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The famous gemara in Avodah Zara:

א"ר אין אדם לומד תורה אלא ממקום שלבו חפץ שנאמר (תהלים א, ב) כי אם בתורת ה' חפצו

Rabbi [Yehuda HaNasi] says: A person can learn Torah only from a place [in the Torah] that his heart desires, as it is stated: But his delight is in the Torah of the Lord [i.e. his delight is in the part of the Torah that he wishes to study]. (R Steinsaltz translation/commentary)

Sounds like it is phrased as an obligation to only study what one enjoys. Rava clarifies a bit further on:

אמר רבא לעולם ילמוד אדם תורה במקום שלבו חפץ שנאמר כי אם בתורת ה' חפצו

A person should always learn Torah from a place [in the Torah] that his heart desires, as it is stated: “But his delight is in the Torah of the Lord.” (R Steinsaltz translation/commentary)

I see no commentaries that view this as a halacha, nor any halachic connections to this gemara. The gemara does bring an alternative opinion, I would note.

Is there any level of obligation on this principle? If not why is it phrased as such?

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  • I think it's quite possible that both of the bolded phrases are intended hyperbolically.
    – Isaac Moses
    Jan 4 at 15:15
  • @IsaacMoses possibly. Given that Levi explicitly asked for Mishlei, and Rebbi didn't bring it, but instead brought Tehillim, demonstrates that even Rebbi didn't consider it halacha, but Levi did use it as a permission to stop learning Tehillim. Tzarich iyun
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jan 4 at 15:18
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    I think that in the first quote, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi was referring to what he perceived to be a reality, not necessarily an instruction or an injunction. That being said, if someone was serious about connecting with and retaining his learning, it would make sense to focus his learning on what his heart desires to learn, since that's what he will ultimately learn best. Jan 4 at 15:20
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    Connects to the prayer: והערב נא, where we pray that the Torah should be sweet to us. IIRC, there is a piece in Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner's "Pachad Yitzchak" (Shavuos?) where he discusses how pleasure and delight is integrally tied to the learning process. Which then makes Rava's words much more understandable. Jan 4 at 15:25
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    Not really an imperative but more a good hanhogo. I'm reminded of the famous words of the Sokatchover - "עיקר מצות לימוד התורה להיות שש ושמח ומתענג בלימודו ואז דברי נבלעין בדמו."
    – Dov
    Jan 4 at 17:01

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This question is based on the assumption that there is an obligation to learn Torah. Are there sources that any minute not learned Torah is a sin? Since you will probably learn better when it's libo chafetz, it would probably be bittul Torah באיכות if you don't do so. what is bitul torah b'eichut?

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