Torah Blessings of Ashkenaz Explicated: Profundity, Brevity, & Simplicity – להבין ולהשכיל בברכות התורה נוסח אשכנז ובמסורת יהדות אשכנז בכלל

In ברכת התורה that individuals recite in the morning, there are a number of small variations in נוסחאות, particularly in the section beginning with the words והערב נא.

Two main differences in text between (historic, classic) נוסח אשכנז and נוסח ספרד are, with the latter having extra words in various spots (typically), as follows.

A) After praying that the words of Torah should be sweet in our mouths, we continue on to ask that our children, וצאצאינו, be Jews who are learned and know G-d as well. In נוסח ספרד this is extended even further to וצאצאי צאצאינו, our children’s children. Why is it done so? The explanation given (brought in the famed סידור עבודת ישראל) is based on a teaching of Chazal in the gemara, that whoever is a talmid chochom, his son is a talmid chochom, and his grandson is one as well, the Torah does not depart from them forever. Therefore the request is extended to that next level, to (seemingly) get a lock-in guarantee of Torah forever in the family.

In classical נוסח אשכנז, however, צאצאי צאצאינו are not mentioned (note: as in some other cases, over time, in some more recent allegedly nusach Ashkenaz siddurim the additional words do appear, in parentheses, or as part of the regular text. But those texts are not the ones that are most reliable with regard to exactness and fidelity in text. The classical, old nusach can be seen, fully, or partially, in various prayer books, of the modern era and earlier years. It is also maintained in siddurim that follow the text of the גר”א מווילנא).

How do we understand the omission in classic nusach Ashkenaz?

Firstly, since the text of the brocho in the gemara doesn’t mention it, it is not a problem for us to omit it. One can always daven for grandchildren in shmoneh esreih or elsewhere. Our first, or main focus is our children, as it says in the posuk ושננתם לבניך. In a typical case, a father teaches his son Torah, while his child handles the grandson. The brocho is based on such a scenario.

We are focused here on our basic short term daily obligation, as opposed to our family legacy. If we take care of the short term, אי”ה the long term will follow and fall into place just fine.

Others say that וצאצאינו means/includes all descendants, not just sons. Although that is disputed by some.

Other approaches could be to cite the teaching of בני בנים הרי הם כבנים (grandsons are like sons), and to say that grandchildren are included in וצאצאי עמך בית ישראל.

B) The other difference is that in נוסח ספרד the word לשמה is added just before ברוך אתה ה’ המלמד תורה לעמו ישראל. Why? Presumably due to importance of proper intent in תורה ומצות.

So why does classic נוסח אשכנז omit it then? On a basic level, we can say that it is not in the gemara. Some also cite the famous Chazal that לעולם יעסוק אדם בתורה ובמצות אפילו שלא לשמה, שמתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה. However, even if there is a place for שלא לשמה at times, it is not the highest, most desired, preferred level, and can lead to difficulties (ח”ו).

So how can we understand why לשמה is omitted then? לענ”ד a few explanations can be given.

  1. A plain, סתם, mention of learning is assumed to be one of spiritually healthy לשמה. It does not have to be mentioned, it is understood/assumed.
  2. As we just davened/requested that the words of Hashem’s Torah be sweetened in our mouths, in the following words we assume they were so rendered, thereby rendering subsequent Torah learning  לשמה (something sweet is sufficiently attractive without ulterior שלא לשמה motives). This could also be connected/related to the old debate as to what learning לשמה means. As famously expounded upon by Rav Chaim of Volozhin, לשמה means לשם תורה. So if the words Torah are sweet in someone’s mouth, he is presumably learning לשמה. On the other hand, others (for example Chassidim) maintain that לשמה means for דביקות. So for them having the Torah sweet in someone’s mouth doesn’t mean that לשמה would necessarily, ordinarily follow.
  3.  It says ונהיה אנחנו וכו’ כולנו יודעי שמך.  Now what does יודעי שמך (Knowers of Your Name) mean? לענ”ד it can/does signify an exalted spiritual level (e.g. אשגבהו כי ידע שמי, ויבטחו בך יודעי שמך, ןכן). If I recall correctly, R. Aryeh Kaplan understands it in a kabbalistic way, as being someone who is knowledgable in Divine name(s). If so, it might be presumed that someone who has attained such a high level is in the category of לומד לשמה.

Interestingly, it seems that the גירסא of the רוקח is just ונהיה אנחנו וצאצאינו יודעי שמך, without the words ולומדי תורתך following it. Which could be explained לענ”ד as above, that יודעי שמך is a high level of, כביכול, “knowing הקב”ה”, higher than just basic learning. So if someone is on the level of יודעי שמך already, he has already incorporated and passed beyond the basic level of לומדי תורתך, hence it does not need to be mentioned, and can even possibly be seen as out of order/sequence if it follows in the text. And even if it is mentioned, the word לשמה doesn’t need to be added.

In this case, as in other instances, classic נוסח אשכנז seems to generally shy away from adding words, preferring brevity over verbosity. As the expression goes, less is more.

In the זכות of adherence to the great מסורה of אשכנז, may we be zoche to its great תורה heritage.

כתיבה וחתימה טובה – א גוט געבענטשט יאהר

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