Im B’Chukosai Telechu [V’es Mitzvosai Tishmeru…] – “You may think that this refers to fulfilling the Mitzvos, but, once it says ‘V’Es Mitzvosai Tishmeru’, fullfillment of the Mitzvos is already mentioned.”
“How then do we establish [the meaning of] ‘Im B’Chukosai Telechu?”
“To toil in Torah.” (Rashi, VaYikra 26, 3)
The great Torah scholar is not the one who has amassed the most information. Neither good study habits, nor an outstanding memory, are guarantors of success. Chazal have taught that only true Ameilus, diligent toil and effort, is the mark of a Talmid Chacham.
Why is hard work a prerequisite for Torah? Could not an outstanding mind achieve advanced levels of scholarship without single-minded devotion?
In our shiur this week, we will address this question, demonstrating that Torah study is a world unto itself.
Maharal explains why this verse is understood as reference to toil.
“For study is written in a language of traveling (Halicha), and traveling entails bother and toil.” (Gur Aryeh, ad.loc.)
Long journeys are physically draining, weakening the body and sapping its energy.
It is precisely this, a powerless body, that exemplifies the man immersed in Torah.
‘Said Rebbi Yonasan: Let man never hold himself back from the Bais HaMedrash, or from words of Torah, even at the moment of death…. Said Resh Lakish: Words of Torah can be maintained only by one who is willing to kill himself over it.” (Shabbos 83b)
One might believe that that the Torah’s place is our materialistic world, where judgments are made between right and wrong. Man’s imminent departure from this world would be a time when Torah study is unnecessary.
The Sages teach precisely the opposite: the Torah is pure intellect, untainted by the physical nature of Olam HaZeh. Torah has no home in the life of mortal man. On the contrary, it is the readiness to rise beyond the demands of his body that renders man capable of receiving G-d’s word. Hence, the moment of death is the most opportune time for Torah study.
The call of the Torah and the desires of the body are polar opposites. The Torah can be consistently maintained only by the man who pays no heed to his body’s yearnings.
Let’s put it this way: it’s possible for a man to have a portion of both this world and the next, enjoying a life of material abundance while remaining connected to the world of Torah.
But, he cannot want both.
The man of Torah cares nothing for physical pleasure, while a man of the flesh has no taste for spiritual delights.
A group of dignitaries once visited the famed Bais HaTalmud of Kelm. Throughout their noisy arrival, filled with bustling chariots and galloping horses, it is reported that not a single student turned his head to discover the cause for commotion.
Because when one is involved in a world of his own, satisfied with his lot, he is not stirred with curiosity at his neighbor’s larger portion. The life of a Torah scholar is self-contained, an inner world of solitude and silence.
He walks his own path, toiling in a field of his own.
Oftentimes, we are guilty of approaching life from the wrong perspective. Having been dulled into complacency by our culture’s preference for sin, we praise mediocrity as if it were a lofty achievement.
For example: What is our reaction to one who learns in his free time? Does he not receive our accolades?
How then should we understand this statement of Maharal: “….the creation of man is for the toil of Torah, therefore, he [Rebbi Elazar] said, ‘be diligent in the study of Torah’. If he will not diligently study Torah, it would not be said that he toils in Torah, but rather, as one who learns Torah in his free time.” (Derech Chaim, 2,19)
What could possibly be wrong with learning Torah in your spare time?
Because it says that your goal and purpose is elsewhere, devoted to occupational pursuits. Your work is primary, and the Torah has become recreational.
Man has an inborn weakness. Being tied to this world, he cannot easily relate to a Torah that is the word of Heaven. Only long hours of persistent effort provide a glimmer of hope, a taste of pure Torah.
A thin grasp on spirituality means that our connection to Torah is forever tenuous and vulnerable. Without an assiduous attempt to reach beyond our limitations, a permanent acquisition of Torah would be impossible.
Hence, it is only Ameilus that defines a Talmid Chacham. It is not the quantity of information that is the sign of Torah stature, but the qualitative commitment to learning for its own sake that is the guarantor of true success.
Imagine two different workers. One, an old-world style craftsman, say a tailor or shoemaker, who apprenticed at the foot of his father and inherited the family trade; the other, a sales clerk for a major department store.
How do each of these people relate to their positions?
Our craftsman takes great pride in his work, anxious to satisfy his customers. He lovingly toils at every stitch, insuring a quality product.
The salesman is polite when he needs to be, but try asking for a favor, returning an item against store policy. To him, shoppers are an intrusion, a burden to be tolerated, and he carefully punches his time clock at the end of each day.
Why are these people so different?
Every person takes pride in his work. This is because man truly loves himself, and he sees the products of his toil as an extension of his individual identity. The craftsman works diligently to produce a quality item, and a disappointed customer reflects badly upon his own sense of pride. The store employee however, works only for a paycheck, his investment in the product goes only as far as his job description demands.
The tailor loves his job, identifying completely with the craft to which he has devoted his life. Our sales clerk is always on the lookout for a more rewarding position, caring little for an occupation that means nothing to him.
In the same vein, we can now understand the love of a Talmid Chacham for the Torah.
The Torah is his.
Having worked and toiled through lonely nights, the Torah scholar identifies with each word, seeing his Chidushim as an extension of himself. While the inconsistent student has more valuable loves, the diligent one understands that the Torah is more precious than the rarest of stones.
Why do some students love to learn while others plot an escape from the classroom?
First, answer this: Is suffering good or bad?
Even in worldly terms, the greatest pleasures are those achieved after intensive efforts. Indeed, it is the toil itself that makes the result so satisfying. Part of the joy one feels upon reaching the pinnacle of success is the vindication of efforts that were not for naught.
Pleasures of the next world are a bit different. There, reward is not a process of cumulative cause and effect, but revelation of the essential unity of all worldly occurrence.
While in Olam HaZeh man silently endures, patiently waiting for the triumph of truth, the spirtual perspective of Olam HaBa has always judged an item’s value by its underlying meaning.
In this world, any form of distress is detrimental, concealing G-d’s merciful Hand. The man of broader vision is never fooled by appearances. He relates to the constructive purpose of hardship as its essential ingredient, and he welcomes the toil and effort that suffering demands.
Herein lies understanding of our classroom dilemma.
Is work good or bad?
One accustomed to satisfaction on demand has little patience for the hours of effort that clear understanding of a Talmudic sugya demands.
“Rabbi, just tell me the answer, please. I need a break!”
“But, wait”, his teacher responds, “I want you to understand the question!”
In contrast, those who appreciate a deeper perspective, proponents of a deliberate and careful approach to life, have the wherewithal to dive with fervor and devotion into the Talmudic sea. The twisting and turning of a journey at sea is a price one readily pays to be transported to his destination.
The budding Torah scholar keeps his goal eternally in mind. To him, it is clear that Ameilus B’Torah is not difficult at all. On the contrary, it is the source of all blessing.
He anxiously heeds the Torah’s call:
“Im B’Chukosai Telechu, V’Es Mitzvosai Tishmeru, V’Asisem Osam”
JerusalemViews, Copyright (c) 1999 by Rabbi Heshy Grossman and Project Genesis, Inc.