Learning & Squirrels by Michael Winner/5/25/2022 A few months ago, a good friend of mine (currently living in England) and I were speaking about something or another of deep importance. And somehow, the subject of squirrels came up (don't ask). I mentioned that I missed seeing squirrels, since we don't have any here. Instead, we have stray cats. And I, along with every non-Russian, happen to hate cats. Yesterday, he was nice enough to send me a video of some squirrels he saw, because … why not? That's what friends do! So, I called out to the family, "Who wants to see squirrels???" and immediately, all the children came rushing to me, since they've only heard of such legendary beings from my wife and me and have yet to actually see them. They thought that they were "soooooooooo cute." I happen to agree. Squirrels rock! "If you walk in My statutes (chukim) and keep My commandments" (Vayikra 26: 3). Rashi quotes a Midrash which asks, "What are these chukim? You cannot say that Hashem is speaking about keeping the mitzvos, because the next words ("keep My commandments") clearly refers to keeping mitzvos. Rather, it must refer to the mitzvah of being "osek b'Torah," delving into the laws of the Torah to understand them well and to use that understanding to do the mitzvos properly. The word “chok” represents an idea or law that needs to be learned deeply in order to understand. In fact, that is why Ashkanazim say in the blessings of the Torah every morning, "… Who commanded us to be engrossed in the words of Torah (l'asok b'dvrei Torah)." This pasuk and this Midrash are the basis for the language chosen, rather than "… Who commanded us regarding the words of Torah," which Sfardim use. Furthermore, the Shulchan Oruch states that if one says the brachos on the Torah in the morning and doesn't learn until later in the day, he does not have to repeat the brachos again. This Shulchan Oruch is based on an argument that goes back many centuries, which we will not go into here. However, Tosfos and Rabbeinu Yona (Berachos 11a) ask why is this so? With other mitzvos, if one has a break between the bracha and the mitzvah, he has to repeat the bracha. For example, if I say a bracha on taking a lulav and then ADHD hits me and I see a bird, or perhaps a squirrel, and start running after it, when I get back to my senses, I need to say the bracha again, followed by the mitzvah. So, why is this case different? The answer they give is that the mitzvah of learning Torah is obligated on a man 24/7. It is a continuous mitzvah, unlike a lulav, which once you do, you are done with the mitzvah. Therefore, even if one makes a bracha on learning Torah first thing in the morning and does not actually learn until later in the day, he does not need to make a new bracha. From here we learn the importance of not just learning Torah, but learning Torah in depth, to properly understand it and use it. My Rosh Yeshiva used to say that nowadays, with so much technology, we have very little excuse not to use our time properly. Whether driving to work, riding the train or bus, washing the dishes, etc., we all have access to devices, whether smartphones or mp3 players, that allow us to listen to divrei Torah. A person who is in a location where he cannot learn with anybody, can always find "somebody," either live or via recording, to learn even Gemara with. What other time in Jewish history was it possible for a working man to go through the entire Talmud all "by himself"? On one hand, there is an abundance of impurity running free in the world. Yet, Hashem was kind enough to give us an abundance of opportunities to use our time wisely, no matter where a person is holding in life or even where they are living. With that, I leave you all with a wonderful Shabbos!