Concentrate on Your Learning

Ba’alosi ha’hara lakachas luchos ha’avanim luchos ha’bris asher karas Hashem imachem va’eishev bahar arbaim yom v’arbaim laylah lechem lo achalti u’mayim lo shasisi (Devarim 9:9)

In describing how he received the Torah at Mount Sinai, Moshe Rabbeinu told the Jewish people that he ascended the mountain to receive the luchos, and he remained on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights, during which time he did not eat or drink. Rashi quotes the Gemara (Megillah 21a) that teaches that ein yeshivah ela lashon akava — Moshe was telling them that he remained on the mountain during this period. As we already know that he was on the mountain for 40 days, why was it necessary for Chazal to repeat this point by telling us that he stayed there, and what lesson are they trying to convey to us?

Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, explains that the Gemara is teaching us that when we are engaged in Torah study, it is essential that we tune out any distractions and remain completely engrossed in our learning. We may indeed have other responsibilities, but during the time that we are studying, nothing else should be on our minds. Thus, Moshe informed the Jewish people that although he was only on the mountain for 40 days, he did not view himself as a temporary resident who would soon be leaving, but learned as if he was permanently residing there without any other concerns or considerations. Rav Moshe writes that emulating Moshe by being singularly focused on our learning as if there is nothing else on our minds is the key to succeeding and growing in our Torah knowledge.

Harav Yisroel Reisman adds that this concept is not limited to Torah study, but applies to all mitzvos. In Parashas Re’eh, the Nesivos Shalom writes that a great Rabbi was once asked what is the most important mitzvah that a person should work on to improve his service of Hashem, to which he responded that the most important mitzvah is the one in which a person is presently engaged.

Chazal teach (Sukkah 26a) that ha’osek b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah — a person who is involved in doing a mitzvah is (generally) exempt from other mitzvos, for our attitude must be that whatever mitzvah we are currently focused on is the most important mitzvah in the world, and it therefore deserves our full concentration and undivided attention.

Sadly, this lesson is all too applicable to us, as we live in an era in which it seems virtually impossible to concentrate on anything for more than a few seconds due to the constant beeps and interruptions emanating from our phones and electronic devices. Those who are able to overcome the temptations and refuse to allow themselves to be distracted from their Torah study, prayer, and mitzvos are following in the footsteps of Moshe Rabbeinu and will merit tremendous success, blessing, and reward.

Q: A 12-year-old boy ate a meal just before sundown on the day before his bar mitzvah and recited Birkas Hamazon (8:10). If the food hasn’t yet been fully digested and he is still satiated after sundown, when he legally becomes a Jewish adult and Biblically required to say Birkas Hamazon, must he say it again, as his Rabbinically-mandated recitation is unable to fulfill his new Biblical obligation?

A: Harav Akiva Eiger raises this question and writes that he is unsure of the proper ruling. He adds that his son-in-law compared it to a similar question raised by the Chochmas Adam (153), who discusses a case in which a person whose close family member has died and hasn’t yet been buried eats a meal.

Prior to the burial he is exempt from reciting blessings over his food. In a case where he is still full after the burial, the Chochmas Adam questions whether he would be required to recite Birkas Hamazon at that time.

Harav Akiva Eiger, however, suggests that the two situations are not comparable, as in the other case the mourner is in fact obligated in the mitzvah of Birkas Hamazon at the time that he ate the food, but because he is currently occupied with the mitzvah of burying his family member, we exempt him from doing so. It therefore stands to reason that as soon as the dead has been buried, his obligation would return if he is still satiated.

In our case, however, at the time that the 12-year-old boy ate his meal, he wasn’t at all Biblically obligated in Birkas Hamazon, and it is quite possible that even after he becomes a bar mitzvah he remains exempt, although in practical terms, Harav Akiva Eiger doesn’t reach a clear conclusion.

Q: The Gemara in Menachos (43b) derives from 10:12 that one must recite 100 blessings daily. Is this mitzvah Biblical or Rabbinic?

A: The S’dei Chemed writes that according to the Bahag and Harav Shlomo ibn Gvirol, the daily mitzvah to recite 100 blessings is Biblical in nature, as the Gemara derives the obligation from verses. According to the Rambam and Ramban, it is Rabbinic, which he concludes is the consensus opinion.

Rabbeinu Bechaye and the Sefer Hamanhig both write that it was one of the earliest Rabbinic enactments, dating back to the times of Moshe Rabbeinu. However, it was forgotten over time until it was once again enacted by Dovid Hamelech in order to stop a plague in Yerushalayim that was killing 100 Jews a day.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his divrei Torah weekly, please email