The Need for Effort in Torah Study
Why does the verse that states, “If you walk in My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them” (Leviticus 26:3) seem to be redundant? The decrees are themselves commandments that we are held to observe and practice! Consequently, why does the Torah state, “walk in My decrees and observe My commandments,” as if they consisted of two different things? To this question Rashi answers as follows: “‘If you walk in My decrees.’ This means, ‘If you put effort into studying My Torah.’”
What we have here, therefore, is a law. It is a commandment that differs from commandments that involve practice, for to arrive at practicing the mitzvot (that is, to observe them properly), one must first put in the effort to study Torah without cease or limit. We see here, therefore, two important yet distinct principles:
1. The obligation to put great effort into Torah study.
2. The obligation to observe the commandments, which brings a man to perfection.
Of course, the performance of the commandments can only be perfected if a man studies Torah and understands these commandments and their value.
For this reason, the verse begins by commanding a man to put effort into the study of Torah by telling him, “If you walk in My decrees.” Only afterwards does the verse state, “observe My commandments,” inviting a man to graduate to a second level (that is, the performance of the mitzvot) by saying, “and you will perform My commandments.”
In addition, we note that the verse uses the expression, “If you walk in My decrees.” The verse does not say, “If you observe My decrees,” as it says further on: “observe My commandments.”
Why does the verse use an expression that signifies walking, advancing?
I reflected upon the words of the prophet who states, “Everyone who is thirsty, go to the water” (Isaiah 55:1), and I found myself in somewhat of a bind concerning this verse. In effect, what does the prophet teach us that is new? Is it not obvious that the one who is in dire need of water should go and drink? Will he not run to a source of water? Will he put his life in danger by waiting to drink?
It seems to me that the prophet alludes to those people who occupy themselves solely with earning money and amassing wealth. Having enough for today, these people feel that they need twice as much for tomorrow. A man with this mindset will seek to increase his wealth to the point that he abandons family life, and even personal life, solely for material gain. And yet he does this knowing full well that, in the end, he will die and leave all his wealth here in this world.
This man demonstrates a great ability to toil for futility and momentary gain. Water, as we know, alludes to the Torah, and this is the reason why the prophet said, “go to the water”. The prophet is saying: “Woe to all those thirsting after money. Stop right now and put your efforts into the study of Torah, which is your life, your true future.”
We see here, therefore, something that is extremely important, namely that to study Torah, one must put great effort into doing so because the evil inclination is powerful. Hence when a man decides to go and study Torah, the evil inclination is always ready to tell him: “But you already observe the mitzvot! Why do you need to go and study?”
This is why one must answer him that the study of Torah is a Chuk Veloya’avor (a decree that one cannot transgress, and for which no reason has been given). One must devote oneself to the study of Torah with all one’s strength, for if a man doesn’t devote himself to the study of Torah as he devotes himself to work – to a material undertaking for which he will earn much – he will have much to lose by it.
What will he lose if he neglects the study of Torah?
He begins, first of all, by performing the Divine commandments in an erroneous manner, and from one error to the next he will he end up succumbing to the evil inclination.
This is why the Torah insists, and tells us, that study alone will not allow a man to escape the evil inclination, but rather that one must constantly improve one’s ways by daily progress. Concerning the study of Torah, this must be done with effort, not done simply so as to be clear of one’s obligation to study. Imagine that someone were to tell a man that in a few days he would become a millionaire if he worked day and night to perform a certain task. It is obvious that the prospect of earning so much money would give that man the ability to work without cease, removing fatigue and hunger from him both day and night, and thereby allowing him to accomplish an enormous amount of work.
Certainly, this man would find the strength to work beyond his normal abilities. The work that he is not used to doing in a week, he would do in a day, and he would be prepared to work even more for a few days. And all this for money! Yet it is like this that a man should study Torah. He should conduct his life as if it completely depended on the effort that he put into the study of Torah. We must fight against our own nature with all our might and apply ourselves to Torah study. It is not enough to observe the commandments. One must study Torah with great effort in order to merit understanding the mitzvot; we will thereby perform them with love and without reservation. From all that we have just said, we therefore see that the second level of obedience to G-d, (the level of mitzvot performance) is not possible except through the knowledge of Torah and the words of our Sages. This is because it is only after having graduated from the first level of obedience (that is, the fervent study of Torah) that one is prepared to accomplish the mitzvot in the proper way.
When Hashem was preparing to give the Torah to the Children of Israel, He gave them three extra days in order to prepare themselves to receive it. One must understand what this means. Here the Children of Israel found themselves ready to receive the Torah in front of Mount Sinai. This was an event for which they had come from Egypt, and for which they had prepared themselves, day by day, for the last 50 days, until finally they were ready to receive it. Did they therefore need to prepare themselves for three more days before the Torah could be given to them? Were all the preparations that they underwent not sufficient for them to receive the Torah? Did they need still further preparations?
Obviously, however, when it comes to Torah study, the evil inclination is so powerful that all the preparations that a man does in lieu of this study can always be defeated. These extra three days that G-d ordered at the foot of Mount Sinai allude to the fact that everything that one can add as preparation for the moment of Torah study and mitzvot performance is always counted as gain. Also, the blessing (the gain) is greater for the man who foresees all the ways necessary to resist the evil inclination. Between the moment that a man decides to accomplish a mitzvah, or to study Torah, and the moment when he puts this decision into practice, the evil inclination is particularly strong, as it does everything it can to make a man go back on his decision. This is why the Torah alludes to the fact that when one undertakes to study Torah, or to perform a mitzvah, one should not hesitate to perform all the necessary preparations. For example, one should reduce the amount of pleasures that one partakes of in this world and in its vanities, for otherwise it is certain that the study of Torah will be difficult – perhaps even painful – because it will bring a person to tear himself away form the material world in order to bring him closer to the spiritual one.