In our previous lesson, we reviewed the two (or three) Birchos HaTorah (full text found in Artscroll Siddur, p.16-17) Today, we learn that there is actually a “surrogate” Birkas HaTorah, i.e. a bracha found in davening that can substitute for the real ones, in the event that they were not said before davening. This bracha is ‘Ahava Rabah’ (“With an abundant love” - see Artscroll Siddur, p. 88-89). Why is this bracha a substitute for Birchos HaTorah? Listen to its words: “…instill in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform, and fulfill all the words of the Torah’s teaching with love!” With such words of desire to know and live by the words of the Torah, could there be a greater expression of praise of Hashem for His Torah?
Question: How does one assign his ‘Ahava Rabah’ the role of Birkas HaTorah, above and beyond its usual function as the second bracha preceding Krias Shema?
Answer: Good question! In order for ‘Ahava Rabah’ to qualify as Birkas HaTorah, one must “use” it as such. This he does by deliberately learning something as soon as he finishes davening. Therefore, if a person knows that he neglected to recite the regular Birchos HaTorah before davening (or even if he is not sure whether or not he did), then he should have the intent that his ‘Ahava Rabah’ is doubling as Birkas HaTorah, and make sure that he learns something right after davening.
Question: It sounds like one is required to learn immediately afterwards, only when using the ‘Ahava Rabah’ bracha, but not when reciting the regular brachos. If that is so, why is it? Is it not axiomatic that whenever one makes a bracha before doing a mitzvah, he must do the mitzvah act immediately thereafter and without interruption?
Answer: Indeed, the above inference is correct, according to some authorities. They maintain that the mitzvah of Torah study, because of its constant relevance, is considered to be active in one’s mind at all times, even when he is not formally learning! However, the majority of the authorities rule that we must regard this mitzvah and its brachos the same as all other mitzvos and brachos. That is why the common practice is to follow the brachos immediately with three “selections” of Torah: 1) ‘Birkas Kohanim’ (the verses of the Priestly Blessing) from the Chumash, 2) ‘Eilu Devarim’ #1 (“These are the precepts that have no prescribed measure…”) from the Mishnah and 3) ‘Eilu Devarim’ #2 (“These are the precepts whose fruits a person enjoys…”) from the Gemara (see p. 16 for text and commentary of these selections).
Question: Why should a person ever make the regular Birchos HaTorah, if he can just fulfill his obligation with ‘Ahava Rabah’ and learn afterwards?
Answer: One reason is because he may forget to learn right away! (Note: One could argue that the recitation of Krias Shema should count as learning, since it is not actually a prayer but a recitation and affirmation of our Torah! If so, a person would always be learning immediately after his bracha (‘Ahava Rabqah’!) However, that point is debatable, and therefore, it is always better to recite the regular Birchos HaTorah before davening begins.)
Question to ponder: What if, in the end, one did not make the regular brachos and also did not learn immediately after davening to validate his ‘Ahava Rabah’ - should he make the regular Birchos Hatorah now, after davening, or has he fulfilled his obligation, after-the-fact, with ‘Ahava Rabah’ and no learning?