17 November 2005

Torah Lishmah

After reading Chardal's posting about learning Torah lishmah (lishmah = literally, learning for its name), I decided I would post about my relation to this concept.
After having been exposed to Ohr Somayach's understanding, which is that one learns Torah just because one is supposed to learn, I realized that it was missing something, perhaps silly, even. What it was, was not learning Torah for its name (לשמה), but rather learning it because one is supposed to(לחינם). But why? Moreover, and of the utmost importance, is what is the "name" of Torah learning?
I see the עיקר (foundation) of it to be found in Joshua 1.8, wherein it says:
- לְמַעַן תִּשְׁמֹר לַעֲשׂוֹת, כְּכָל-הַכָּתוּב בּוֹ: כִּי-אָז תַּצְלִיחַ אֶת-דְּרָכֶךָ, וְאָז תַּשְׂכִּיל
"in order to be careful to do, according to everything which is written within it, because then you will make your ways successful and you will then discern". The point is learning is to better understand and to do. There are also verses in the Torah which address this topic, though this verse comes to mind more readily.
On a side note, speaking of this verse, in the first part wherein God speaks to Joshua, saying, "This book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth, and you shall meditate upon it day and night," I view this as Rabbi Yohanan understands it (as reported by Rabbi Samuel, son of Nahmani, recorded in bMenahot 99b) that this verse is neither an obligation, nor is it a commandment, but rather a blessing, as Joshua really liked the words of Torah.
Perhaps at some later point, I will post about ביטול תורה (nullification of Torah) at some later point....


Jewish Exile said...

R. Kook has a fascinating perspective on torah lishma. It is learning leshem torah; in order to spread torah, to make the "light of torah shine brighter". The obvious form of this is when you learn and teach it. But a more profound and beautiful understanding is that torah is perceived uniquely by each individual. "the new light created by the binding of torah with one soul is different than the light created from its binding to another soul." so, each individual learning torah adds his own perspective, even if he does not have an explicit chiddush, and the light of torah is made greater. See Orot Hatorah 2:1.

Drew_Kaplan said...

I am sure Rav Kook does indeed say such a thing and have such a perspective. My point was that "the light of Torah" is not the עיקר of Torah learning - it might be a nice thing, albeit, though, but not what is essentially important to it. So, then, "the light of Torah" being "made greater" is a nice thing for psychological benefits, but not for what it's really about.

Rabbi Daniel Levitt said...

I realize that this is about 7 years over due, but I happened upon this post and I can't help but comment. In Nefesh Hachayim, Rabbi Chaim of Volozhyn writes extensively about Torah Lishmah. One of the first things that he points out on the topic is that learning for ANY alterior motive is not considered Torah Lishmah. So while it is necessary to learn Torah in order, as you are arguing, "to better understand and to do," that would not fall under the category of Torah Lishmah (see פרקים פרק ג). That is a prerequisite to being jewish, but Torah Lishmah is basically about learning Torah for the love of learning Torah. To have any other benefit is to negate the possibility of experiencing it lishmah. But...he does point out, that מתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה, therefore even if you always learn w/some other benefit derived, if you learn a lot, you will have experienced Lishma as well.

Rabbi Daniel Levitt said...

See entire 4th perek of Nefesh Hachayim for more about R' Chaim's perspective on Torah Lishmah, or R' Norman Lamm's Torah Lishmah - Torah for Torah's sake: In the words of R' Chaim of Volozhyn and his contemporaries.