Lone Star Sidur Project – Birkat Torah & Eilu D’varim

[EDITED. This has been edited due to a massive correction made by David Singer in his comment on this post.]

After a little Yom Hodu hiatus, I am back to my litrugical self with the third part of my series, the Lone Star Sidur Project. Today I examine the Torah section of the Birchot Hashachar, the Morning Blessings. The traditional text of the section follows:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּנוּ לַעֲסוֹק בְּדִבְרֵי תוֹרָה.

Bless you, Adonai, our God, King of the world, for you have sanctified us through your commandments and commanded us to engross in words of Torah.

וְהַעֲרֶב נָא יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ אֶת דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָתְךָ בְּפִֽינוּ וּבְפִי עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְנִהְיֶה אֲנַחְנוּ וְצֶאֱצָאֵינוּ וְצֶאֱצָאֵי עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל כֻּלָּֽנוּ יוֹדְעֵי שְׁמֶךָ וְלוֹמְדֵי תוֹרָתֶֽךָ לִשְׁמָהּ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, הַמְלַמֵּד תּוֹרָה לְעַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל.

Please, Adonai, our God, sweeten the words of your Torah in our mouths and in the mouths of your people, the House of Israel. May we and our children and our children’s children, your people, the House of Israel–all of us–know your name and study your Torah for its own sake. Bless your, Adonai, our God, teacher of Torah to your people, Israel.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר בָּחַר בָּֽנוּ מִכָּל הָעַמִּים, וְנָתַן לָֽנוּ אֶת תּוֹרָתוֹ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, נוֹתֵן הַתּוֹרָה.

Bless you, Adonai, our God, King of the world, for you chose us from amongst all the peoples and gave us your Torah. Bless you, Adonai, giver of Torah.

יְבָרֶכְךְ יְיָ וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ. יָאֵר יְיָ פָּנָיו אֵלֶֽיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ. יִשָּׂא יְיָ פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם.

May God bless you and keep you. May God’s face shine on you be gracious to you. May God turn his face to you and place peace upon you.

אֵלּוּ דְבָרִים שֶׁאֵין לָהֶם שִׁעוּר: הַפֵּאָה וְהַבִּכּוּרִים וְהָרַאְיוֹן וּגְמִילוּת חֲסָדִים וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה.

These things have no measure: The corners of the field, visiting the sick, pilgrimage, acts of loving kindness, and study of Torah.

אֵלּוּ דְבָרִים שֶׁאָדָם אוֹכֵל פֵּרוֹתֵיהֶם בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה וְהַקֶּֽרֶן קַיֶּמֶת לוֹ לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן: כִּבּוּד אָב וָאֵם, וּגְמִילוּת חֲסָדִים, וְהַשְׁכָּמַת בֵּית הַמִּדְרָשׁ שַׁחֲרִית וְעַרְבִית, וְהַכְנָסַת אוֹרְחִים, וּבִקּוּר חוֹלִים, וְהַכְנָסַת כַּלָּה, וּלְוָיַת הַמֵּת, וְעִיוּן תְּפִלָּה, וַהֲבָאַת שָׁלוֹם בֵּין אָדָם לַחֲבֵרוֹ, וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה כְּנֶגֶד כֻּלָּם.

These are things one is rewarded for in this life, but for which the principal reward is in the world to come: Honoring father and mother, acts of loving kindness, visiting the house of study morning and night, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick, providing for a bride, accompanying the dead, deep prayer, making peace between a man and his friend, and Torah study is equal to all of these.

As a kid going to services and learning about liturgy from Gates of Prayer, I totally misinterpreted this whole section. Gates of Prayer shortened the section by combining the opening line of the first “eilu d’varim” paragraph with first line of the second so that it read “Eilu d’varim sh’ein lahem shiur, she’adam ocheil peroteihem ba’olam hazeh v’hakeren kayemet lo l’olam haba, v’eilu hein.” Then it translated the whole line as “These are the obligations without measure, whose reward, too, is without measure.” They excise the Priestly Blessing (y’varech’cha…) and the body of the first section entirely and keep to the solidly “ethical commandments”-oriented second section. GOP also loses the blessing for before the reading of Torah (…bachar banu…).

Because of this goofy chopping and translating, I assumed as a kid that this section was a liturgical poem listing thing, which it is limitlessly good to do. Because of this faulty assumption, I always wondered why the section is preceded by a blessing for Torah study.

As it turns out, the entire section, both eilu d’varims and the blessing over Torah study, is part of the larger framework of the morning blessings, a series of prayers and blessings about the morning routine. The rabbis who constructed the section couldn’t imagine a morning without a little study, so they inserted this section. It begins with the appropriate blessing for study, followed by the blessing for reading Torah, followed by a passage from Torah (from Bamidbar 6), followed by our two eilu d’varim paragraphs. The first eilu d’varim is from the Mishnah, Peah 1:1. The second is from the Gemara, Shabat 127a. The three passages are meant to be said daily to fulfill a minimum of the daily obligation to engage in study.

Why, then, does GOP feel the need to truncate it so? As such, it is not actually any particular text and it is thus no longer possible to seriously study the selection as though it is a selection of Torah. Mishkan T’fillah follows GOP’s example.

Haavodah Shebalev (Israeli Reform) chops the intro down considerably as well, opting only for the blessing for reading Torah, which I dislike because the focus of the section is study. If that is the case, should the appropriate blessing for study not be said? HS then proceeds with the same quotes from Mishna and Gemara, preceded by a greatly expanded version of the quote from Bamidbar.

Siddur Sim Shalom and Siddur Eit Ratzon take approaches that I find highly preferable to the Reform movment’s consistent approach of extreme and unjustifiable truncation.

SS presents the entire section in it’s traditional form, no deletions, and one addition. Between the selection from Bamidbar (y’varech’cha…) and the selection from Peah (the first of the two eilu d’varim selections), SS adds a paragraph of text from Vayikra 19, part of the famous K’doshim Tih’yu passage.

SER takes SS’s approach a step further, while also embracing the Reform tradition of deletion. SER includes as an introduction to the section only the blessing for Torah study (…la’asok b‘divrei Torah), excluding the introductory passage beginning “V’ha’arev na…” as well as the blessing for reading Torah (…bachar banu…). SER then deletes the second eilu d’varim passage (Shabat 127a), while it adds passages from D’varim 6, Hoshea 2, Vayikra 19, Michah 6, and D’varim 16.

While I appreciate Joe Rosenstein’s attempt to give folks a wider variety of texts for study and I take no issue with any of his particular additions I do take issue with the exclusion of two of three texts originally included in the section for study.

And now on to what I do like. I would keep most of the introductory material, but I would exclude the blessing for reading Torah (…bachar banu…). I realize that it is there because at that point we are about to read a small selection from Torah, but there are many other passages of Torah in the sidur, which apparently do not require this blessing before they can be read. In a perfect world I would correct this by removing that brachah.

I see the value in SS’s and SER’s approach of adding a few additional passages for study, but I would hesitate to do so. Though the idea is that we should study these passages each morning, that is not happening. We chant them and pass them by without giving them any thought, much less consideration serious enough that I would consider it study. When we start actually studying these three passages and get tired of them, we can think about putting in new ones.

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11 responses to “Lone Star Sidur Project – Birkat Torah & Eilu D’varim

  1. Nice, my friend! Now a few thoughts.

    First of all, open back up Ha’Avodah Shebalev. The text is there, in its traditional entirety, at the beginning of Shacharit, page 26.

    Second, notice the tripartite inclusion of text, based on the same formula that RaMBaM gives us for study (1/3 Torah, 1/3 Mishna, 1/3 Gemara). But there’s a problem. If you actually take a look at Shabbat 127a, you’ll notice that the text we say is quite different from the actual Gemara (don’t try to find the source of the change; Saadia’s siddur omits it, RaMBaM’s, if I remember correctly, has a different version; either way, scholars are silent on the issue). What does this mean? What do you make of that?

    And, in the end, amen to your conclusions and yasher koach for your research!

  2. I like that it follows Rambam’s thing about thirds. That’s spiffy. I didn’t notice it.

    Where can I see Rambam’s and Saadia Gaon’s sidurim?

    I can’t make much of the change to the gemara without seeing the original, which I definitely don’t have.

    THE PLOT THICKENS: My Davka writer comes with the mishna, so I’m looking at Peah 1:1 right now. The quote in the service is only half of that verse. The other half is almost identical to the section taken from Shabat 127a! WTF?

  3. Wow. I’m awful. I don’t eve know why I’m posting this…

    When I first read this post, all I saw was “…due to a massive erection made by David Singer…”

    That’s definitely not part of the siddur, right?

  4. Oh dear, Jesse. What have they done to you in Frenchland?!

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