In parshat Vaetchanan, we read the verse that states, "You should teach them to your children [students, according to Rashi],1 and you should discuss them when you sit in your house and when you go on the way, and when you lay down and when you rise."2

From this verse we learn two foundational mitzvot, to recite the Shema twice a day: once in the morning and once at night; and to learn Torah.

It is strange that these two mitzvot have such different laws, almost opposite. Yet they are learned from the same verse.

Shema is required to be recited in the morning and at night and, once said, you have fulfilled your obligation. We also say blessings for the mitzvah, both in the morning and at night.

Learning Torah is a mitzvah that is not performed at specific times. We must learn all day, and its blessings are said once in the morning and it covers the entire all day.

It would make sense to be the opposite way around since the study of Torah has the divisions of night and day, as well as different levels of study. For example, if one doesn't understand the oral Torah,3 he is not allowed to recite the blessing,4 since it must be understood, and when it comes to understanding, everybody is at a different level. Also, different people learn better at different times of the day.

Day and Night

Regarding the time Moses spent on Mount Sinai, the Midrash5 asks, "How did Moses know when it was day and when it was night? At the time that G‑d taught him scripture, he knew it was day; and when He taught him Mishnah, he knew that it was night." So we see that Torah study has the division of night and day.

On the other hand, reciting the Shema is about accepting the yoke of Heaven and the oneness of G‑d, which are constant thought obligations.

Why is Shema connected to night and day, while Torah study is not?

The life of a person is divided into days, and every day is divided into morning and evening. As it says, "And it was evening and it was morning, one day."6

In this verse can be found the purpose of existence, namely to make a dwelling place for G‑d in this world,7 which is the lowest realm, and there is nothing lower. Our job is not to negate the lowly physical world, but rather to make the lowest possible place itself into a home for G‑d, that his essence could be at home even in the lowest part of existence. In other words, the "morning," the brightest and highest level of G‑d, should be able to dwell in the "evening," the darkest and lowest part of existence. This will enable the fusion of these two to become "one day"—the highest and the lowest levels united as one.

This is the idea of reciting the Shema, the unity of G‑d in all of existence. As our sages8 say that when you say the word echad" in the Shema, you should have in mind, when you say the aleph of echad, which has the numerical value of 1, that G‑d is one, when you say the chet (8), that He is unique in the seven heavens and the earth, which equals 8, and the dalet (4), hints to the four directions. In other words, G‑d is united in all of existence equally.

The Shema is saying that there are the different parts of existence, and from the highest to the lowest, G‑d is one. Shema is uniting the highest, "morning," and the lowest, "evening," as one. Shema is all about existence, the heavens and the earth and all four directions. Therefore, it is connected to morning and evening, but not as two separate entities, but rather, as the factor that unites them.

On the other hand, Torah, although it affects existence, it is above and beyond existence, and it's not affected by it, as our sages9 say, "They are words of fire, just as fire can't become impure, so too, the words of Torah can't become impure." They are not affected by the world, because Torah is above and beyond existence.

Cause and Effect

Another reason is found in the effect we have in the world through these two modes of service to G‑d, reciting Shema and studying Torah.

Reciting Shema, as mentioned above, is to make the physical world into a home for G‑d. We do this by affecting the world around us to be less coarse and nullify itself to the point that G‑d is comfortable there. This work continues in how we need to try to attain higher and higher levels. We get the world more and more refined so that greater levels of G‑dliness can be at home in the world.

Every time we reach a new level, it brings light to the darkness of the world, morning into the evening. However, every time we reach a new level, we have to evaluate the situation and realize that there is more to achieve. The current level is dark in contrast to the higher level we wish to attain. And this is the constant progression of reciting Shema, darkness to light, night to day, filling the world with ever greater levels of G‑dliness. So the mode of service of reciting Shema is all about evening and morning.

The purpose of Torah, on the other hand, is not to accomplish this unity—compared to it, the whole world is completely nullified—the idea of night and day is irrelevant.

Another difference between reciting Shema and studying Torah: Reciting Shema is nullifying the world through a person's work, and it can vary according to a person’s stature. We all have ups and downs, even a tzadik, as King Solomon said, "A tzadik can fall seven times and rise."10 Sometimes we are in a position of light, close to G‑d, and at other times we feel that it is dark and that we are distant. The mitzvah of reciting Shema is both when it's dark and when it's light, to tell us that whether it is dark or light, we have to do the work of making this place into a home for G‑d. And no matter how dark it gets, we have the ability to affect the world.

On the other hand, Torah is above the whole idea of the world, and it is not affected by the ups and downs of the person's spirit, and so the idea of night and day doesn't apply to it.

How do we rise above even when things are dark? The mitzvah of reciting Shema is also a form of learning Torah. Since Torah study is above all of existence, and it's not affected by ups and downs, we have the ability to rise above.

Now we can understand why the two mitzvot are found in the same verse, because the mitzvah of studying Torah is what lifts us above and enables us to do the work of reciting Shema, transforming the world, even when things are dark.

I see this in my own life. G‑d has placed me and my family in a very dark and bitter situation, but thanks to my wife and children, and thanks to all of you who motivate, support and are supportive of what I am trying to do, I am able to rise above, connecting to people and bringing some light into the world through studying and teaching Torah.

May we merit to unite day and night; may our darkness turn into light, and this exile come to an end with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.11