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Friday, September 25, 2015

Parashat Ha'Azinu 5776


Saying “ברוך הוא וברוך שמו” (“Blessed is [will be] He, and blessed is [will be] His Name”) is common after saying God’s Name during a blessing. The thinking on this topic is actually quite muddled though. Some see it as glorifying God’s name and others as an unwanted interruption in at least some, if not all, blessings. Its origins our in this week’s parasha.

Within the poetry of this week’s parasha is a verse where Moses asks us to ascribe greatness to God when he calls out God’s name. This verse appears in the gabbai’s introduction to Torah reading. It is also the basis for many of our calls and responses, as we shall see.
דברים פרשת האזינו פרק לב
Deuteronomy, Chapter 32
(3) When I call out the name of Hashem, ascribe greatness to our God.
(ג) כִּי שֵׁם יְקֹוָק אֶקְרָא הָבוּ גֹדֶל לֵאלֹהֵינוּ:

Additionally, Proverbs tells us that the memory of a righteous one is for a blessing. This could be taken to mean that we should bless a righteous person when someone recalls her. How much more so should we do this when someone recalls God!
משלי פרק י
Proverbs, Chapter 10
(7) The memory of a righteous one is for a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.
(ז) זֵכֶר צַדִּיק לִבְרָכָה וְשֵׁם רְשָׁעִים יִרְקָב:

In the Talmud we see an explanation of the verses as I have presented so far. Additionally, Chananiyah sees the “righteous” in the Proverbs verse as the Righteous, ie God himself. This verse is further support for blessing God when he is recalled.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת יומא דף לז עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma 37a
It was taught: Rebbi says, “‘When I call out the name of Hashem, ascribe greatness to our God.’ Moshe said to Israel, ‘A the time that I recount the name of the holy One, blessed be He, you ascribe greatness.’”
תניא, רבי אומר: כי שם ה' אקרא הבו גדל לאלהינו. אמר להם משה לישראל: בשעה שאני מזכיר שמו של הקדוש ברוך הוא אתם הבו גדל.
Chananiyah the son of the brother of Rebbi Yehoshua says, “‘The memory of a righteous one is for a blessing.’ Said the prophet to Israel, ‘At the time that I recall the Righteous of the Worlds, you should give a blessing.’”
חנניה בן אחי רבי יהושע אומר: זכר צדיק לברכה, אמר להם נביא לישראל: בשעה שאני מזכיר צדיק עולמים - אתם תנו ברכה.

On the verse in our parasha, the Sifrei derives four common responses in prayer. The first is for blessing God after a meal during the invitation to bless. Our verse, which commands a response in plural, understand that one person invites and at least two answer; therefore, it takes three people to allow for an invitation to bless.
Further, it derives saying, “Amen,” after blessings and also “Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom forever [ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד]. This phrase, also a response to the Sh’ma, was said after every blessing in the Temple in lieu of “Amen”.

Finally, it derives the call and response in the middle of Kaddish from this verse. This response is slightly different than it is today.
ספרי דברים פרשת האזינו פיסקא שו
Sifrei D’varim, Parashat Ha’Azinu, Piska 306
And from where is it derived that we only invite to bless [together after a meal] with three? As it says, “When I call out the name of Hashem, ascribe greatness to our God.”
ומנין שאין מזמנים אלא בשלשה שנאמר כי שם ה' אקרא הבו גדל לאלהינו.
And from where is it derived that we answer, “Amen,” after one who blesses? As it says, “Ascribe greatness to our God.”
ומנין שעונים אמן אחר המברך שנאמר הבו גדל לאלהינו.
And from where is it derived that we say, “Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom forever?” As it says, “When I call out the name of Hashem.”
ומנין שאומרים ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד שנאמר כי שם ה' אקרא
And from where is it derived that those who say, “May the great Name be blessed,” that we answer after them, “Forever and ever?” As it says, “Ascribe greatness to our God.”
ומנין לאומרים יהא שמו הגדול מבורך שעונים אחריהם לעולם ולעולמי עולמים שנאמר הבו גדל לאלהינו.

The Rosh recounts the teaching of his contemporary, Abba Mari. Picking up on the idea of responding to certain phrases, he adds a few familiar to many of use. The first is “Blessed is He and blessed is His Name [ברוך הוא וברוך שמו] said on any blessing that one hears, in all cases. The Rosh seems to put no limits on this.
שו"ת הרא"ש כלל ד סימן יט
Responsa of the ROSH, K’lal 4, Siman 19
Asher ben Yechiel, 13th and 14th Centuries Germany and Spain
And I heard from Abba Mari, of blessed memory, that he would say on every blessing that he heard in all cases, “Blessed is He and blessed is His Name.”
ושמעתי מאבא מארי ז"ל, שהיה אומר על כל ברכה וברכה שהיה שומע בכל מקום: ברוך הוא וברוך שמו.
And this is what Moses our teacher, on him be peace, said, “When I call out the name of Hashem, ascribe greatness to our God.”
וזה הוא שאמר משה רבינו עליו השלום: כי שם ה' אקרא הבו גודל לאלהינו.
And further, even when he recounted a righteous person [lit. one of flesh and blood], one needs to bless him, as it says, “The memory of a righteous one for a blessing.”
ועוד, אפילו כשמזכיר לצדיק בשר ודם צריך לברכו, שנאמר: זכר צדיק לברכה.
And I also heard that everyone says, “May He be exalted, may He be praised,” when the prayer leader says bar’khu. Therefore the prayer leader lengthens it.
וגם שמעתי כל העולם שאומרים: יתעלה וישתבח, כשאומר החזן ברכו, ולכן מאריך בו החזן.
And a paradigm for the matter: Modim, that the prayer leader lengthens it so the congregation can say Modim of our Rabbis.
וסימן לדבר: מודים, שמאריך בו החזן כדי שיאמרו הקהל מודים דרבנן.

The Sefer Charedim seems to take matters even further. He does not limit this response to blessings but to any recounting of God’s Name.
ספר חרדים מצוות עשה מדברי קבלה ומדברי סופרים פרק ד
Sefer Charedim, Positive Commandments from the Received Tradition and the Words of the Scribes, Chapter 4
Elazar ben Azkari, 16th Century Israel
(17) And further, in the midrash, “At the time that I recall the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, you shall ascribe greatness to our God.”
(יז) ועוד במדרש בשעה שאני מזכיר שם של הקב"ה אתם הבו גודל לאלהינו
From here [we derive] that we answer, “Blessed is He and blessed is His Name,” on the recounting of the Name.
מכאן שעונין ב"ה וברוך שמו על הזכרת השם:


The Shulchan Arukh codifies the Rosh’s version. He too is expansive saying that this applies in all cases of blessings.
שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות תפלה סימן קכד
Shulchan Arukh, Orech Chayyim, Laws of Prayer, Siman 124
Yosef Karo, 15th and 16th Centuries Turkey and Israel
On every blessing that a person hears in cases, he says, “Blessed is He and blessed is His Name.”
על כל ברכה שאדם שומע בכל מקום, אומר: ברוך הוא וברוך שמו.

However, the commentaries on the Shulchan Arukh being to limit it. The Magen Avraham tells us that obviously this does not apply if someone is themselves praying a piece where interruptions are forbidden.
מגן אברהם סימן קכד
Magen Avraham, Siman 124
Avraham Gombiner, 17th Century Poland
On every blessing - And it is obvious that if one is engaged in a place where one is not permitted to interrupt, it is forbidden to say it.
על כל ברכה - ופשוט דאם עסוק במקום שאינו רשאי להפסיק אסור לאומרו עמ"ש סי' נ"ו:

The student of the Vilna Gaon claims that Vilna Gaon severly limited this response while listening to the repetition of the Amidah. He gives a very practical explanation: there is not enough time between God’s name and the next word to insert this response and it mars people actually hearing the nineteen blessings. From the language used, though, it seems like it is sometimes a permissible response, we should just not worry if we do not have time to say it. In that case, it is better to avoid it.
מעשה רב הלכות פסוקי דזמרה וקריאת שמע ותפלה
Ma’aseh Rav, Laws of P’sukei D’zimra, K’riat Sh’ma, and T’fillah
Yissakhar Dov Ber (on the customs of Elijah Kramer of Vilna), 19th Century Vilna
One should hear the prayer of eighteen [blessings] from the mouth of the prayer leader and from the prayer book. And one should answer, “Amen” after every blessing, but not be strict about, “Blessed is He and blessed is His Name,” for the prayer leader does not wait until it is finished from the mouth of the nation and the review of the tefillah [amidah] is lost.  
לשמוע תפלת י"ח מפי הש"ץ ומתוך הסדור. ולענות אמן אחר כל ברכה ולא להקפיד על ב"ה וברו"ש כי הש"ץ אינו ממתין עד שתכלה מפי העם ומפסיד חזרת התפלה

However, the Vilna Gaon’s student in his notes to his work adds that the Vilna Gaon had many other reasons for prohibiting this response.
מעשה רב הערות פעולת שכיר שם
Ma’aseh Rav, Notes of the P’eulat Sakhir, on the above
Yissakhar Dov Ber, 19th Century Vilna
We heard from him, of blessed memory, other reasons for the matter.
שמענו לו ז"ל עוד טעמים בדבר

The Arukh HaShulchan (following many others), rules that we may also not respond, “Blessed is He, etc.” for any blessing that one hears in order to fulfil an obligation (like listening to kiddush). Apparently some people think, as could easily be understood from sources we have seen, that every blessing requires such a response. The Arukh HaShulchan says this actually voids ones fulfilling an obligation through hearing a blessing. He further asks why this response is ever need since one blessing God is already blessing God! Why do we need the listener to do so as well. He seems to imply that our response is more applicable to invoking God’s name not in a blessing, along the thinking of the Sefer Charedim.
ערוך השולחן אורח חיים סימן קכד
Arukh HaShulchan, Orech Chayyim, Siman 124
Yechiel Mekhiel Epstein, 19th Century Lithuania and Belarus
And it is obvious that this is about a normal blessing where the one answering does not fulfill anything by it. But when one needs to fulfill by it, like the blessings for kiddush, havdalah, blowing of the shofar, and the reading of megilah, it is forbidden to say, for it is an interruption.
ופשוט הוא דזהו בסתם ברכות שאין העונה צריך לצאת בה אבל כשצריך לצאת בה כמו ברכות של קידוש והבדלה ושל תקיעת שופר ושל מקרא מגילה אסור לענות דהוי הפסק
And for this reason, there are many of the great ones who are not comfortable with this because of the many who do not know this and figure that it is an obligation on every blessing to answer, “Blessed is He and blessed is His Name.” And they do not fulfill their blessings of obligation because they answer also on these.
ומטעם זה יש הרבה מן הגדולים שאין דעתם נוחה מזה מפני ההמון שאינם יודעים זה וסוברים שחיוב הוא על כל ברכה לענות ב"ה וב"ש ואינם יוצאים בברכות חובה מפני שעונים גם באלו
And the root of the reason I do not understand. For what is the connection that one needs to bless Him, for the one blessing himself is blessing Him when he says, “Blessed are You, Hashem”? Further, if this is so, in every prayer when they say the name of Hashem we should say, “blessed is He and blessed is His Name.” And this needs investigation.
ובעיקר הטעם לא אבין דמה שייך שצריך לברכו הלא המברך בעצמו מברכו שאומר ברוך אתה ה' ועוד דא"כ בכל התפלה כשמזכירים שם ה' נאמר ב"ה וב"ש וצ"ע:

The Or L’Tziyon takes a more middle position. While listening to a blessing where one fulfils an obligation one should not respond, “Blessed is He, etc.” but if one did nothing is lost.
שו"ת אור לציון חלק ב פרק מז - הלכות שבת
Responsa of the Or L’Tziyon, Part 2, Chapter 47 - Laws of Shabbat
Ben Tzion Abba Shaul, 20th Century Israel
Even though ideally one should not answer, “Blessed is He and blessed is His Name,” when we hear kiddush and intend to fulfill an obligation through it, nonetheless one who mistakenly answers fulfills, after the fact, the obligation of kiddush.
אף שלכתחילה אין לענות ברוך הוא וברוך שמו כששומעים קידוש ומכוונים לצאת בו ידי חובה, מכל מקום מי שטעה וענה יצא בדיעבד ידי חובת קידוש.

The Mayim Chayyim explains that the thinking on this actually runs the spectrum. There is even an opinion (though I could not find it directly we have seen it hinted at) that one is required to answer, “Blessed is He, etc.” and all blessings. This is even when fulfilling an obligation.
שו"ת מים חיים חלק א סימן ו
Responsa of the Mayim Chayyim, Part 1, Siman 6
Chayyim David, 20th Century Israel
If one should answer, “Blessed is He, and blessed is His Name,” for a blessing in which one fulfills their obligation
אם לענות ברוך הוא וברוך שמו בברכה שיוצא בה ידי חובתו
This question is old and judged at great length among many decisors, and the opinions are split from one end to the other.
שאלה זאת עתיקה ונידונה באורך רב בדברי פוסקים רבים, והדעות חלוקות מקצה עד קצה.
There are those who ruled that it is forbidden to answer, for it is an interruption. For when one hears a blessing and fulfils his obligation through it, he is like one who spoke the blessing himself word by word. And would it ever occur to one who blesses for himself to add, “Blessed is He and blessed is His Name,” after recounting the Name? Is it not clear that this is an interruption? And this is the rule for one who hears [a blessing].
יש שפסקו שאסור לענות, כי הוא הפסק, שכיון שהוא שומע הברכה ויוצא בה ידי חובתו, הרי זה כאילו הוא מוציא הברכה מפיו מלה במלה, והאם יעלה על הדעת שמי שמברך בעצמו יוסיף "ברוך הוא וברוך שמו" אחרי הזכרת השם, הלא ברור שזה הפסק, והוא הדין בשומע.
And there is also in this [an issue] of deviating from the canon that the Sages established for a blessing.
וכן יש בזה גם משום משנה ממטבע שטבעו חכמים בברכה.
And there are those who ruled that if one answered, “Blessed is He and blessed is His Name,” have not fulfilled their obligation and need to go back and bless themselves.
ויש שפסקו שאם ענה ב"ה וב"ש לא יצא ידי חובתו וצריך לחזור לברך בעצמו.
And there are those who ruled that ideally one should not answer, “Blessed is He and blessed is His Name,” but after the fact is one answered one has [still] fulfilled his obligation.
ויש שפסקו שלכתחלה אין לענות ב"ה וב"ש, אלא שבדיעבד אם ענה יצא ידי חובתו.
And opposite them is one who rules that it is an obligation to answer, “Blessed is He and blessed is His Name.” And everyone should strongly tell the members of their household that one fulfils their obligation when they answer, “Blessed is He and blessed is His Name.”
ולעומתם יש מי שפסק שחובה לענות ב"ה וב"ש, וצריך להזהיר כל אדם את בני ביתו שיוצאים ידי חובה שיענו ב"ה וב"ה וכו'.

Finally, the Torah Temimah pushes back the other way. While he does not get into details, he definitely finds at least some of the preventing of the response, “Blessed is He, etc.” to be ineffable.
תורה תמימה הערות דברים פרק לב
Torah Temimah, Notes on Deuteronomy, Chapter 32
Barukh Epstein, 19th and 20th Centuries Lithuania and America
I do not know the many and whole ones drew support to prevent this response [“Blessed is He, etc.”]. And even though I heard reasons for this, they are not acceptable to me.
ולא ידעתי על מה סמכו רבים ושלמים למנוע מעניה זו, ואף כי שמעתי טעמים על זה אבל אינם מתקבלים לי.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Avinu Malkeinu, Yom Kippur 5776


Unlike places like Egypt, lands like Israel rely heavily on rain for food. Because of this, our Rabbis instituted a series of fasts and extra prayers for seasons when rains came late. This seems to be one of the crucial times for needing prayer to work. Everything relies on God’s mercy. Therefore, the best prayer leaders were put in front of the community. The Talmud tells us a story of two situations where the great Rebbi Eliezer, son of Hurkanus, tried to lead the community in prayer during fasts declared for rain, but God does not respond. While he fails, two other sources succeed. One of those seems to be our first recorded use of the prayer אבינו מלכנו [our Father, our King].
תלמוד בבלי מסכת תענית דף כה עמוד ב
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Ta’anit 25b
Our Rabbis Taught: an occurrence with Rebbi Eliezer, who decreed thirteen fasts on the community, but rain did not fall. In the end the community began to disperse. He said to them, “Will you decree graves on yourselves?” The entire nation broke out in crying and rain fell.
תנו רבנן מעשה ברבי אליעזר שגזר שלש עשרה תעניות על הצבור ולא ירדו גשמים. באחרונה התחילו הצבור לצאת. אמר להם: תקנתם קברים לעצמכם? געו כל העם בבכיה, וירדו גשמים.
Another occurrence with Rebbi Eliezer: that he descended before the ark and said twenty-four blessings and was not answered. Rebbi Akiva came after him and said, “Our Father, our King [אבינו מלכנו], we have no king other than You. Our Father, our King, for Your sake have compassion on us.” And rain fell.
שוב מעשה ברבי אליעזר שירד לפני התיבה ואמר עשרים וארבע ברכות ולא נענה. ירד רבי עקיבא אחריו, ואמר: אבינו מלכנו אין לנו מלך אלא אתה. אבינו מלכנו למענך רחם עלינו, וירדו גשמים.
Our Rabbis began murmuring [against Rebbi Eliezer]. A heavenly voice rang out and said, “Not because this one is greater than this one. Rather, this one went beyond his merits and this one did not go beyond his merits.”
הוו מרנני רבנן. יצתה בת קול ואמרה: לא מפני שזה גדול מזה, אלא שזה מעביר על מידותיו, וזה אינו מעביר על מדותיו.

In the first story, it seems like the crying of the people makes the rain fall. This is not surprising since the Talmud tells us that crying can open the gates to God.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת בבא מציעא דף נט עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Bava Metzia, 59a
Said Rebbi Elazar, “From the day the Holy Temple was destroyed, the gates of prayer were locked, as it says, ‘Though I cry and plea, He closes up my prayer,’ (Lamentations 3:8).”
אמר רבי אלעזר: מיום שנחרב בית המקדש ננעלו שערי תפילה, שנאמר "גם כי אזעק ואשוע שתם תפילתי." (איכה ג:ח)
But even though the gates of prayer are locked, the gates of tears are not locked, as it says, “Hear my prayer, Hashem, and hearken to my cry; to my tears do not be silent,” (Psalms 39:13).
ואף על פי ששערי תפילה ננעלו שערי דמעות לא ננעלו, שנאמר "שמעה תפלתי ה' ושועתי האזינה אל דמעתי אל תחרש."

But what about Rebbi Akiva? What makes his prayer more acceptable than Rebbi Eliezer’s? Is it the words “אבינו מלכנו?” Is it some quality he posses? The Talmud only gives us the cryptic message of the Heavenly voice which tells us about going beyond one’s merits. The Daf al HaDaf offers an interpretation I found interesting and compelling.

דף על הדף תענית דף כה עמוד ב
Daf al HaDaf, Ta’anit 25b
David Abraham Mendelbaum, et al, 20th Century Israel
Behold, Rebbi Eliezer was the son of Hurkanus, who was also a Torah scholar and a great of his generation. For sure he gave his son a holy soul and pure body. Therefore, Rebbi Eliezer did not need to work on himself to improve the merits.
והנה רבי אליעזר, שהיה בנו של הורקנוס, שהיה ג"כ ת"ח ומגדולי הדור, ודאי המשיך לבנו נשמה קדושה וגוף טהור, ולפיכך רבי אליעזר לא היה צריך לעבוד על עצמו לשיפור המדות.
In contrast to him is Rebbi Akiva who was the son of converts and a commoner originally. He needed work and great struggle to improve his merits. And this is what the Gemara is saying, “Not because this one is greater… rather that this one went beyond his merits.”
לעומתו, ר' עקיבא שהיה בן גרים ועם הארץ מתחילתו, הוא היה צריך עבודה ויגיעה רבה לשפר מידותיו, וזהו שאומרת הגמ' "לא מפני שזה גדול וכו' אלא שזה מעביר על מדותיו".

May we all merit to go beyond our merits and have our prayers answered this Yom Kippur.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Parashat VaYelekh 5776




This week’s parasha gives us what might be the last commandment in the Torah. On its surface it is a commandment to write “this song” in order to teach it.
דברים פרשת וילך פרק לא
Deuteronomy Chapter 31
(19) And now write for yourselves this song and teach it to the children of Israel, place it in their mouths; so that this song will be for Me as a witness for the children of Israel.
(יט) וְעַתָּה כִּתְבוּ לָכֶם אֶת־הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת וְלַמְּדָהּ אֶת־בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל שִׂימָהּ בְּפִיהֶם לְמַעַן תִּהְיֶה־לִּי הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת לְעֵד בִּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:


Rashi explains to us that this song is האזינו, the poem that appears right after our parasha and constitutes most of Deuteronomy chapter 32.
רש"י דברים פרשת וילך פרק לא
Rashi, Deuteronomy Chapter 31
This song - (Ahead, 32:1) “Give your ears, Heavens,” until “forgives the land of His people” (32:43).
את השירה הזאת - (לקמן לב, א) האזינו השמים עד (לב, מג) וכפר אדמתו עמו:


Our Rabbis, however, take this is a further direction. They see the song not as just the thirty-second chapter of Deuteronomy but as the entire Torah. Further, one needs to write a sefer Torah (which I always transliterate from here on and means a Torah scroll like we read in synagogue). One cannot even just inherit one. It needs to be self-written.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף כא עמוד ב
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 21b
Said Rabbah, “Even if a person’s father left him a sefer Torah, it is a commandment to write one of his own, as it says, “And now write for yourselves this song.”
אמר (רבא) +מסורת הש"ס: רבה+: אף על פי שהניחו לו אבותיו לאדם ספר תורה - מצוה לכתוב משלו, שנאמר "ועתה כתבו לכם את השירה"


However, the commandment of writing a Torah is drawn back in the next source. While in the name of Rav we have some harsh words about buying a sefer Torah, Rav Sheshet makes fulfilling the commandment easier. Merely one has to correct a single letter. We do not see here why Rav Sheshet makes this commandment so much easier.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת מנחות דף ל עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate M’nachot, 30a
Said Rebbi Yehoshua son of Abba, said Rav Gidel, said Rav, “One who purchases a sefer Torah from the marketplace is like one who seized a commandment from the marketplace. If he wrote it, the Torah considers him as if he received it from Mount Sinai.”
א"ר יהושע בר אבא אמר רב גידל אמר רב: הלוקח ס"ת מן השוק - כחוטף מצוה מן השוק, כתבו - מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו קיבלו מהר סיני."
Said Rav Sheshet, “If he corrected even one letter, it considers him as if he wrote it.”
אמר רב ששת: אם הגיה אפי' אות אחת, מעלה עליו כאילו כתבו.


Rashi comes to even limit Rav’s statement. He says that buying a sefer Torah is still performing the commandment; it is not the best performance of it and therefore one prevents him or herself from performing the entirety of it.
רש"י מסכת מנחות דף ל עמוד א
Rashi, Tractate M’nachot, 30a
Shlomo Yitzchaki, 11th and 12th Centuries Rhineland
Like one who seized a commandment - But he performed a commandment. But if he wrote it, it is a bit greater commandment.
כחוטף מצוה - ומצוה עבד אבל אי כתב הוה מצוה יתירה טפי.


Tosafot explain the situation for correcting one letter and limit Rav Sheshet’s statement a bit in doing so. The idea is that one buys a sefer Torah which had mistake(s) which sat with the seller for more than thirty days (one may not leave a Torah with a mistake for longer than this). If so, then one may buy the sefer Torah, correct one letter, and fulfill the entire commandment.
תוספות מסכת מנחות דף ל עמוד א
Tosafot, Tractate M’nachot, 30a
If he corrected in it even one letter - Explanation: For a sefer Torah that he purchased from the marketplace is no longer considered as a seized commandment if it was with his fellow in transgression, for he was letting stand as an incorrect sefer Torah. And we consider it as if he wrote it. From my teacher.
אם הגיה בו אפי' אות אחת - פירוש בס"ת שלקח מן השוק לא נחשב עוד כחוטף מצוה שהיה אצל חבירו בעבירה שהיה משהה ספר שאינו מוגה ומעלין על זה כאילו כתבו, מ"ר.


The Rambam codifies most of this in a straightforward manner. However, he adds a few things. He explains that writing “this song” means the whole Torah because it really means just the song in Deuteronomy chapter thirty-two, but we may not write only a portion of the Torah. (There is a separate issue as to why the Torah commands us in such an offhand way, which might be next year’s topic.) Second, he tells us for those who cannot write they may have someone perform it for them. Finally, he does not follow Tosafot’s explanation of correcting one letter, but rather seems to say that anyone who corrects one letter, potentially from any Torah with a mistake, has fulfilled the commandment.
משנה תורה הלכות תפילין ומזוזה וספר תורה פרק ז, הלכה א
Mishneh Torah, Laws of T’fillin, Mezuzah, and Sefer Torah, Chapter 7, Law 1
Moses Maimonides, 12th and 13th Centuries Egypt
It is a positive commandment on every single person in Israel to write a sefer Torah for himself, as it says, “And now write for yourselves this song.”
מצות עשה על כל איש ואיש מישראל לכתוב ספר תורה לעצמו שנאמר ועתה כתבו לכם את השירה,
That is to say, write for yourselves the Torah that has in it this song since we may not write the Torah in separate portions.
כלומר כתבו לכם תורה שיש בה שירה זו לפי שאין כותבין את התורה פרשיות פרשיות,
And even if his father left him a sefer Torah, it is a commandment to write one for himself. And if he wrote it for himself, it is as if he received it from Mount Sinai.
ואע"פ שהניחו לו אבותיו ספר תורה מצוה לכתוב משלו, ואם כתבו בידו הרי הוא כאילו קבלה מהר סיני,
And if one does not know how to write, others write for him.
ואם אינו יודע לכתוב אחרים כותבין לו,
And any who corrects even one letter it is as if he wrote it all himself.
וכל המגיה ספר תורה ואפילו אות אחת הרי הוא כאילו כתבו כולו.


The Rosh, however, throws a curveball in all of this. He says that this commandment was only for the early generations who actually learned from an actual sefer Torah. Now we merely read it publicly. Rather, one should write a chumash (meaning a book of Torah like we now use to learn Torah, as opposed to a scroll on parchment, with proper lettering), a Mishnah, a Gemara, etc. Since they idea is to teach and learn, these are the books we use these days to teach and learn Torah. It is interesting to ask what value the Rosh sees in still even doing public Torah reading, though I imagine part of it is not completely losing the custom of old.
הלכות קטנות לרא"ש (מנחות) הלכות ספר תורה
Legal Vignettes of the Rosh (from M’nachot), Laws of Sefer Torah
Asher ben Yechiel, 13th and 14th Centuries Germany and Spain
But these days where we write a sefer Torah and place it in the synagogues to read it in public, it is a positive commandment on every man in Israel, who has the capability, to write a chumash of the Torah, and Mishna, and Gemara, and commentaries, to review them him and his sons.
אבל האידנא שכותבין ס"ת ומניחין אותו בבתי כנסיות לקרות בו ברבים מצות עשה היא על כל איש מישראל אשר ידו משגת לכתוב חומשי התורה ומשנה וגמרא ופירושי' להגות בהן הוא ובניו.
For the commandment of writing the Torah is to learn from it, as is written, “Teach it to the children of Israel; place it in their mouths.”
כי מצות כתיבת התורה היא ללמוד בה כדכתיב ולמדה את בני ישראל שימה בפיהם.
And through the Gemara and the commentaries one knows the explanation of the commandments and laws on their evidence. Therefore, these are the books that a man is commanded to write them and also not to sell them except to learn Torah or marry a woman.
וע"י הגמרא והפי' ידע פי' המצות והדינים על בוריים לכן הם הם הספרים שאדם מצווה לכתבם וגם לא למכרם אם לא ללמוד תורה ולישא אשה:


The Beit Yosef responds with shock to the Rosh. He explains that the Rosh just exempted all Jews from performing a commandment and gave them something else in its stead. That cannot be the case, so what the Rosh must have meant is that in addition to writing a sefer Torah we should also write a chumash, a Mishana, etc. He does, however, end by telling us that Rabbeinu Yerucham dates the simple understanding of the Rosh’s statement to the Geonic era just post Talmud, giving it more weight.
בית יוסף יורה דעה סימן רע
Beit Yosef, Yoreh De’ah, Siman 270
Yosef Karo, 15th and 16th Centuries Turkey and Israel
ויש לתמוה היאך בא הרא"ש לפטור לאדם ממצות כתיבת ספר תורה ולהחליפה בחומשים ומשניות וגמרות ופירושיהן שהרי לא תלה טעם החילוק בין הדורות הראשונים לדורות הללו אלא שבדורות הללו אין לומדין בהן אלא מניחין אותן בבית הכנסת לקרות בהם ברבים
And one needs to be shocked: how did the Rosh come to exempt a person from the commandment of writing a sefer Torah and to exchange it for chumashim, and Mishnayot, and Gemarot and their commentaries? For he only supported the reason for the split between the early generations and these generations in that in these generations we do not learn from them [the sefer Torah]. Rather we place them in the Synagogues to read from them in public.
וא"כ הוה ליה למימר שגם עכשיו חייבים לכתוב ס"ת וילמדו בהם כשם שהיו לומדים בדורות הראשונים לא לפטרם ממצות כתיבת ס"ת
And if so, he should have said that also now we are obligated to write a sefer Torah and study them as they studied them in the early generations. And not to exempt them from the commandment of writing a sefer Torah.
לכך נ"ל שלא בא אלא לחדש לנו חיוב כתיבת חומשים ומשניות וגמרות ופירושיהם ואיסור מכירתן שגם זה בכלל מצות כתיבת ס"ת ושזה יותר מצוה מלכתוב ס"ת ולהניחו בבית הכנסת לקרות ברבים
Therefore it seems to me that he only came to innovate for us the obligation of writing chmashim, Mishnayot, and Gemarot and their commentaries and the prohibition on their sale. For these too are under the rubric of the commandment of writing a sefer Torah. And that this is a greater commandment than to write a sefer Torah and to place it in the synagogue to read it in public.
אבל לכתוב ס"ת לקרות בו הוא ובניו פשיטא דגם האידנא זהו עיקר קיום מצות עשה שהרי הוא נוהג בו כמו שהיו נוהגים בדורות הראשונים
But to write a sefer Torah to read from it with his sons, obviously even today this is the main point of the fulfillment of the positive commandment. For one acts according to it like they acted in the early generations.
וכתב רבינו ירוחם (נ"ב ח"ב יז:) על דברי הרא"ש שכן כתבו הגאונים:
And [but?] Rabbeinu Yerucham wrote (Toldot Adam v’Chava, Netiv 2, Part 2) about the words of the Rosh that, “So too wrote the Geonim.”


The P’risha disagrees with the Beit Yosef’s reading. He says that the commandment was to write a sefer Torah for the generations who used the particulars of the written Torah to remind them of all the rules of the unwritten oral Torah. But just as the oral Torah needed to be written down, based on the verse Psalms 119:126 (which he quotes), we need to learn oral Torah not from a sefer Torah but from chumashim, Mishna, Gemara, and commentaries. In fact, we are no longer capable of learning oral Torah from reading a sefer Torah.


פרישה יורה דעה סימן רע
P’risha, Yoreh De’ah, Siman 270
Yehoshua Falk, 16th and 17th Centuries Poland
מצות עשה על כל ישראל אשר ידו משגת לכתוב [חמשה] חומשי תורה וכו'. נראה דהכי קאמר שהמצות עשה נאמר דוקא באלו ולא בס"ת דדוקא בימיהם שהיו לומדים תורה שבעל פה שלא מן הכתב כי אם על פה היו צריכין ללמוד מספר תורה המתוייגת כהלכתה ומדוייקת בחסירות ויתירות ופסקי טעמים כי הם כולם רמזים הם לזכור על ידם תורה שבעל פה כדאמרו (מנחות כט ב) על רבי עקיבא שהיה דורש על כל קוץ וקוץ תילי תילים הלכות ולכן היה מצוה על כל איש מישראל שיהיה לו ס"ת
It is a positive commandment on all of Israel who has the capability to write a chumash of Torah, etc. And it seems that such he is saying: that the positive commandment is exactly about these and not a sefer Torah. That it was only in their days that they learned oral Torah not from written sources, but by mouth. They needed to learn from a sefer Torah that was crowned [on the letters] per the law and exact in its missing and extra letters and rules of punctuating notes. For are all them are hints to recall through them oral Torah. Like they said about Rebbi Akiva that he would expound laws from every dot and tittle. Therefore it is a commandment on every man of Israel that he should have a sefer Torah.
אבל בזמנינו שנתמעטו הלבבות ואמרו (גיטין ס א) עת לעשות לה' הפרו תורתך (תהלים קיט קכו) וכתבו התלמוד בספר וגם בימיהם היה איסור בדבר שלא לכתוב ה' חומשי תורה כי אם בדרך שנכתבה ס"ת בגלילה
But in our time where hearts have decreased and they said, “It is a time to perform for Hashem; they have voided your Torah,” (Psalms 119:126). And they wrote the Talmud in a book. And also in their day it was forbidden about the matter to only write the five books of the Torah in the way that a sefer Torah is written as a scroll.
וא"כ כל ספריהם היו דומים לספר תורה משא"כ בזמנינו שנעשה לנו בהיתר לכתוב ספרים דפין דפין כל אחד בפני עצמו א"כ למה לנו לזלזל בכבוד ס"ת לחנם ללמוד מתוכו שלא לצורך כיון שאין אנו לומדים כלום מחסירות ויתירות ותגין ופיסוק טעמים כבימיהם וק"ל.
And if so all of their books were the same as a sefer Torah, which is not the case in our times. For permission was given to us to write books page by page, each on their own. If so, why degrade the honor of a sefer Torah freely by learning from it without need, since we learn nothing from missing and extra letters, or dots and punctuating notes like in their days? And this is easy to understand.


Remaining for us is the issue with inheriting a Torah versus writing one. How does this work if the commandment is about Mishna and Gemara? Though the earlier sources implied that this was about writing those books, the Arukh HaShulchan suggests it is about buying those books for oneself. Which justifies all the money I have spent on such books, I hope.
ערוך השולחן יורה דעה סימן רע, סעיף ט
Arukh HaShulchan, Yoreh De’ah, Siman 270, Article 9
Yechiel Epstein, 19th and 20th Centuries Lithuania
However, from what they said in the Gemara that what one’s father left them is not effective is a great challenge to their words
אמנם ממה שאמרו בגמ' דלא מהני מה שהניחו לו אבותיו הוי קושיא גדולה על דבריהם
However, in truth when we read carefully, there is no difficulty here at all. For sure it is a comprehensive statement that the aim of writing is to learn, as is written, “And teach it, etc.” But the Torah decreed than one himself needs to write what he needs to learn. Therefore, these days also one needs to purchase for himself Mishnayot and Gemarot.
אך באמת כשנדקדק בזה אין כאן קושיא כלל דוודאי מקרא מלא הוא דתכלית הכתיבה הוא כדי ללמד כדכתיב ולמדה וגו' אלא שהתורה גזרה שהוא בעצמו צרך לכתוב מה שצריך ללמוד ולכן האידנא ג"כ צריך לקנות בעצמו משניות וגמ':


The Torah Temimah adds one last piece. Why do we need to write or purchase these books for ourselves? Why not just buy or inherit them. After all, we need to have our own etrog, but one may fulfill that by buying or inheriting one? He answers that there is a second goal of this commandment beyond learning and teaching. There is also the goal of increasing the number of such books in the world. This might also work well with the Beit Yosef’s understanding that we need to both write Mishna and Gemara as well as a sefer Torah. Further, in a world where buying books means more will be printed, this explains why the Arukh HaShulchan (who is the Torah Temimah’s father) says that buying these books for oneself is the modern equivalent of writing them for oneself.
תורה תמימה הערות דברים פרק לא
Torah Temimah, Glosses, Deuteronomy Chapter 31
Barukh Epstein, 19th and 20th Centuries Lithuania and United States
But there is no logic at all why something inherited from a father is not called, “yours.” For sure one who inherits an etrog fulfills [the commandment] with it, even though we need it to be “yours.” How is a sefer Torah different?
אבל באמת אין סברא כלל שירושת אבות לא יהיה נקרא משלכם, והלא בודאי היורש אתרוג יוצא בו, אף דבעינן ביה משלכם, ומאי שנא ס"ת.
But there is to say that there is another intention in this commandment. That is that our Rabbis, of blessed memory, wrote that the commandment is exactly to write and not purchase, is that the root of the commandment is to increase the number of books in the world. Since based on this Torah will increase.
אבל י"ל דכונה אחרת במצוה זו, והיינו שבדיוק אמרו חז"ל מצוה לכתוב ולא לקנות, משום דמעיקר המצוה הוא שיתרבו הספרים בעולם, מפני שע"י זה יגדיל תורה