24 May PARASHAT BECHUKOSAI: TOILING IN TORAH
Parashat Behukotai is famous for the “blessings” and “curses,” the description of the great rewards promised to Beneh Yisrael for obeying G-d’s commands, and the punishments the Torah warns would befall the nation if they disobey.
Rashi famously comments that when the Torah promises great reward “Im Be’hukotai Telechu” – “if you follow My statutes,” this actually refers not to Misva observance, but rather “She’tiheyu Amelim Ba’Torah” – “that you toil in My Torah.” Since the verse later speaks of observing the Misvot (“Ve’et Misvotai Tishmeru”), Rashi explains, the phrase “Im Be’hukotai Telechu” must refer not to observance, but rather to the study of Torah.
Significantly, Rashi does not use the word “study,” but rather “Amelim” – “toil.” The great blessings promised in this Parasha are earned not by simply studying, but by “toiling,” by investing hard work and effort in the study of Torah.
Similarly, later, the Torah warns of the punishments that will befall Beneh Yisrael “Im Lo Tishme’u Li” (“If you do not obey Me” – 26:14), and Rashi explains this to mean that the people are not “Amelim Ba’Torah” – “toiling in Torah.” We are required to not just learn, but to “toil” in learning.
Reading books on Jewish thought and ethics, and attending classes on Mussar (religious admonition), are certainly worthwhile, and important, as they provide us with inspiration and the proper mindset with which we are to live. However, they are not enough. We have an obligation to “toil,” to immerse ourselves in the intensive study of the Talmud and its commentaries, which requires hard work. Learning only light Torah material is like going to a catered affair and eating only the hors d’oeuvres, without eating the main course. One certainly enjoys and receives nourishment from the hors d’oeuvres, but he misses the main feature. Likewise, we cannot ignore the “main course” of Torah – the “toil” of Talmud study.
We all toil and work hard in our careers or businesses. We are prepared to do what it takes to succeed, even if this means putting in long hours and doing things which are less than enjoyable. College students concerned about their grade point average invest great effort to understand everything the professors say and master the dozens upon dozens of pages of material they need to know for their exams. Our investment in Torah must not be any less than this. Torah is the word of Hashem, and every Torah thought, even it does not seem practically relevant, reflects G-d’s will and shows us the way we are supposed to live. We cannot “toil” in our other pursuits without toiling in the pursuit of Torah knowledge. If we recognize that Torah is the word of Hashem, we will ensure to invest at least as much as effort in the study of Torah as we do in other areas of life.
As we prepare for Shabuot, when we renew our acceptance of the Torah, we should recommit ourselves to the study of Torah – and also to “Amelut,” to “toiling” in Torah, and take it upon ourselves to learn with intensity and vigor, recognizing and appreciating that this is the sacred word of G-d.