Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Torah Lishma, Aveira Lishma

In yesterday's post, I discussed how while there was always Torah study that was not oriented towards any practical knowledge of halachah, it is nevertheless the case that classically, the primary function of Torah study was always expressed in terms of practical knowledge of halachah.

This was challenged by a number of people. Several of them thought that I was saying that there was never any non-halachic Torah study, or that there was no value to such study. I didn't make either of those claims.

Others claimed that the notion of Torah lishmah proves that the primary goal of studying Torah is for the sake of knowing Torah. As someone called "Lazar" quoted:
Pirkey Avot 6: Rabbi Meir said: Whoever occupies himself with the Torah for its own sake, merits many things; not only that but he is worth the whole world.
But that's not the correct translation!

Torah lishmah does not mean "Torah for its own sake." In fact, yesterday someone presented a fabulous proof for that. The concept of עבירה לשמה does not refer to a transgression committed "for its own sake." Rather, it refers to a transgression committed leshem Shamayim. By the same token, learning Torah lishmah means learning Torah leshem Shamayim.

The definitive work on this topic is Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm's comprehensive Torah Lishmah - Torah for Torah's Sake: In the Works of Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin and His Contemporaries. There one sees that the classical definition of Torah Lishmah, amongst Chazal and the Rishonim, was functional: that it referred to learning Torah in order to understand and perform the mitzvos correctly. To quote from the Gemara:
"The goal of wisdom is repentance and good deeds, so that a man should not study Torah and Mishnah and then rebel against his father and mother and teacher and his superior in wisdom and rank, as it says, 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, a good understanding is gained by all those that do them.' It does not say, 'for all who study,' but 'for all who do,' which implies, those that do them lishmah and not shelo lishmah." (Berachos 17a, Munich MS)
And from a later source:
If a man wishes to study lishmah, what shall he intend when he studies? "Whatever I study I will practice." (Sefer Chassidim 944)
The notion that Torah Lishmah refers to "study purely for the mitzvah of Talmud Torah and nothing else" was the innovation of Rav Chaim of Volozhin, which itself was a reaction to the chassidic transfer of the focus of religious life towards spirituality. Rav Chaim's proposed source for his novel definition of Torah lishmah was a rather questionable inference from a certain statement of the Rosh, in turn based on a Talmudic passage which R. Lamm demonstrates to be an errant textual version (see note 20 on pp. 247-8, pictured at right).

To quote R. Lamm: "In conclusion, then, R. Hayyim's reaction to the disturbance in the study-practice (and study-prayer) equilibrium by the hasidic initiative was to endow study with a value much greater than was attributed to it before." A fundamental component of this was to give a new definition of Torah lishmah. But that is not what the phrase traditionally meant.


  1. Seems to me there are two possible girsas of the gemara, and one of them is indeed compatible with R. Hayyim's idea?

    1. I don't see Rabbi Slifkin denying your point. He seems to be saying that R Chaim's definition is not the only definition and more than that, it's not the traditional definition.

  2. Sukkah 49b:

    ואמר רבי אלעזר: מאי דכתיב )משלי לא:כו( ״פִיהָ פָתְחָה בְחָכְמָה, וְתוֹרַת חֶסֶד עַל לְשׁוֹנָהּ״ — וכי יש תורה של חסד, יש תורה שאינה של חסד? אלא תורה לשמה — זו היא תורה של חסד. שלא לשמה — זו היא תורה שאינה של חסד.
    איכא דאמרי: תורה ללמדה — זו היא תורה של חסד. שלא ללמדה — זו היא תורה שאינה של חסד.

    And Rabbi Elazar said: What [does it mean] that it’s written: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and a Torah of loving-kindness is on her tongue”? (Mishlei 31:26) — Is there a Torah of kindness and a Torah that is not of loving-kindness? Rather, it is Torah for its own sake that is a Torah of loving-kindness; and if [Torah is] not for its own sake, it is a Torah that is not of loving-kindness.

    There are those who say: Torah [studied] in order to teach it to others, that is a Torah of kindness; [Torah] that is not for teaching to others, that is a Torah that is not of loving-kindness.

    1. You are mistranslating Torah Lishmah.

    2. You ignore Rav Chaim's source gemara. Rav Elazar beRav Tzadoq says, “עשה דברים לשם פעלן ודבר בהן לשמן — do things for the sake of the One Who caused them, and speak about them for their own sake.” (Nedarim 51a) It would seem that the limshah of speaking Torah is not the "leshaim Shamayim" of anything else.

      That much is not Rav Chaim Volozhiner's chiddush.

      What I was emphasizing was that saying "lishmah" means knowledge of Torah is what he asserts despite Chazal. Chzal themselves give the purpose, the "sake" of Torah in the maamarim I quote (and I'm sure, others). And apparently Torah is for the purpose of:

      - developing the middah of Chessed (R Elazar),
      - al menas lelameid (ika de'amrei), or
      - al menas la'asos (the Yerushalmi in my next comment).

      And so Torah lishmah is Torah for one of these purposes.

  3. Last time I quoted this here was in 2015. So, a repeat.

    Yerushalmi (Berakhos 1:2, vilna 8a):
    ... ולית ליה לרשב"י הלמד על מנת לעשות ולא הלמד שלא לעשות שהלמד שלא לעשות נוח לו שלא נברא. וא"ר יוחנן הלמד שלא לעשות נוח לו אילו נהפכה שילייתו על פניו ולא יצא לעולם.
    ... עמיה דרשב"י

    (There is a beautiful Meshekh Chokhmah on this, see Devarim 28:62, IMHO a "must read".)

  4. And of Rav Chaim Volozhiner's own priorities, as recorded by his son R' Itzele Volozhiner in the introduction to Nefesh haChaim:

    והיה רגיל להוכיח אותי על שראה שאינני משתתף בצערא דאחרינא. וכה היה דברו אלי תמיד: שזה כל האדם לא לעצמו נברא רק להועיל לאחריני ככל אשר ימצא בכוחו לעשות.

    He would routinely rebuke me because he saw that I do not share in the pain of others. This is what he would constantly tell me: that the entire person was not created for himself, but to be of assistance to others, whatever he finds to be in his ability to do.

  5. A few points:

    1. Your prior post regarding the Mizrachi is a straw-man argument. I have heard the same mussar shmooze regarding that Rashi as you have, but I have never heard anyone mention the Mizrachi or even discuss the three different parts of the pasuk. The sole point taken from Rashi in the classic yeshiva shmooze is that one needs to be "amel" in Torah. Whether that's because the Torah itself is important or because it is necessary in order to know the mitzvah is immaterial for the purpose of the shmooze.

    2. The idea that Talmud Torah in it of itself is of significant importance was certainly not created by R Chaim Volozhin. There are countless mamarei chazal that make this point. Here is a small sampling:

    a. Ben Sorer Umoreh. Yes, you mentioned it in your last post, but you did not address the point. How can one be "drosh vikabel schar" if limud torah is not important in it of itself?

    b. The Mishna in peah that says Talmud Torah Kineged Kulam when compared to actual mitzvhas. (Yes, I am aware you have written on this mishna before, but you have not addressed the Yerushalmi which contracts your point and the Rambam says explicitly "אֵין לְךָ מִצְוָה בְּכָל הַמִּצְוֹת כֻּלָּן שֶׁהִיא שְׁקוּלָה כְּנֶגֶד תַּלְמוּד תּוֹרָה אֶלָּא תַּלְמוּד תּוֹרָה כְּנֶגֶד כָּל הַמִּצְוֹת כֻּלָּן" )

    c. Kiddushin 40b (the whole amud is really important for this discussion, but I'll just quote one point). תלמוד גדול או מעשה גדול נענה רבי טרפון ואמר מעשה גדול נענה ר"ע ואמר תלמוד גדול נענו כולם ואמרו תלמוד גדול שהתלמוד מביא לידי מעשה. Rashi: שהתלמוד מביא לידי מעשה - נמצאו שניהם בידו. It is abundantly clear from this gemara that talmud is important in it of itself and that talmud that leads to maaseh is even more important because it contains BOTH (rashi's words). If talmud was not important in it of itself, what is both?

    d. Rambam talmud torah 3:4 (really an explicit gemara): הָיָה לְפָנָיו עֲשִׂיַּת מִצְוָה וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה. אִם אֶפְשָׁר לַמִּצְוָה לְהֵעָשׂוֹת עַל יְדֵי אֲחֵרִים לֹא יַפְסִיק תַּלְמוּדוֹ. וְאִם לָאו יַעֲשֶׂה הַמִּצְוָה וְיַחֲזֹר לְתַלְמוּדוֹ

    3. In your prior post you referred to the "charedi" view of limud hatorha. One of the commenters cited Rav Ahron Lichtenstein who seemingly is of the same view. The writings of RYBS also indicate that he takes the same view.

    4. There seems to be confusion on your end as to the various references in chazal and rishonim to talmud leading to maaseh. There are 3 separate points that are not mutually exclusive. A) Talmud is a mitzvah in it of itself and is of more importance than other mizvos. B) Talmud that leads to maaseh is the best form of talmud. C) If one learns but does not act, his learning is basically worthless. (Similarly, he is criticized if he learns but does not teach.) None of this is the creation of R Chaim Volozhin

    1. "The idea that Talmud Torah in it of itself is of significant importance was certainly not created by R Chaim Volozhin."
      Of course not. But he did innovate the idea that this is the meaning of Torah lishmah. As well as going further than anyone else in the importance that he attributed to such Torah.

      "Talmud is a mitzvah in it of itself and is of more importance than other mizvos." The second part of that sentence is the one that is unsupported if being interpreted in any sense other than its importance being in its instructional role.

    2. I think our hosts understates it. The gemara in question says that the greater importance of Torah is only because it serves the function of enabling our other mitzvos. And this is emphasized by Rashi.

      And, I should note, there is nothing limiting meivi liydei ma'aseh to teaching us how to do the mitzvos ma'asiyos. It may also include developing our middos or values so that we are more likely to do them. Eg. see the gemara I quoted above about "Toras chessed" being identical to "Torah lishmahh".

      But in any case, from the quoted gemara in Qiddushin itself one sees that Talmud Torah as a mitzvah in-and-of itself would not be gadol mima'aseh.

  6. ...learning Torah lishmah means learning Torah leshem Shamayim.

    Leshem Shamayim does mean for the sake of Torah own sake, otherwise Gemara would not spend so much time discussing in all details the laws pertaining to Temple sacrificing, to Kings, etc, which at their time did not have practical outcome.

    1. There can be all kinds of good leshem shamayim reasons for learning those laws, none of which have any bearing on redefining leshem Shamayim to mean "for the sake of Torah."

    2. Just because there are topics which are not relevant to the moment does not mean that the endeavor of learning Torah is not for the purpose of fulfilling the commandments.

      However, if we go with your theory, here is a counter-argument: there is no Talmud Bavli for Seder Zra'im (except for Brachos), because those Halachot were not applicable in Bavel. That seems to point to the idea that the Amora'im and Savora'im who edited the Talmud felt that learning the Halachot for the sake of learning them was not of great importance.

    3. Breslav actually has a very practical, if very emunah based, argument for learning/teaching those things. When mashiach comes somebody has to know how to govern these things.

    4. @Lazar, Mabit says that learning "irrelevant" laws can also be al menas lekayem.
      [הדרך הב' וכו]

  7. Rabbi Yehudah Levi’s wonderfully comprehensive Shaarei Talmud Torah (part four section three) quotes three meanings of lishma
    1. To practice (almost everyone)
    2. For the sake of knowledge (rosh, rambam, Shla)
    3. To achieve closeness to God (chavot yair and Bach)
    They are also not mutually exclusive.
    According to his take R Chayim of Volozhin did not originate this.

    1. Those aren't "meanings" of lishma, they are reasons for learning Torah.

      Also,when Rambam speaks about knowledge as an end goal, he's not talking about Gemara. He's talking about metaphysics.

    2. Bach (Orach chayim 47) does indeed define lishma as learning to achieve closeness to God. He also attributes that meaning to the Rif.
      וכמ"ש רז"ל על פסוק ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם וכוונתי שיתקשרו בעצם קדושת תורתי תורת אמת והשכינה תהא שורה בקרבם והמה עזבו את תורתי ולא הלכו בה פירוש תחלת ההליכה ברוחניות התורה ממדרגה למדרגה כדי שתתדבק הנשמה בעצמות קדושת התורה לא הלכו בה דהיינו לא הלכו בה לשמה בשעה שבאו לפתוח בעסק התורה ולברך לפניו ית' ולהודות לו על נתינת התורה לעמו ישראל כדי שיהיו דבקים בקדושתה ובשכינה ית' והוא המכוון בברכת אשר בחר בנו על אשר קרבנו לפני הר סיני ונתן לנו תורתו הקדושה כלי חמדתו שהיה משתעשע בה בכל יום כדי שתתדבק נשמתינו בעצמות קדושת התורה ורוחניותה ולהוריד השכינה בקרבנו לא הלכו בה לעסוק בד"ת לשמה כי בזה נענשו שנסתלקה השכינה מן התחתונים ואז אבדה הארץ נצתה כמדבר מבלי עובר כלומר נחרבה ונשארה חומרית מבלי עובר שם קדושת השכינה כי נסתלקה השכינה לגמרי מן הארץ ועלה לה למעלה וכך היא גי' רב אלפס ולומדי תורתך לשמה וכזה ראוי להגיה בסדורים:

    3. caleb afendopouloMay 30, 2019 at 7:30 AM

      "Also,when Rambam speaks about knowledge as an end goal, he's not talking about Gemara. He's talking about metaphysics."

      It seems obvious that the metaphysics that the Rambam is talking about is not Aristotelian nor the physics Aristotelian. Otherwise it would be denying the aspect of 'prophecy' which Aristotle denied along with individual providence.
      I do not think that Aristotelian physics/ metaphysics has any soteriological value compared to what is offered in Torah doctrines.

  8. The Ashkenazic Rishonim focused on advanced pilpul, which resulted in the Tosefos commentary on the Talmud.

    The Sephardic Rishonim focused on codifying practical halachah, which resulted in Rambam’s Yad HaChazakah and the Shulchan Aruch.

    If we assume that “the primary function of Torah study was always expressed in terms of practical knowledge of halachah” [as the moderator of this blog claims]
    then the Sephardic approach is closer to the primary function of Torah study! Wow!





    1. Advanced pilpul often leads to halachic results in corner cases.

      There's no better feeling than when you come across a corner case in halacha as it practically applies to your life and recognize it from your learning.

  9. The second part of that sentence is the one that is unsupported if being interpreted in any sense other than its importance being in its instructional role.

    שולחן ערוך הרב יורה דעה הלכות תלמוד תורה פרק ד סעיף ג
    ג היה לפניו עשיית מצוה ותלמוד תורה אם אפשר למצוה להעשות ע"י אחרים לא יפסיק תלמודו ואפילו עוסק בקדשים וטהרות שאין נוהגים עכשיו במעשה מכל מקום מצות עשה של תלמוד תורה מצד עצמה היא ג"כ גדולה משאר מצות רק שאינה שקולה כנגד כל המצות כולן אלא משום שהתלמוד מביא לידי מעשה כולן שבלעדו אי אפשר לקיימן כהלכתן.

    There's a simple test for that - If a person is studying any area of Torah for any purpose at all, he does not interrupt it for the sake of performing a mitzvah that cannot

  10. Why do we assume we know that R' Chayim Volozhiner wrote what he wrote in reaction to Chassidism? Maybe he actually believed what he said. Actually, I think that should always be our starting assumption -- that thinkers believe what they say and are not lying for the sake of some larger agenda.

    1. You misunderstand. Saying that it was in reaction to chassidism does not mean that he didn't believe it.

    2. Presumably the Vilna Gaon believed this as well . . . he basically shut himself in a room and learned his entire life.

    3. @ Weaver,
      Vilna Gaon may have essentially been a recluse but he was a teacher with great influence on Klal Yisrael. Something akin to shevet Levi

  11. "By the same token, learning Torah lishmah means learning Torah leshem Shamayim."

    Assuming you are right couldn't that definition said to be fufilled even by just learning Torah if it is valued by Hashem to learn it?

  12. The thing is, though, Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner's source text doesn't go away when one questions how the masses understand his chiddush built atop it.

    "עשה דברים לשם פעלן ודבר בהן לשמן." There is a difference in what "lishmahh" means when we are discussing learning, than when we are talking other mitzvos. We can debate what that difference is, but we cannot just assume that if "lishmahh" means "leshaim Shamayim" there, it must means "lesheim Shamayim" here. And "aveirah lishmahh" is discussed in contrast to a "mitzvah shelo lishmahh" -- it's "lesheim pa'alan", not the "lishman" of Talmud Torah.

    I wrote above "as generally understood". I think we can make a strong argument that the yeshiva world isn't even getting Rav Chaim right, since they tend not to learn the rest of the book. Also, it is arguably the point of contention between yeshiva and mussar -- both derivatives of R Chaim Volozhiner's path. The yeshivos teach that Nefesh haChaim is saying that you don't need to think of how, but learning makes you a better person. And the Mussar Movement taught that he was prescribing the right way to learn Torah. If you are learning Torah in a way that doesn't make you a better person, you're not doing it right. I don't think we can argue about which interpretation has been proven out by experiment.

    And thus "lishmah", the purpose of Torah learning, is being described even by Rav Chaim as learning for the sake of becoming a better person.

    At least, that's now NhC is taught in what's left of "Mussar Circles".

  13. Being Halachicaly required to do a Mitzva Lishma like baking Matzahs in context means doing it for the sake of the Mitzvah.


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