By Rabbi Heshy Grossman
Here in Jerusalem, thousands of young men devote the best years of their
life to the single-minded pursuit of Torah study. Ignoring the varied
pastimes and interests that occupy much of modern society, Torah learning
is their reason for living.
This dedication to full-time Torah study is little understood by the
general populace, and even many religious Jews cannot fathom why learning
should continue forever. How much, after all, can one learn? Haven't they
read those books already?
In our shiur this week, we will explain why Torah study, indeed, means life
in another dimension.
"Im B'Chokosai Telechu" - One might assume that this refers to Mitzva
performance, yet, when the verse mentions subsequently 'V'Es Mitzvosai
Tishmeru....Mitzva performance is clearly stated. How then are we to
understand 'Im BeChukosai Telechu? To toil in Torah." (Rashi, VaYikra 26:3)
The Parsha attributes an abundance of blessing to the merit of Ameilus -
the toil and effort of the Torah scholar. At the opposite extreme, the
harsh rebuke and warning which closes the book of VaYikra is the direct
result of complacency and insufficient effort, and the man who fails to
devote himself to Torah study brings tragedy upon himself and his family.
Why is Ameilus the sole determinant of reward and punishment? Granted that
without work and exertion man would never amass the skills and knowledge to
excel in Torah study, but a similar argument can be made for many other
worthy traits, such as diligence, concentration, or memory recall.
Apparently, the efforts one expends in pursuit of Torah is not a means to
an end, but rather, this exertion is a goal unto itself.
Let us explain.
Torah is generally perceived as a body of information, repository of Divine
wisdom and instructions for life. Torah study is the method by which man
assimilates this vast material, acquiring the tools to live his life in
accord with the Divine will.
It is this notion that renders full-time Torah study unfathomable to the
common man. If the purpose of Torah study is the ability to lead an
observant life, one can get by with a modicum of basic knowledge, covering
up his ignorance by mimicking the actions of his neighbors.
But, this very premise is mistaken. The observant life is a function of
Torah study, not its goal. Observance of Mitzvos cannot be divorced from
the Torah that defines and regulates their performance, and the physical
actions are merely external expressions of an inner consciousness.
The common man sees the physical world as his only reality, and spiritual
conceptions of holiness are esoteric ideas that can be understood only in
the world-to-come. Hence, to him, the highest value in existence is the
practice of good deeds, adhering to G-d's rules and regulations.
In truth, the true substance of existence lies elsewhere, in a dimension
above our own. The Torah we study creates a bridge to a higher domain, and
through it man attaches himself to the world of the spirit, giving inner
meaning to his physical life.
Perhaps, we can express this idea thus: The Torah is an alternative
reality. More than a guide of rules and a compass for moral living, the
Torah is the material embodiment of holiness, and the foundation of the
physical world. The Torah is solidly substantive, not merely a system of
beliefs; it harbors an independent existence, not merely defining it.
Man must strive to grasp a hold of this exalted pedestal, elevating himself
from the physical and mundane, and cleave to a subtle and sublime reality
that towers above our own. It is only the toil and effort of diligence and
contemplation, and the dedication of Ameilus BaTorah, that provides the
opportunity to rise above the humdrum affairs of daily life. Without this,
even the observant Jew is mired in the drudgery of a world that swallows
him alive, anchored to the physical demands of material life.
"....this question was asked before them: What is greater: Study or deed?
....they all answered: Study is greater, for study leads to deed."
If good deeds are the goal, then why should study be considered the greater
of the two?
The reason we learn Torah is not only to acquire needed information, and
not merely to recognize right from wrong, but to connect our mids and
thought to the Divine, merging our consciousness with His word. In this
manner, the Torah we study is all-encompassing, enveloping the totality of
man with an aura of sanctity. For this reason, learning is greater than
deed. True Torah study demands and begets good deeds, for the actions of
man are a natural by-product of his inner self. The deeds of the Torah
scholar are not independent measures of character, but rather, expressions
of the Torah that lies within.
Let us understand this: It is obvious to all, that to serve as a Dayan in
monetary affairs, one must be proficient in the laws of Choshen Mishpat,
and fluent in all Seder Nezikin. But, to be an observant Jew, we believe
that bare familiarity with common practice will suffice, and when in doubt,
one can always imitate his neighbor.
This is a mistake.
Much as we strive to fathom Mesechet Baba Kamma and decipher Baba Metzia,
discovering their hidden truths, similarly, all of Seder Moed and Zeraim
likewise wait to be studied, for the daily rituals of a religious lifestyle
are arrived at only after swimming the Talmudic sea.
In our familiarity with the basic observances, we are prone to forget that
each and every Mitzva is a function of the Torah we study. Because we have
severed the worlds of thought and deed, we have lost touch with the
unifying nature of Torah, a force that harmonizes all existence.
It is precisely this problem that Ameilus BaTorah hopes to counter.
"...One who studies in order to practice, is given the means to study and
to teach, to observe and to practice." (Avos 4:6)
Proper study results in good practice, and "Lilmod Al Menas L'Assos"
reflects the ideal of an immersion in Torah that reverberates through every
fiber of one's being, in thought and deed, in body, mind, and soul.
While the inconsistent student learns when he has the chance, and
concentrates when he has no distractions, the man who toils in Torah finds
his body drawn to the call of G-d's word, humbly obedient to the rule of
" 'I considered my path, and my legs returned me to the guarding of Your
law' (Tehillim 119:59). Said David: Master of the World: each day I would
consider going to a particular place, or a certain house. I would go, yet,
my legs would bring me to the synagogues and Batei Medrashos." (VaYikra
Unwittingly, the legs of David HaMelech carry him to where he needs to be.
Though his thoughts may be elsewhere, his head has long ago tamed every
sinew and limb, and his legs take him to where they are accustomed.
This is the goal of Torah study, and the purpose of existence. It is study
that actualizes the Torah and brings it to life.
This is Kabbalas HaTorah, and as a result, man's physical self expresses to
all the world the binding nature of His absolute truth.
JerusalemViews, Copyright (c) 1999 by Rabbi Heshy Grossman and Project