Why Is Gemara So Important [#3167]

Question:

  1. Why does most of a man’s time need to be spent on learning Gemara in-depth? What do we get out of it that’s so important? Why don’t we instead spend our time delving into spiritual discussions, as well as learning halachah l’maaseh (practical halachah) and also hashkafah (Torah ideology)? What do we gain from learning Shas?
  2. As a separated, unrelated question to the above, it seems that each of us is bound to stumble in prohibitions of the Torah, since we didn’t learn halachah properly. For example, we know that if one doesn’t learn hilchos Shabbos properly, he is bound to transgress on Shabbos. Doesn’t this obligate us to halt our entire daily schedule and learn halachah properly? Only after learning halachah properly would it make sense to move on to learning Torah for its own sake, with all the analytical and in-depth understanding involved. Isn’t it an obligation us to study halachah [since ignorance of the halachah causes us to stumble]? And isn’t there a rule that “Ignorance is not an excuse – you should have learned about it”?

[In relation to the above question:] If a person learns halachah for an hour every day, is he fulfilling his obligation? If he sins out of ignorance, are his sins not regarded, since he is at least in the process of trying to learn halachah and fulfill it…?

Answer:

  1. Chazal state (in Tractate Kiddushin) that a person should divide his Torah study into three different areas: Mikra (Chumash), Mishnah (Mishnayos) and Talmud (Gemara). Most of our Gedolim did not have the view that a person should spend most of his day on questions about the spiritual, or on matters of hashkafah, etc. Our Gedolim also did not say that a person should first learn halachah until he knows them well, so that he won’t stumble upon prohibitions. The truth is that the sefer Chovos HaLevovos was of the view that a person shouldn’t spend time on pilpul (analytical discussions of the Gemara) if it didn’t lead to any practical outcomes, and instead, a person should only learn halachah that has practical relevance, as well as any matters that are relevant to one’s personal avodah. However, the Chasam Sofer vehemently opposed the view of the Chovos HaLevovos, arguing that none of our Sages of the Talmud or any of the Rishonim ever had such a view. Be that as it may, it was certainly the view of the Chovos HaLevovos.

Another likewise view is stated in the sefer Igros HaRamchal, where the Ramchal wrote in a letter that a person should mainly spend his time on inner wisdom, and not on pilpul. This is also alluded to in the version of Mesillas Yesharim which we possess nowadays, and it was elaborated upon more in the more recently discovered “version” of the Mesillas Yesharim, entitled Maamar HaVikuach, under the format of a question and answer.

Most of our Gedolim, and practically all of them, were of the view that a person should mainly his spend his Torah study on learning Gemara, and Tur, Shulchan Aruch and the commentaries. This is actually a multi-colored field of study. Some are more drawn towards the practical halachah that is derived from learning Gemara, while others are more drawn towards becoming immersed in the in-depth, analytical discussions on the Gemara.

The truth is that every person has his root area in Torah learning, and therefore each person needs to learn Torah in accordance with his particular area in Torah. It is upon every person to exert himself and clarify what his main area in Torah is – as we daven for each day, “And give us our portion, in Your Torah.

  1. Since we don’t find that any of our Gedolim held that a person should first learn all of halachah and only after that to learn the rest of the Torah, it is apparent that our Gedolim were of the view that there is no such obligation. That is why they did not learn in such a manner, and certainly they did not rule that their students should learn in this way, nor did they write about such a way of learning in any of the sefarim they wrote. Therefore, it is apparent that the mitzvah of learning Torah defines for us what the order of our learning should be, and accordingly, we are able to learn about the defining parameters of each halachah.