Why Only Half the Shabbat?
Q: If the purpose of the holy days is to learn Torah, why are we required to learn only six hours on Shabbat and not the entire Shabbat, excluding times necessary for sleeping and eating?
A: Before I answer, let me broaden the question. In his book “Ben Ish Chai”, Rabbi Yosef Chaim wrote: “The Kabbalists, of blessed memory, wrote that the action taken in Torah study on Shabbat is one thousand times greater than that of during the weekdays” (“Ben Ish Chai” Shana Bet, introduction to Parshat Shemot).
If a person was informed that the price of a certain stock was about to go up a thousand times the following day – in other words, if he bought one stock for one hundred shekels today, tomorrow he could sell it for one hundred thousand shekels – he would run to sell everything he owned, in order to buy as many stocks as possible, thereby increasing his wealth a thousand fold!
If this is the case in regards to money, why shouldn’t we act similarly when it comes to Torah study? If Torah study on Shabbat is worth one thousand times more than on weekdays, why not try to learn Torah all twenty-four hours on Shabbat, without losing precious time on meals and sleep?!
Why is Shabbat Torah Study Unique?
Rather, an hour on Shabbat is worth a thousand times more because it occurs together with the ‘oneg’ (pleasure) of the meals and sleep, for then its eminence is supreme, similar to the World to Come – completeness in both soul and body. A genuine ‘oneg’! But if one turns his Shabbat into Tisha B’Av, not eating, drinking, or sleeping in order to learn Torah, he will not merit the special degree of Shabbat Torah study. By the same token, it is told that when Rabbi Zeira saw yeshiva students learning Torah vigorously on Shabbat at the expense of their ‘oneg Shabbat’, he would say to them: “I beg of you, do not profane it” ( i.e., the Shabbat, by neglecting its delights and good cheer) (Shabbat 119a).
Therefore, when our Sages said “Devote the Sabbath day entirely to Torah” (Tana D’bei Eliyahu 1), they also meant to include the meals and sleep time, seeing as they are intended to add ‘oneg’ and vitality to Torah study.
However, one must be extremely careful not to forget the primary intention, and not overly extend the meals, or squander time on strolls and idle talk, because the main purpose of Shabbat is to reveal the soul, strengthen one’s ‘emunah’ (faith), and engage in many hours of Torah study – all with pleasure and inner perfection.
What is the Source?
Q: What is the source for the obligation to study Torah six hours on Shabbat? And if there is such an obligation, how come I, a religious person who studied in yeshivas all my life, never heard of such a thing until now?
A: You did not hear about it because, unfortunately, yeshivas do not educate towards living a complete Torah lifestyle in the practical world, but rather, mainly engage in theoretical, yeshiva studies.
Getting to the heart of the matter: Our Sages said that one should divide the time of Shabbat and ‘chagim’ (holidays) – half to God by means of Torah study in the ‘beit midrash’ (study hall), and half to ‘oneg’ Shabbat by way of eating, drinking, and sleeping (Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 15:3; Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 68b). Although, there are some authorities who are of the opinion that the equal distribution of time relates only to Yom Tov, but on Shabbat, which is more sacred, one must devote more than half of the time to Torah study (Bach, according to Rambam). However, according to the opinion of most ‘poskim’, the Sages also meant that on Shabbat, one should divide the time – half to Torah, and half to physical pleasure.
Some authorities opine that Torah scholars, who torment themselves by minimizing their sleeping and eating throughout the week, should devote a little more time on Shabbat to eating and drinking, whereas working people should allot more than half of Shabbat to Torah study.
Six Hours is Lenient
We learned then, that according to several authorities, half of Shabbat should be devoted to Torah study, while others say that working people who do not dedicate weekdays to learning Torah must devote most of the Shabbat to Torah.
According to this, one is obligated to devote at least twelve and a half hours, since the duration of Shabbat with ‘tosefet Shabbat’ (time added on to the beginning and end of Shabbat) is approximately twenty-five hours. However, in practice, it seems that one can act leniently and not take into consideration the seven hours that one needs to sleep daily, thereby leaving eighteen hours, of which about nine hours should be devoted to Torah, and nine hours to ‘oneg Shabbat’ by way of eating drinking, and additional pleasurable sleep.
However, even devoting nine hours to Torah study is quite difficult, and it is worthwhile to find an additional justification to be lenient, and this, by counting prayer as study.
And although the main spiritual purpose of Shabbat is designed for Torah study, and accordingly our Sages specifically said “devote half the time to the ‘beit midrash’, and, as known, in the past, people prayed in the ‘beit knesset’ (synagogue), thus, when they said “devote half the time to the ‘beit midrash’, their intention was Torah study, and not prayer. This is what is explicitly written in ‘Olat Shabbat’ (242:1) – that prayer time should be included in “half of the time for you”.
On the other hand, however, it appears that in the opinion of a number of ‘poskim’, it is possible to be lenient and also include prayer time within the nine hours of Torah (Mahari Weil; Yam Shel Shlomo). Consequently, it appears possible to count the three hours of prayer within the nine hours of Torah study. But no more than this, because if one learns less than six hours, clearly the main part of Shabbat is not Torah, and in no way can it be said “half to the beit midrash”.
Are Youth also Obligated?
Q: Rabbi, when you wrote that youth should be educated to study Torah on Shabbat, did you mean six hours? Is this practical? After all, we see that even for tests, they barely manage to study for an hour?
A: Indeed, it is a mitzvah for all youth who have reached the age of bar mitzvah (13 years old) to study, at the very minimum, six hours of Torah every Shabbat. In order for them to be successful, they should be accustomed to study on Shabbat starting from an early age, so that when they are close to becoming bar mitzvah, they will be able to devote at least six hours to Torah study.
True, when a child grows up in a community where all the youth are used to wasting time on Shabbat, handling the situation is very difficult. However, this is what we have been commanded, and if we wish to perform Shabbat properly, we must constantly educate them towards this goal, drawing them to Torah study with ‘bonds of love’.
Only a youth who finds it extremely hard to learn, to the point where he is unable to do so, is considered ‘anus’ (coerced), and exempt from the mitzvah.
Concerning Wandering Youth on Shabbat Eve
Q: Rabbi, you wrote that the youth wander around on Shabbat eve “cheering-on the trouble-makers and the brazen, whose idle day of Shabbat is their big day, while condemning the righteous nerds”. Rabbi, this indeed is the situation, but perhaps we should fight, and not allow the “trouble-makers” and “brazen” to dominate the conversation, so that friendly gatherings will be on a higher level?
A: There is no realistic likelihood for the wanderings on Shabbat eve to be run by the ‘tzadikim’ (righteous) or the ‘lamdanim’ (studious). Just as in the ‘beit midrash’ the studious stand out, and in a place where people engage in charity, good-hearted people stand out, and in the workplace, the industrious stand out, and in the synagogue, those who pray appropriately stand out – so too, when wandering in idleness, the idlers stand out.
Moreover, in religious society, where ‘ahavat ha’bri’ote’ (love of mankind) and ‘kiruv rechokim’ (outreach) is inherent, condemning sinners is uncommon. As a result, those boys and girls who do not keep the mitzvoth strictly become the center of the group at night. That’s when they tell all their stories, and adversely affect the innocent kids who are with them. In such cases “ha’gibush mashchit” (consolidation corrupts), [this is a play on words of the leftist slogan “ha’kibush mashchit”, or ‘occupation corrupts’].
True, a quiet stroll of two or three friends can be conducted in a serious atmosphere, but the meandering of a larger group naturally tends to deteriorate into conversations that, at best, are valueless.
Form of Studying
One of the obstacles in fulfilling the mitzvah of learning Torah is because many people have only become used to detailed, analytical study. This type of learning is extremely difficult to maintain in the framework of family and community. Classes given in this style do not draw the public to prolonged Torah study; at the very most, only one such class can be given on Shabbat. Perhaps the reason is that for those participating, it seems, quite rightly, that the fruits of this theoretical study do not justify the considerable investment.
True, while learning in yeshiva, this type of study has its benefits, for it prepares the students to a think deeply. But in the regular framework of life, certainly, it is not suitable.
Therefore, those who wish to study properly on Shabbat must get used to learning Talmud and halacha, ‘machshava’(thought) and ‘mussar’ (ethics), straightforwardly, and to learn from books that clarify matters clearly and in-depth, but without complications and ‘pilpulim’ (wordplay).
In order to strengthen Torah study on Shabbat, communal scheduling must be arranged, similar to support groups. Lessons and classes should be established in the synagogue for fathers, sons, and various learning groups, for most of Shabbat. This is what we have done on Har Bracha and, thank God, it has been very effective.
And of course, for someone who is able, it is a mitzvah to learn with his children on Shabbat, thus, fulfilling the mitzvah of ‘limud Torah’ ‘l’mehedrin’ (perfectly), and also strengthening his relationship with his children. Married couples, as well, can set specific times to study together. Most importantly, they should learn from books that are not too difficult, but, on the other hand, have great benefit.