature and cling to the living G-d with a pure heart and soul." Therefore, the dispute is whether a person is obligated to rise to this supernatural level of wholeness, or if it is optional for those who aspire to it.
This is the uniqueness of learning at night. So long as the corporeal aspect of life dominates, a person's comprehension and his ability to cling to G-d are limited. His involvement in Torah is like speech, not song. For this reason, the law that one should verbally utter the Torah that he learns is applied by Avot D'Rabbi Natan primarily to the night. The Gra, as well, writes that the soul of a Torah scholar rises every night to the Heavenly Academy to comprehend there what it cannot comprehend while awake, and that this is the purpose of sleep. (Even Sheleima 8:20) Similarly, he writes in his explanation to Mishlei (11:23) that a person's soul learns in heaven in a single moment that which he learns here in seventy years.
When a person is freed from the confines of his bodily existence at night his "penimiut" (inner self) is aroused and bursts forth in song. Therefore, the night is specifically designed for the song of Torah. This is the meaning of Reish Lakish's statement, "Kumi roni balayla -- The song of Torah is only at night." On the continuation of the verse," Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the L-rd," Chazal state in Tamid (32b), "Anyone who learns Torah at night, the Divine Presence is in front of him."
This was the angel's complaint to Yehoshua (Megilla 3a):
He said to him, "Yesterday you neglected the afternoon sacrifice, and now you neglected Talmud Torah." Yehoshua asked him, "For which did you come?" The angel replied, "I have come NOW."
Tosfot explains there that the angel was referring to Talmud Torah, as it says, "So NOW write this song." (Devarim 31:19)
Torah which is a song is able to raise a person and G-d's relationship with him to a supernatural level. It therefore has the ability to lead Israel in a supernatural manner, especially in times of war, "With praises I call unto Hashem, and I am saved from my enemies." (Tehillim 18:4) So too, Yehoshaphat said, "I have neither the strength to kill nor to chase. Rather I will sing and You will do." (Eichah Rabbah, petichta 30)
For this reason, the angel complained about the neglect of Torah at night. At war-time such learning, which is song and clinging with G-d, is of special value and has the ability to defeat the enemy. For this reason, the angel referred to Torah with the phrase, "I came now," to allude to the pasuk of, "So now write this song."
This is the reason that the Rambam attributes special value to learning at night and writes that a person must be careful with all his nights. Does it not say, though, "You should contemplate it day and night?" (Yehoshua 1:8) Careful analysis of the Rambam's language, however, shows that he is not referring merely to the mitzvah of Talmud Torah, but rather to a special aspect of Talmud Torah. He writes (Hil. Talmud Torah 3:13):
Although it is a mitzvah to learn both in the day and in the night, a person learns most of his knowledge at night. Therefore, one who wants to achieve the crown of Torah should be careful with all of his nights and should not lose even one of them with sleeping, eating and drinking, but rather [should dedicate them] to Talmud Torah and words of wisdom. [Chazal] said, "The song of Torah is only at night, as it says, `Arise, cry out [in song] at night.'"
The Rambam, we see, is not dealing with the mitzvah of Talmud Torah, but rather with the crown of Torah. Earlier in the chapter (3:6,12), the Rambam defines "the crown of Torah":
One who is inspired ... to wear the crown of Torah, should not turn his attention to other matters ...
Words of Torah do not endure in one who applies himself half-heartedly to them, nor in those who learn with indulgence or eating and drinking, but rather in one who kills himself over them ...
Anyone who learns audibly, his learning endures; but one who reads quietly, forgets quickly.
The crown of Torah is acquired when Torah is viewed not just as wisdom, nor even as a practical guide for the proper way of life, but rather as the clinging of human intellect with Divine Intellect, "a clinging of spirit with spirit," freedom from the limitations of the body, and this is the song of Torah. Therefore, the Rambam concludes with the importance of learning out loud and of the song of Torah. This Torah is special to the night.
E. A Mother of Children
This kind of learning goes far beyond the individual aspect inherent in the mitzvah of Talmud Torah. It is not merely one of 613 mitzvot, a particular mitzvah incumbent of each Jew, but rather it has a general content associated with Klal Yisrael.
In explanation of the gemara (Nedarim 81a) that G-d attributes the destruction of the first Temple to the fact that Israel didn't make a blessing prior to learning, the Bach writes (O.C. #47):
The Holy One's intention from the beginning is that we should be involved with Torah so that our soul should become fused with the essence, spirit and holiness of the source of the Torah ... Had they been involved with Torah with this intention ... the Presence would be literally in them ... and the entire land would shine from His glory. ...
But now that they violated this rule, and were involved in Torah only for their own material pleasure, to know the laws for the purpose of business, and to be haughty, to show their wisdom, and did not intend to become one and to cling with the holiness and spirituality of the Torah, ... they caused a separation so that the Divine Presence left the land and rose up. The world was left with its materialism without holiness, and this caused its destruction and loss.
This is connected to their not blessing before learning, since what does the blessing beforehand state? "Asher bachar banu mikol haamim venatan lanu et Torato -- Who chose us from among all the nations and gave us his Torah." Torah must be approached from the perspective of Israel's chosen status and uniqueness as a nation, and not as an individual matter like any other mitzvah. This is the idea of song, a revelation of the inner aspect of Klal Yisrael. Therefore, we praise G-d with "the songs of David, Your servant," because King David's singing is the singing of the nation (cf. Olat Reiyah 1:197), since he subordinated himself to the nation, like Moshe Rabbeinu. Chizkiyahu, however, did not become the Messiah because he didn't sing, because he was an individual tzaddik, and didn't rise to the communal level.
Rav Charlop, zt"l, similarly writes in Mei Marom:
All the uprising against the Torah and mitzvot ... comes from a lack of understanding about the general, national concept ... The basis and main point of Torah learning for its sake is to include himself in the holy eternity of Klal Yisrael. This kind of learning is demanded by Knesset Yisrael, by "the One who chooses Israel with love." That is the Divine Presence itself, since according to the hidden Torah, the Divine Presence and Knesset Yisrael are one. The Divine Presence is revealed through the Torah, and the Torah serves as clothing for the Divine Presence. Therefore, Knesset Yisrael and the Divine Presence are called by the name "mother," and we are the children.
Chazal taught about one who gets enjoyment from the world but does not bless first: "He who steals from his father and mother" (Mishlei 28:24) -- "His father" refers to G-d, and "his mother" refers to Knesset Yisrael (Berachot 35a) So too, one who does not learn that kind of supreme Torah causes the Divine Presence to leave Israel, as it says: "It is ... for your rebellious sins that your MOTHER has been sent away" (Yeshayahu 50:1), this refers to the Divine Presence. (Sanhedrin 102a) Therefore, the Divine Presence demands the kind of learning which goes beyond knowledge and guidance how to act, namely, the song of Torah which is most attainable at night. As such, it demands to increase learning Torah when the night lengthens. One who is able to add but does not do so, "His MOTHER will bury him," namely the Divine Presence and Knesset Yisrael which are called "mother."
This explains the harsh phrase, "His mother will bury him." It is comparable to Chazal's statement, "One who is awake at night and doesn't open his mouth with words of Torah, it would have been preferable that his birth-sack be overturned." (Avot D'Rabbi Natan 29) This does not merely mean that he will die early (as Rashi explains), but rather this shows retroactively that his birth was for naught. That is why it is emphasized that his MOTHER shall bury him, since when a mother buries her son, there is an admission that the point in his birth was not achieved, and the mother returns her son to His Creator.
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