The Internet is the wrong place to learn Torah. You may be surprised to hear that from one who manages the content and technology of Torah.org, a site devoted to teaching Torah, but I’m sure you’ll agree it’s true — as I’ll explain.
There are two Torah portions to read this week, Behar and Bechukosai. The opening words of Bechukosai are, “If in My statutes you go, and My commandments you guard… (Lev. 26:3)” followed by promises of wealth, prosperity, peace, and many other blessings that will come to us if we observe His instructions.
But what are these two instructions? They seem redundant. The meaning of “guarding the Commandments” is clear — that is the fulfillment of G-d’s laws, the Mitzvos, as enumerated in the Torah. But that being the case, “to go in the statutes” is difficult to comprehend. What other service of G-d is there to do, if one is already performing His Mitzvos?
Rash”i (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki zt”l, the classic medieval commentator) asks this question. Citing the Midrash, he writes that this is a directive to “toil in the Torah.” This, too, needs explanation. Why didn’t the Midrash simply say to study the Torah, or to know the Torah? What does it even mean to toil in Torah?
I was listening to the lectures of Rabbi Reuven Leuchter, a respected educator and spiritual advisor in Israel, as well as a valued counselor to many involved in adult Jewish education. In a discussion about preparations for the upcoming holiday of Shavuos, he addressed the difference between the search for knowledge in other fields, and the nature of Torah study. The curious student has an appetite for knowledge, and seeks to acquire masses of information. Torah study, on the other hand, is a highly interactive activity. The goal is not only to think about the material in front of you, but to contrast that material with your personal thoughts on the subject. It requires you to have the courage to be wrong, to understand why you’re wrong, and allow the Divine words to teach you the truths of the Torah.
When the Yeshivos open again (may it be soon!), you will see this when you visit their study halls. Although their walls are lined with books, and they are filled with students poring over their pages, Batei Medrash could hardly be further from college libraries. They are most often vibrant, noisy rooms, with lively debates between study partners, and others reading aloud and even debating with themselves, as they “break their heads” trying to understand the ancient texts. The study is interactive, lively, and labor-intensive.
The information highway of the Internet is a great source for information, but it is built to fulfill our curiosity. One link from Google leads to an interesting article or video, which links to a related Facebook post, and to the news feed of your 2500 “friends.” Two hours later you find yourself watching an adorable video of skateboarding kittens, the original object of your search already forgotten. Admittedly, a self-disciplined student’s web research will perhaps be more successful, but it remains an entirely different form of study than serious, focused, toil in Torah.
While we seek to provide you at Torah.org with rich Torah content, to interest, inform and inspire via the Internet, we always encourage you to get a taste of true Torah study. In fact, many of the classes in our new program of live Torah classes allow you to get a taste of this experience, without even leaving home. After all, sadly, we cannot get much closer to the Beis Medrash than a phone or video conference today.
Let us seek out more opportunities to experience the true “toil in Torah” that our Parsha encourages, and may that provide us the tools and insight to live a life of much accomplishment and meaning.