Thursday, July 26, 2012

To Learn or to Daven

Within Judaism, there is a significant tension between these two primary acts, to learn Torah and to daven.  The Babylonian Talmud, in Shabbat 127a states:

אלו דברים שאדם אוכל פרותיהם בעולם הזה והקרן קימת לו לעולם הבא, ואלו הן:  כיבוד אב ואם וגמילות  חסדים והשכמת בית המדרש שחרית וערבית והכנסת אורחים ובקור חולים והכנסת כלה ולווית המת ועיון תפילה והבאת שלום בין אדם לחברו ובין איש לאשתו ותלמוד תורה כנגד כולם.

These are the precepts whose fruits a person enjoys in This World but whose principal remains intact for him in the World to Come: 

They are: honoring one's father and mother, acts of kindness, early attendance at the house of study morning and evening, hospitality to guests, visiting the sick, providing for a bride, escorting the dead, absorption in prayer, bringing peace between man and his fellow, and the study of Torah is equivalent to them all.

Clearly the status of Torah study (on simple reading of this text) trumps all, including the delving into the depths of davening.  To this note, I once heard this story told over about Rabbi Soloveitchik which I found a version of here
Torah learning would be more beneficial than saying Tehillim during the spare time on Rosh Hashanah. Rav Y. B. Soloveitchik states that once, his father, Rav Moshe Soloveitchik, zt”l, saw him saying Tehillim on Rosh Hashanah and took the siddur from him, replacing it with Maseches Rosh Hashanah. He then said to his son, “My father (Rav Chaim) would learn the laws of shofar, etc.,  because that is what the day represents (and on Yom Kippur he would learn the rituals of that day) because that is where Hashem’s world is today.” 
Some see this approach as appropriate only for the most elite Torah learners which can be best expressed by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's statement, also from the above article: “The talmid chacham should go as his heart desires, as it is said ‘the ones who learn Gemara, there is nothing greater.’”

For those of us who are not giants in Torah or Talmud - are we left just to chant tehilim?  After a recent conversation with a family member (@bradinsky) who shared with me a fascinating class on superstition and Jewish customs, I have been thinking deeply about which comes more natural, studying or davening? Which is more powerful and transformative on the individual? Which is easier and which is more difficult?  I am in the process of writing a longer post on this subject, but I wondered what others thought?  

No comments:

Post a Comment