There’s something recited every day of the year as part of the preliminary morning blessings that most people probably don’t give too much thought. I refer to the two paragraphs of Eilu Devarim, which we recite after the blessings on Torah study.
Each day, we recite the brachos of laasok b’divrei Torah (that God has commanded us to occupy ourselves with the study of Torah) and Nosein haTorah (that God is the One Who gave us the Torah). These brachos are followed by the recitation of selections from the Torah (namely, birkas kohanim), the Mishna and, ostensibly, the Gemara (the two paragraphs of Eilu Devarim). Conventional wisdom would tell us that we recite these selections of Torah study so that the blessings we recited will not have been in vain. In fact, quite the opposite is true! We have to study Torah each day. Accordingly, these paragraphs are inserted so that we may fulfill the study of Torah early in our day. The brachos are recited to enable us to do so. So really, the brachos are part of our service for the sake of the Torah study they facilitate, not the other way around.
Part I: The Mishna in Peah
The first Eliu Devarim is also the first mishna in the tractate of Peah, which is the second tractate overall, immediately following Brachos. It starts:
These things have no fixed measure: the corner (peah), first fruits (bikkurim), the appearance (rei’ayon), acts of kindness (gemilus chasadim) and Torah study (talmud Torah).
This is the part we recite each morning; we’ll come to the rest of the mishna shortly. For now, let us examine this section.
These things have no fixed measure – The Torah did not fix a minimum to fulfill these mitzvos. While the Sages may have established rabbinic minimums, one could fulfill these obligations at the Biblical level with any amount. (Nevertheless, it is considered meritorious for one to increase.)
Peah – Leviticus 19:9 commands, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not completely reap the corner of your field.” Rather, this portion is to be left for the poor. (The Sages fixed a minimum of 1/60 of one’s field, as is detailed in Peah 1:2.)
Bikkurim – One must bring his first fruits to the Temple and give them to the kohanim as per Exodus 23:19, “You shall bring the choicest first fruits of your land to the house of Hashem your God.”
Rei’ayon – When the Temple is standing, all males are obligated to appear there for each of the three Festivals. Deuteronomy 16:16 commands, “Three times a year all your males shall appear before Hashem your God in the place that He will choose, on the holiday of matzah (i.e., Passover), on the holiday of Shavuos and on the holiday of Succos. They shall not appear before God emptyhanded.” Not appearing emptyhanded means that they must bring a burnt offering in addition to their holiday peace offering. There is no minimum time necessary to stay in the Temple in order to fulfill the obligation to appear there – even a “pop in” is sufficient. Similarly, there is no minimum value prescribed for the burnt offering and peace offering. (The Sages set a minimum limit as seen in Chagigah 1:2. Beis Shammai set the pilgrimage offering at two silver ma’ah and the holiday offering at one silver ma’ah; Beis Hillel reverse these values.)
Gemilus Chasadim – Since there is a set amount that we are expected to spend on tzedaka (charity – between 10% and 20% of one’s income), most commentators take this mishna to refer to acts of kindness that one performs with his body and his time, like visiting the sick and burying the dead. Things like redeeming captives and feeding the hungry have a fixed limit: once a person has spent 20% of his income on such endeavors, he is no longer obligated in them.
Talmud Torah – Joshua 1:8 teaches, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth. Rather, you shalt meditate on it day and night.” We see that one cannot learn too much Torah. There is no limit, so there is no fixed measure.
The rest of the Mishna, which we do not recite as part of our liturgy, continues as follows:
These are the things from which a person eats the fruits in this world but whose principal remains waiting for him in the Next World, and they are: honoring one’s father and mother, acts of kindness, making peace between a person and his fellow, and the study of Torah is equal to all of them.
The reason that these four things merit such a great reward is explained by Rava in the Talmudic tractate of Kiddushin (40a):
- Regarding honoring parents, the Torah say, “So that your days may be long, and it may go well with you” (Deuteronomy 5:16), from which we see that one is rewarded for this mitzvah in this world as well as in the Next World;
- Regarding acts of kindness Proverbs 21:21 tells us, “One who pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, prosperity and honor,” all of which apply in this world rather than the Next World;
- Regarding the pursuit of peace, Psalms 34:15 says, “Seek peace and pursue it.” Rav Abahu establishes a correlation between the pursuit of peace in this verse and the pursuit of righteousness and kindness in the aforementioned verse from Proverbs, suggesting that the same reward applies to them both;
- Finally, regarding Torah study, Deuteronomy 30:20 says that “that is your life and the length of your days,” clearly referring to temporal rewards.
However, as noted, we do not recite the second half of Peah 1:1 as part of the liturgy. So what do we recite instead?
- Despite the way it may appear in many siddurim, the general halachic consensus is that v’harev na is not a separate bracha; it is a continuation of laasok b’divrei Torah – see Mishnah Brurah 47:12.
- The priestly blessings, from Numbers 6:22-27, which we will not be discussing here.