The rabbis considered talmud Torah (the study of Torah) not just a good, but an obligation. But that did not mean it was without its rewards. One such statement appears on today’s daf:
Every thirty days, Rav Sheshet would review what he had learned over the previous month and he would stand and lean against the bolt of the door and say: Rejoice my soul, rejoice my soul, for you I have read scripture, for you I have studied Mishnah.
Study, says Rav Sheshet, is for the benefit of the soul. He may be suggesting that by studying one nurtures one’s soul and provides for its needs in this world, or perhaps that by studying Torah in this world one ensures a future for one’s soul in the World to Come. Either way, the beneficiary of Torah study is the individual.
“Is that so?” asks the Gemara with a conflicting source at hand:
But didn’t Rabbi Elazar say: If not for the Torah and its study, heaven and earth would not be sustained, as it is stated: If not for My covenant by day and by night, I would not have set up the laws of heaven and earth. (Jeremiah 33:25)
With this verse from Jeremiah, Rabbi Elazar suggests God created the world for the purpose of Torah study and that its very continued existence depends on the continuous study of Torah, day and night. In other words, if not for the study of Torah, the world need not exist. And, if not for those who studied Torah around the clock, the world would cease to exist. So, who benefits from the study of Torah? The entire world and all who live in it.
True to form, the Gemara does not choose between the two perspectives. Torah study is for the individual, and it is also for the world. At the outset, perhaps, when a person studies Torah, they do it for themselves, and later on they come to appreciate the ways in which their study benefits the world at large.
This talmudic teaching resonated with me, especially in light of the fact that we recently marked one year of learning Daf Yomi. Learning certainly benefits individuals. Studying Daf Yomi has provided me with an opportunity to engage the text of the Talmud in new ways. I’ve encountered famous texts in their original context and become more familiar with the broad themes of entire Tractates. The daily commitment has provided structure and purpose during a time when many routines have been disrupted. I feel a deeper connection to a text for which I already had warm feelings and found a place in a community of learners with whom I can go swimming in the sea of the Talmud.
At the same time, I appreciate that studying Daf Yomi has wider benefits as well. It builds community, bringing people together around shared purpose. It expands the universe of souls that are engaging in talmud Torah and ensures that the wisdom, knowledge and insight that is embedded in Jewish tradition is passed on to the new generation of learners. It allows for new ways for people to express their Jewish identity and to share the knowledge and wisdom of our people with others.
As the Talmud suggests, both are true. Studying Talmud is beneficial to individuals and to the larger world. As you read on, know that not only are you nourishing your soul, but you are also sustaining the Jewish community and the world at large.