A lovely and traditional way to begin a study session is the blessing for the study of Torah:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה
אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָנוּ בְּמִצְותָיו
.וְצִוָּנוּ לַעֲסק בְּדִבְרֵי-תורָה
Ba-ruch a-tah A-doh-nai
Eh-lo-hei-nu Me-lech ha-O-lam
Ah-sher kid-e-shah-nu b’mitz-voh-tav
Vi-tsi-va-nu la’a-sok b’div-ray To-rah.
Blessed are You, Eternal One,
Our God, Ruler of Time-and-Space:
Who sanctifies us with commandments
And commands us to engage in the words of Torah.
It is perfectly OK to say the blessing in English. Some of you may know slightly different English words. That’s all right. Many of the Hebrew words in the blessing have multiple choices for English translation. I used the ones that I like; please feel free to do the same for yourself!
“Torah” in this case refers to all sacred texts, whether they are from Tanach or rabbinic texts. It might apply to a modern text that we are reading with the intention of Torah study: for instance, a modern commentary or even a work of fiction or poetry.
I am always a little amused by the word “la’a-sok.” The first time I heard it, it sounded like the English word “soak” and I pictured the study group, sitting in a hot tub, soaking in the words of Torah. The more Torah I study, the more apt that image seems: we marinate in the words of Torah.
“[God] sanctifies us with commandments” – what do those words mean to you? How can a person be made holy by a commandment? How do they apply, in the case of this particular blessing?