Halacha L’Moshe MiSinai
Volume 2: Number 13
January 9, 2006
Mitzvah 14: : The Obligation to Learn and Teach Torah
It is a positive commandment to learn Torah and teach it.
Hafetz Hayim: Scripture states, “and you shall teach them diligently to your children.” (Deut. 6:7) It is our duty that the words of Torah should be sharp in our mouths and we should not stammer over them. No matter if a person is rich or poor, young or old, suffering, poverty stricken or sustained by charity, we are duty bound to set a fixed time to study Torah every day until the day of our death. It is a religious duty for a father to sit and teach is son and the son takes precedence over others. The father also has a duty to study with his grandson. Children should begin to study when they begin to speak. If the father can not teach his son, he has the responsibility to hire a teacher for his son. A woman is free of the obligation of Torah study but she should make sure that her sons are not ignorant. The study of Torah is equal in importance to all the Mitzvot, since learning leads to action. It applies everywhere and at all times.
It is hard to overstate the fact that learning Torah is the single most important Mitzvah a Jew can do. As the Hafetz Hayim says, “learning leads to action”. The entire purpose of learning Torah for all Jews is so that we may know what our Creator requires of us.
First of all, let us be clear by what we mean by “Torah”. Torah is not just the Five Books of Moses, but the entire library of Jewish Law. It begins with the Five Books of Moses, but also includes the other books of the Bible, the Talmud, Codes and Midrash. There is no end to what we can study and this is why study is a life long endeavor. It is not for any one social class or age group. Study is for all Jews all the time.
While the Hafetz Hayim excludes women from the obligation to study Torah, he does this because it is a positive Mitzvah that is time bound. Women, in general, are free from Mitzvot that are positive and time bound since they have other duties that may make their participation impossible. Conservative Judaism finds these exemptions less then compelling today and has declared that women too have the obligation to study Torah in its widest sense and also are obligated to teach it to their children, both sons and daughters. Judaism is just too important to be the realm of just men/boys in our modern age. I am not away of any level of study that is closed to women in Conservative Judaism.
Parents thus have an obligation to teach their children. The rule is that if one can only afford one teacher, either for the parent or for the child, the parents must hire a teacher for themselves, and they, in turn, should teach their children. If for any reason a parent did not fulfill this obligation and did not teach Torah to his or her children, then, beginning at age 13, the child must arrange for their own education. There is no excuse for not learning. Even if one has to beg from door to door, one must study. It is said that the greatest of the Sages, Hillel the Elder, when he was a student, was so poor he could not pay the entrance fee to the school. He then climbed on the roof and put his ear to the skylight to hear the lesson being taught below. Once he almost died up there when it snowed and he was buried while listening to the lesson. One of the teachers, concerned about the poor lighting, looked up, saw the figure of a man on the skylight and ran to the roof to save Hillel. I should also note that from that time on, they abolished the entrance fee. To this day, in order to study, most institutions will do all they can to make it affordable for all who are in need. Rabbi Eleizer, a brilliant mind, was disinherited because he wanted to study. He studied anyway. Rabbi Akiva was illiterate until he was over 40 years old, but went to school with his son and became one of the greatest sages.
It is encumbent upon all Jews, to set a time every day to study Torah. There are no exceptions or excuses allowed. (For the record, reading this E-mail counts for today’s study, now find something to study tomorrow!)
Next week: Mitzvah 15: The Mitzvah of writing a Torah Scroll