Rabbi Ephraim Meisels
Former Rosh Kollel in Warsaw
“And you shall place on the Shulchan (the Table), lechem panim (showbread) before Me always.” (Shmot 25:30)
The Mishnah (BT Menachot 99) teaches about a machloket (dispute) between the Tana’im. According to the Chachamim, tamid (“always”) means around the clock. Therefore, when the lechem hapanim is replaced, “these pull, and these place”. In other words, the new lechem is inserted as the old lechem is removed, and in this way, there is always lechem on the Shulchan. In contrast, R’ Yosi opines that the old lechem may be removed in the morning, and the new lechem does not have to be inserted until the evening. Thus, the Chachamim hold that the lechem hapanim must be on the Shulchan at all times, but according to R’ Yosi, once during the day and once during the night are sufficient.
The Gemara adds that this same din applies to Torah learning. The pasuk states:
“This Book of the Torah shall not leave your mouth, and you shall contemplate it day and night.” (Yehoshua 1:8)
The Gemara notes that lo yamush (“shall not leave”) corresponds to tamid. Hence, according to R’ Yosi, one may suffice with learning Torah once during the day and once at night in order to fulfill the requirement of lo yamush.
The Rambam (Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:8) writes:
“Every man in Israel… must establish for himself time for learning Torah in the day and at night, as it says, ‘you shall contemplate it day and night.’”
The Lechem Mishneh clarifies that the Rambam rules according to R’ Yosi, but wonders why the Rambam then rules according to the Chachamim when it comes to the lechem hapanim? (See the Lechem Mishneh’s explanation of this seeming contradiction.)
We will take a different approach.
Obviously, the comparison between the lechem hapanim and Torah learning is not absolute. After all, a person has to eat and earn a living. As the Gemara (BT Brachot 35b) states:
“‘And you shall gather in your grain’ (Devarim 11:14) – What does this come to teach us? Since it says, ‘this Book of the Torah shall not leave your mouth,’ one might think that these words are to be taken literally. [Therefore,] the Torah says, ‘and you shall gather in your grain,’ – lead with [Torah learning a life] conducted in the ways of the land.”
Since R’ Yosi holds that one need only learn once in the day and once at night, this Gemara clearly reflects the Chachamim’s view.
Thus, we can say that tamid means “as much as possible”. With respect to the lechem hapanim, “as much as possible” is “always”. However, when it comes to Torah learning, “as much as possible” means just that. (See the Ohr Sameach, who says that the precise amount depends on a person’s spiritual level.)
This explanation suggests that one who learned as much as possible during the day but was then unable to learn at night still fulfilled “this Book of the Torah shall not leave your mouth.”
Yet, the Rambam rules otherwise. He derives this din from the end of the pasuk: “you shall contemplate it day and night.” While the Gemara in Menachot focuses on the beginning of the pasuk (lo yamush), the Rambam – as we saw above – cites the end of the pasuk. In other words, the Rambam agrees with the Chachamim that tamid means “as much as possible,” but he also teaches us another din: that one must set aside time for learning during the day and at night.
1. One must learn according to one’s abilities.
2. The learning must be done in the day and at night. (The Rambam stresses that one must establish a regular time for learning – rather than learning at random times.)
3. As the pasuk says, “This Book of the Torah shall not leave your mouth, and you shall contemplate it day and night.”