“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 still better.
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.