A new haggadah for Tu BiShvat
Responding to the new Reform response to intermarriage

Frequent flyer Torah miles

"Let me suggest something to you," said my Talmud teacher to me this morning. Our phone tutorial was just getting rolling, and she had just reminded me to say the blessing for Torah study. I was sitting in one of the classrooms at my synagogue, Beginner's Guide to the Steinsaltz Talmud open before me. "Here's what I do. When I'm drinking my coffee, first thing in the morning, I say la-asok b'divrei Torah. Are you a coffee drinker?"

I am, I said, looking at the periwinkle-blue cup of hazelnut blend I'd picked up on my way to shul this morning. ("La-asok b'divrei Torah" are the closing words of that Torah study blessing I mentioned, which thanks God Who sanctifies us with the commandment to immerse ourselves in words of Torah. And yeah, if you see a pun between "la-asok" and the way the English word "immerse" connotes soaking, you're not alone -- Reb Arthur does too.)

"Say the blessing while you're drinking your morning coffee. And say the priestly blessing and the thing from Mishnah Peah 1:1, while you're at it." We do this in the morning liturgy at my shul sometimes. We say the blessing for studying Torah, and then having said the bracha we need to do a little of the activity we've just sanctified, so we read the priestly blessing and we sing a passage from Talmud which lists a string of actions which accrue merit -- honoring father and mother, visiting the sick, and so on -- and which asserts that the study of Torah is equal to them all. (A fascinating assertion, which I've blogged about before.)

"This way, you've blessed all the Torah study you'll do all day, so any stray Torah thought you have is blessed," Rabbi Abrams explained. "And that way, every Torah insight is 'logged' on your behalf, and will be counted when we come around to the Days of Awe again. It's like frequent flyer miles: if you go on a flight but you don't give them your number, you get the trip but you don't get the credit! This way, you get the joy of the learning, plus the merit of having learned."

What a great image: Torah study thoughts racking up like frequent flyer miles, ready to help transport one to someplace higher when Rosh Hashanah rolls around.

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