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Thought for the Day: Bracha Before Torah/Bracha After Eating

One of my favorite songs/ditties of all time is, There's a Hole in the Bucket, Dear Liza, Dear Liza.  The back story is that Liza needs some water from the river and makes that request of husband, Henry.  Henry notes, with love and respect, "There's a hole in the bucket; dear Liza, dear Liza."  Liza, not realizing that Henry has already thought this through, makes what she feels is a perfectly reasonable suggestion, "So fix it; dear Henry, dear Henry."  Henry, realizing that Liza has not followed that to its logical conclusion and wanting to share the joy of discovery with her, gently guides Liza through his logic: need straw, straw is too long, knife is too dull to cut, the whetstone is too dry, need water from the river... there's a hold in the bucket.  The song ends there and I feel that Henry has been exonerated.  Others are less charitable and mumble things like, "Good grief; another stupid man."

The gemara (Brachos 21a) makes an observation that seems to also be chasing its tail.  R' Yehuda notes that we have an explicit verse revealing to us that the Torah requires us to make a bracha after eating; we similarly have a (different) verse that reveals to use that the Torah requires us to make a bracha before learning Torah.  (Everyone agrees with R' Yehuda on the first point, but there is some discussion about the second point.)  Then R' Yochanan and says, "Hey!  I can prove even more!  There is also a Torah obligation to make a bracha before eating and also after learning Torah!"  (My exclamation points, but I am sure he was excited with this find.)  How does R' Yochanan know?  Easy: Food does not require a bracha before, but does require a bracha afterwards.  Therefore learning Torah, which does require a bracha before, all the more so must require a bracha afterwards! [ok, but you said you are going to prove that food does require a bracha beforehand...]  Moreover, Torah does not require a bracha afterwards [hang on... you just said it did!], but does require a bracha, therefore food, which does require a bracha afterwards, all the more so must require a bracha before!  [but you just proved you know that making a bracha after learning Torah is required specifically because food does not require a bracha before!]

Rashi explains that when R' Yochanan says "Food does not require a bracha before", he means, "Food, which the Torah does not explicitly say that a bracha is required before".  Similarly for the bracha after Torah.  In other words, R' Yochanan is drawing a distinction between obligations that are revealed by explicit statement and obligations that are revealed by logical inference.  Fine; except... what's the difference?  At the end of the day a Torah obligation is a Torah obligation.

I think R' Yochanan is bringing out a subtle point: there is nothing logical about a logical inference.  That is, the Torah could have just as well written a bracha before eating and a bracha after learning; R' Yochanan would have been able to make the same argument.  R' Yochanan is using a principle known as קל וחומר, or (in Latin) a foriori, or (in English) "all the more so", or (in Math) "if a > b and b > c, then a > c".  We usually think of קל וחומר as so fundamental that it (chas v'shalom) is just as fundamental as the Torah itself.  R' Yochanan demonstrates that the concept of קל וחומר is not at all fundamental; it too has Torah specified rules and application.

There is only one who is more fundamental than the Torah, and that is the One.


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