Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Devarim

In his D’var Torah this week, the Chief Rabbi discusses a most surprising halacha for Tisha B’Av!

It is forbidden to study Torah. This is one of the surprising Halachot of the fast day of Tisha B’Av, which we will be marking during the coming week.

And the reason why it’s forbidden to study Torah, is because Torah gladdens the heart. That’s what we learn from the Passuk in Tehillim 19, Psalm 19, ‘Pekudei Hashem Yesharim Mesamchei Lev’, ‘the laws of the Lord are upright, they bring gladness to our hearts’.

‘The reason why it’s forbidden to study Torah, is because Torah gladdens the heart’

You see, when you study Torah, you have Simcha at a number of levels. First of all, the actual engagement of study, the Talmud Torah, the excitement of grappling with a Sugyah in Shas, of learning Pesukim, verses, from Chumash, either by oneself or in a Chavruta or through attending a Shuir – it brings real Simcha to one.

And then, at a deeper level, we internalise the values and the information that we receive through our study, it transforms our characters and it brings us a huge amount of meaning and happiness in our lives.

I went to Israel to attend the Levaya of my teacher Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, zt’l, and in one of the Hespeidim given by one of his children, they said how Tisha B’Av was the most difficult day for Rav Aharon. That was because he loved to learn and he was denied that opportunity on the fast day. And when it came to the end of Tisha B’Av, whereas everybody else just raced to the dining room table to have something to eat or to drink, Rav Aharon raced to the bookshelf and at the end of the fast, he would always take out a Gemarah and he would start to study, because he had been thirsting for that Talmud Torah, throughout the fast day.

That’s what Torah really does for us. Rav Aharon’s father in-law, Rav Soloveitchik, zt’l, would commute every week from Boston to New York, but during the last few years of his life, they enabled him to stay in the Penimiah, the dormitory, of Yeshivah University. And it so happened, that one night, some of the boys threw a party and they had friends over – they were making a lot of noise. At 2am in the morning, there was a knock on the door. They opened the door and there was the Rav, in his dressing gown – and there was hushed silence. And then the Rav said, ‘what’s going on here, its 2 o’clock in the morning – do you not realise that some of us are trying to learn?’

‘The beauty of Torah is just so magnificent for us and as a result we have one day in the year on which it is Assur, it is forbidden, to study Torah, as a reminder of our privilege throughout every other day of the year’

That’s the beauty of Torah, ‘Ve’hagita Bo Yomam Va’layla’, ‘study in it, transform your lives through it, day and night’. The beauty of Torah is just so magnificent for us and as a result we have one day in the year on which it is Assur, it is forbidden, to study Torah, as a reminder of our privilege throughout every other day of the year, to have our lives enhanced and to provide us with an opportunity of genuine Simcha, of wonderful happiness, through studying of the Torah.

Shabbat Shalom