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Posted on May 12, 2023 (5783) By Rabbi Label Lam | Series: | Level:

If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them, (Vayikra 26:3)

If you follow My statutes: I might think that this refers to the fulfillment of the commandments. However, when Scripture says, “and observe My commandments,” the fulfillment of the commandments is [already] stated. So, what is the meaning of “If you follow My statutes”? It means that you must toil in the study of Torah. — Rashi

The way to go and the way to grow in life is to strive and toil in Torah. Rashi spells it out clearly and we can see with our own eyes how learning Torah catalyzes personal and communal growth. The operative term here is “Amelim B’Torah” to be “striving in Torah”. Unfortunately, for some people, sometimes, this expression triggers feelings of intensity and pressure which is associated with unpleasantness. Yet, Shlomo HaMelech, the wisest of all men has already told us, “All its ways are ways of pleasantness…”. Furthermore, any even slightly sensitive educator will tell us that a mind that is under pressure cannot process information. A person, a child or an adult, learns best when they are relaxed. So, how do we understand, how do we envision, and how do we practice this ideal of “Amelim B’Torah”.

The Gur Aryeh explains Rashi’s understanding of the verse, “The word for “follow” here, תֵּלֵכוּ, literally means “walk,” which is a strenuous activity.” Fascinating to note that the word that indicates “Amelos” –“Toiling” is “Telechu” – walking/going. It does not say sprinting or flying. It speaks of walking. Walking is strenuous but not intense. It is continuous but not exhausting. It can be effortful but at the same time extremely pleasant.

Avraham Avinu was told, “Lech Lecha” – to go. There was no specified destination in that mandate. Why not? It’s not about just getting from point A to point B and you have arrived. It’s about going out of your comfort zone step by step and honoring the process of growth, like a train that is always arriving but never arrives. It’s a journey to be enjoyed. So, it is with learning Torah. There is no limit, no stopping point, where one can say, “I have arrived. It’s a process of life learning. The means is as sweet as the end, which is ever illusive.

Reb Nota Schiller pithily said that there needs to be a healthy tension between the “is and the ought”. It’s about direction not perfection. A violin that has loose and limp strings cannot be used to make beautiful music. They need to be taut (taught) for the music of life to be expressed.

That very much describes this ideal of walking/going continuously. Keeping that healthy tension alive while enjoying the way.

A great person said that the main Amelos B’Torah is humbling one’s self before the Torah. The Torah does not necessarily settle in the mind of the one with a high IQ. It may be just the opposite. I have seen otherwise brilliant people flop and fail and grow frustrated in Torah study despite their high academic achievements in other areas.

The Talmud tells us that if one says,”Yagati Matzati” –“I struggled and I found” (Torah wisdom) we believe him. If he says that he didn’t struggle and found, this is not a credible story. If he says that he struggled and didn’t find it’s also not believable but if he says that he didn’t struggle and he did not find, about that we can believe him.

First a person must try with his own maximum effort and then the Torah comes as a gift. If it came about only through effort and force then we would be led to wrongly think “I did it”. In the end we realize that it is a gift of knowledge from HASHEM for our efforts. Just waiting for a gift without investing time and energy engenders laziness, and nothing special happens. The main thing is to nullify ourselves to HASHEM and His Torah, and that’s truly sweet and the ultimate in pleasantness.

I like to remind Yeshiva students, especially ones that are experiencing the extra pressure and anxiety associated with competitiveness in learning, that they are eating ice cream all day. Enjoy it! Don’t try to eat your ice cream faster and more voluminously than anyone else. Don’t look around and feel inadequate because you are eating a pint of chocolate chip and someone else is finishing a gallon of mint pistachio or fudge swirl. Relish that milk and honey one delicious spoonful at a time. That is Amelos B’Torah. Savor the flavor!