Daily Study of Faith

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Matot-Masa'ei 5772 – translated by R. Blumberg]

The innovation of Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, said Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, or, more precisely, one of its innovations, is the study of faith.

Obviously, no innovation is really involved. The study of faith is part of the study of Torah - but over time it had been forgotten. There was a need to awaken it once more, to restore such study to its rightful glory. Our greatest Torah luminaries sorrowfully noted this abandonment, as, for example, in Mesillat Yesharim, Chovot Ha-Levavot, and the Sefer “Tikunei Ha-Zohar” commenting on what it called “Oraita Yevesha” [“dry” or sterile Torah].

Moreover, transcending those works, the Tanach itself records what the prophets had to say about “the guardians of the Torah who ignore G-d” (Yirmiyahu 2:8). This omission did great harm, for Torah is not just a matter of Mitzvah observance, but of keeping the Torah based on faith. G-d’s commandments are enormously broad, enormously profound. They possess a soul.

Therefore, the Torah includes two parts:

1. The study of Talmud and Jewish law, which guide us in what to do.

2. The study of faith, which guides us in what to believe, what to think, what to feel.

The expression “study of faith” is an innovation of Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, and also seems to conceal within it a contradiction: “Study” involves the intellect, whereas “faith” is life. Yet the Vilna Gaon said long ago – and this is the source of Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah’s utterances – that we have to study the book “Kuzari” because the main tenets of Jewish faith and of the Torah depend on it. Thus, we are supposed to study faith.

As far as the spiritual connection between study and faith, we find two verses, the one (Kohelet 7:12), “Wisdom preserves the life of him who possesses it”, and the second (Habakuk 2:4), “The righteous man shall live by his faith”. Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohai Kook explained that wisdom, itself, is not life. Yet if it is studied properly, it can afford one life. Faith, by contrast, is life.

What emerges from all of the preceding is that we must set aside time for daily study of faith. Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah taught the yeshiva that faith must be studied daily, for no less than an hour and for no more than two hours. Obviously, however, even someone who is not a yeshiva student needs that same spiritual nourishment, for that is what nourishes the soul. More precisely, study of the Talmud and of Jewish law nourishes the soul as well, but study of faith is the life’s breath of the soul.

And how fine and how natural it is that this initiative emerged from Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, the central, universal yeshiva, the mother of all our religious Zionist yeshivot. As Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah wrote, “To help our souls… by setting aside time to study all those precious works on morality and reverence for G-d, from both the earlier and later periods, those involving the revealed knowledge and those involving the hidden knowledge, one work after another, and striving to ascend along the pathway of philosophy and analysis…” (Igrot Ha-Re’eiyah, Igeret 95).