Learning as a Preparation for the Performance of Mitzvot
On the verse, “If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments” (Leviticus 26:3), Rashi explains in the name of the Sages that “If you walk in My statutes” refers to Torah study (Torat Kohanim ibid.). In connection with this, we may say that Rashi is trying to explain the apparent redundancy in the verse, since chukim (“statutes”) are also mitzvot (“commandments”). That being the case, why does the Torah state the same thing twice? Evidently it is because two different subjects are being dealt with: (1) Torah study and (2) mitzvah observance, for in order to perfectly observe mitzvot, one must begin by investing himself completely in Torah study. Only afterwards does one come to the desired goal, namely the wholehearted observance of mitzvot in all their detail.
There remain certain points, however, that need to be clarified. With regards to statutes, why does the text speak of walking, whereas with commandments the text speaks of keeping? How does the concept of walking apply to statutes (which allude to Torah study) and that of keeping apply to commandments?
To better explain this, let us examine what the prophet Isaiah said: “Everyone who is thirsty, go to the water” (Isaiah 55:1). It is difficult to see what message he meant to convey by this, since it is clear that one who is thirsty should go and drink water! I believe that it alludes to a profound truth, namely that there are people in this world whose entire life consists of quenching their desires and earning money, and the more they have, the more they want. This is because “The lover of money will never be satisfied with money” (Ecclesiastes 5:9) and “One who has 100 desires 200” (Kohelet Rabba 1:34). This is so pronounced for some people that they even neglect their own family life for money, all while realizing that everyone must die and leave their money behind, as it is written: “For upon his death he will not take anything” (Psalms 49:18). With respect to this, the Sages have said: “At a time of a man’s passing from this world, neither silver, nor gold, nor precious stones, nor pearls accompany him, but only Torah [study] and good deeds” (Perkei Avoth 6:9). Yet despite this, these people put tremendous, mindless effort into a fleeting life by turning completely to the pursuit of money.
It is in connection to this that the prophet tells us, “Everyone who is thirsty, go to the water.” It is a message addressed to those who thirst after money and the pleasures of this fleeting life: You – go to the water! One who is thirsty is capable of drinking briny seawater, but afterwards thirst will gnaw at him and he will desire pure water even more. Similarly, one who works solely for money will thirst after it even more, yet he will never be satisfied. This is why one must put all his efforts into earning eternal life, into Torah, and if at that point he works for money within the framework of the Torah (Bava Kama 17a), he will profit both in this world and in the World to Come, for by the merit of the Torah he will arise at the resurrection of the dead. This is what constitutes “go to the water” – to the Torah – and invest the bulk of your energy and your thirst into it, for it is essential to a person’s life in this world and in the World to Come. Compare the word telechu (“you walk” – Leviticus 26:3) with lechu (“go” [literally “walk”] – Isaiah 55:1).
Nevertheless, a person should realize that when he takes it upon himself to study Torah, he must gather all his strength against the evil inclination, which begins to fight within him by saying, “You already observe many mitzvot and are an honest man, so why start studying Torah?” To this a person must reply, “Torah study is like a statute [an incomprehensible law], and even if we don’t see the reason for it, we must still study.” This effort in study will lead to the performance of mitzvot, whereas if we fail to study, our mitzvot will not be carried out to perfection and our situation will not stop deteriorating until we end up completely falling into the evil inclination’s grasp. This is why the Torah warns us that it is not enough to study Torah without putting an effort into it. Rather, we must work hard in order to elevate ourselves, and in this way we will successfully create a positive change in our lives. This is similar to telling a person, “If you work hard during a certain period, both day and night, you will become immensely rich,” for he will completely change in such a case. He will neither eat nor sleep as much, and the vast majority of his time will be spent working, for he will go well beyond his normal capabilities. That which seemed strange to him yesterday will seem normal to him today, and even more so tomorrow, as if he were following an immutable law. It is the same thing with respect to toiling in Torah study, for each day we feel different than the day before, and we elevate ourselves more and more. We walk counter to our nature and bad habits, which is what constitutes, “If you walk in My statutes,” and which consists of progressing, elevating ourselves, and investing everything into Torah. We will then receive the bliss that awaits man in the World to Come, as it is written: “How abundant is Your goodness that You have stored away for those who fear You” (Psalms 31:20). Now there is nothing “good” other than the Torah (Perkei Avoth 6:3), and thus we will merit the reward described by the Sages: “In the World to Come, the righteous will be seated with crowns on their heads, rejoicing in the brilliance of the Shechinah” (Berachot 17a). If we have practiced mitzvot with the utmost love, we will also merit the light of understanding them.
From this we see that the second part of the verse, “and keep My commandments” (which signifies the daily observance of mitzvot), only occurs once we have performed the first part, “If you walk in My statutes.” This refers to the effort we put into Torah study, for this learning is a preparation for the performance of mitzvot.
Torah study and the performance of mitzvot require great preparation, and a person must therefore be ready to fight against the evil inclination. Before the giving of the Torah, the Children of Israel prepared themselves for 46 days in order to receive it, and they elevated themselves from the 49 gates of impurity towards purity (Zohar Yitro 39a). Yet if that were the case, why did they need three extra days of preparation, in accordance with G-d’s directives: “You shall set boundaries for the people roundabout” (Exodus 19:12) and “Be ready after a three-day period” (v.15)? Had they not, at that point, already been prepared for a long time? The answer is that the evil inclination is very powerful when it comes to receiving the Torah. Thus for a person to actually receive it, he must prepare as much as possible and as best he can. This is especially true when the time or hour draws near for Torah study, since the evil inclination is even more insistent at that point, whispering doubts into a person’s ears and placing hardships before him. One must therefore constantly prepare himself.
This is why the verse states, “If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments,” for we must always be prepared, walking against our inclinations, to elevate ourselves and continue on. In what way must we do this? By diminishing our pleasures in this world, an idea alluded to by the word im (“if”). This word has a numerical value of 41, which means that we must add a little to the 40 days of the giving of the Torah (Menachot 29b) and to the Children of Israel’s preparation in the desert. This is what walking means – ceaselessly progressing “from strength to strength” (Psalms 84:8) – thus enabling us to “keep My commandments,” for we must keep, not abandon, the mitzvot.
Thus we fully understand the difference between walking and keeping, for rigorous learning is a preparation for the performance of mitzvot, bringing with it a great elevation.