by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"And you shall love the L-rd your G-d..." [Dev. 6:5]
The Sefer HaChinuch, which lists the commandments, and Maimonides in his own
enumeration, both approach this unusual Mitzvah in much the same way. Both
quote the Midrash, which reads (in approximate translation) as follows:
"When the Torah says 'And you shall love the L-rd your G-d', I do not know
how one is to love the Supreme Being. Thus the Torah says 'And these words,
which I command you this day, shall be upon your hearts...' [v. 6], because
from this a person will come to recognize He Who spoke and created the
world." The Sefer HaChinuch explains: By concentrating upon Torah, love for
G-d will come naturally into your heart. How? If we think about His
actions and His ways, we will come to recognize him according to our
abilities, and that recognition will afford us great enjoyment.
The scholars of the Midrash, the author of the Sefer HaChinuch, and
Maimonides - all say essentially the same thing: deep involvement in Torah
learning, if done with the proper intent and desires, brings a person to
recognition of his Creator. The Jews are a unique nation, and our efforts
to reach G-d are unique as well. While others may chant or meditate for
hours, our Sages instruct us to use our intellects to delve into Torah
study. While meditation is considered valuable, Torah study is considered
Rav Chaim Volozhner, student of Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer and founder of the
first modern Yeshiva, addresses this point while explaining the meaning of
Torah study with proper intent - "Torah for its own sake." In his Nefesh
HaChaim, Section IV Chapter 2, he explains as follows:
"The truth is clear, that study of Torah for its own sake does not mean
'Dvekus' (meaning a great spiritual connection with higher realms), as most
of the world believes today. Our sages record in the Midrash that King
David asked in front of the Holy One, Blessed be He, that a person reading
his Psalms be considered by G-d as if he were involved with the study of
intricate Torah topics. Thus it is clear that involvement in the depths of
the Talmud - with concentration and effort - is something even higher and
more beloved by G-d than the saying of Psalms!
"If one were to believe that 'for its own sake' means with 'Dvekus', and
only that is considered proper involvement with Torah, then there is no
greater feeling of 'Dvekus' and spirituality than that found in a day spent
saying Psalms. Further, who knows if the Holy One, Blessed be He, acceded
to King David's request - for we do not see in the Sages' words any
indication as to what answer the Holy One gave to his question."
Thus Reb Chaim Volozhner concludes that Torah study 'for its own sake' means
merely studying in order to understand the Torah and Talmud, on a very "down
to earth" level. Study for its own sake means to not study in order to show
off, and certainly not (Heaven forbid!) to use one's Torah knowledge in
order to put down another person - but just to study in order to try to
understand that which the Torah is telling us.
Torah spirituality is indeed very "down to earth," if Torah tells us that a
session studying detailed laws is greater in G-d's eyes than the same period
spent saying Psalms. And that is, according to Reb Chaim, precisely what it
says. Perhaps by attempting to understand the ways of G-d, and learning to
demonstrate honesty in our own lives outside the study hall, we can become
G-dly ourselves. That, of course, is the ultimate spirituality!
Text Copyright © 1995 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.