Prologue: The Chumash closes in a position of strength.
Normally, when we contemplate the closing of a Chumash and the recognition that we are strengthened (Chazak, Chazak V’Nischazek) in the process. When Sefer VaYikra ends, we find ourselves involved in the intricate laws of Maaser Beheima which deals primarily, with the laws of separate the tenth animal of the new flock for Hashem. Where is the strength in this issue? Why does it close out Sefer VaYikra?
The mishna in Bechoros (9:7) describes the process of separating Maaser Sheni. The Mishna notes that the process involves corralling all the animals born in the past season into one large corral and then a narrow opening iscreated so that each animal passes through one at a time. As each animal passes it is counted. Each tenth animal is marked with a dye and the owner announces that it is Maaser.
Rav Eliezer Gordon (Rosh Yeshivas Telz – story comes via Rav Pam ztl. via Rav Shalom Rosner, Rav of Nofei HaShemesh) once asked a wealthy individual from whom he sought a sizeable donation as to why the Torah uses such a tedious technique. Why not simply have the owner count the total of his animals and divide by 10 and give that amount?
Rav Gordon answered that had the Torah told a wealthy man to count his wealth and give ten percent, the person would find it hard to comply. However, when the person counts out each animal – one for me, two for me, three for me etc. and then one for Hashem, he notes that he is keeping so much for himself and leaving only a bit for HE who is bequeathing all this to him. This process motivates the person to give the Maaser with a joyful heart.
We know many who find it difficult to be charitable. By contemplating their OWN blessings, it becomes easier to share the bounty with those in need.
Torah Study: Quantity or Quality??
The question about how much effort one needs to put in vs. how much time one needs to put into Torah study has been a matter debated for ages. After all, the Talmud (Nedarim 8a; Zevachim 99b) notes that one could fulfill the obligation of daily Torah study by merely reciting the Shema in both morning and evening. Notwithstanding, the Ran (Nedarim 8a) notes that one would only fulfill the commandment from the prophet concerning DAILY Torah study. One cannot fulfill the obligation of Torah study unless one studies to the best of his ability (Kiddushin 30b).
Still, the Rama (Yoreh Deah, 246:1) decides that in difficult times if one has only “learned” by reciting the Shema and day and evening, one fulfills the concept of Torah study. The Vilna Gaon notes that this is in diametric opposition to the above stated position of the Ran. It seems that according to the Vilna Gaon, one can rely on the “reading Shema” opposition only in cases of great need. Ideally one needs to study with full effort and commitment all the time.
HaGaon Harav Asher Weiss challenge the position of the Vilna Gaon. According to Rav Weiss, there is no contradiction between the two positions. It seems that on the one hand, one needs an ultimate goal when studying Torah and that ultimate goal should be complete mastery of Torah text. At the same time, one needs daily achievement goals in Torah study and it is to this that we are told to study day and night. The Rama merely sets the basic minimum to fulfill the daily requirement.
Even within the position of the Ran, that one must study with full intensity all the time, there is a debate as to whether this is true L’Halacha. Indeed, the Radvaz (Shut HaRadvaz III:416) assumes that this is a minority opinion. Beyond the twice-daily recitation of Kriyas Shema, the extra Torah study is not obligatory.
But truthfully, the Radvaz too, is not universally accepted. Indeed the Rishonim (Ritva Nedarim, 8a; Smag Aseh 12; Hagahos Maimoniyos Hil. Talmud Torah 3:8) a maintain that in moments of distress, when one cannot concentrate and lacks the time to learn, he is exempt and relies instead on the Shema. Otherwise, the obligation is full and requires full commitment.
Maran Harav Weiss Shlita wanted to explain this difference of opinion in an interesting manner. According to Rav Weiss, the difference between the opposing positions is actually not that far apart. In truth, ideally one must desire and love the mitzvah of Talmud Torah with full commitment. Even the Radvaz would agree to that point. The only point of contention is whether the OBLIGATION of the actual Mitzva to learn, requires full commitment. Or, perhaps that responsibility comes from a different aspect of Judaism – namely the requirement to be a complete and total Jew.
One interesting Halachic ramification that comes out of this discussion concerns a situation when one is permitted to stop learning Torah. From the language of the Talmud (Megilla 3a) one is Mivatel (exempts oneself) Talmud Torah in order to hear the Megilla. The Achronim (Avnei Nezer O.C. II:517; Beis Efrayim, O.C. 68) ask why reading the Megilla is considered Bittul Torah? For isn’t the Megilla part of the canon of the Tanach?
The Maharil Diskin supposedly noted that there are parts of the Megilla whose translation we don’t exactly know. According to this position, reading those words would constitute Bittul Torah. (Akin to the Mogen Avraham’s position in regard to Shema that if one merely “davens it” that isn’t called Talmud torah – 50:2) Others contend, that it is the walk to shul and other announcements made in the shul that interfere in interrupt the Torah study. However, based on the discussion above, if one could learn on a deeper level or more, it would be Bittul Torah to study on a more superficial level as is done when the Megillah is read in Shul. However, if one is not OBLIGATED on such a deep level this would not be Bittul Torah.