All Depends on the Effort We Invest in Torah Study

On the verse, “If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments” (Leviticus 26:3), Rashi cites the Sages in explaining: “What is the meaning of, ‘If you walk in My statutes’? It means that you must toil in the study of Torah.” We must point out that for Rashi, the question here is why the Torah uses two similar terms (“walk” and “keep”), since laws known as chukim (“statues”) are also considered to be mitzvot (“commandments”) and are contained in them. Why does the Torah state this directive twice? It is apparently because two distinct issues are being addressed here: 1) The study of Torah; and 2) the observance of mitzvot. In order to truly observe mitzvot in their totality and in every detail, we must study Torah beforehand. Only then can we reach our desired goal, which is the wholehearted observance of mitzvot in every detail. We must also ask why, concerning statutes, the Torah uses the expression “walk,” whereas for commandments it uses the term “keep.” What does each term mean?

We shall attempt to explain this as best we can, according to the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Everyone who is thirsty, go to the water” (Isaiah 55:1). This is difficult to understand, for it is obvious that someone who is thirsty should drink. Therefore what does the prophet mean by this statement? I believe that he is alluding to a profound truth, which is that there are people whose entire lives revolve around quenching their desires and pursuing wealth. However the more they have, the more they want, for “the lover of money will never be satisfied with money” (Ecclesiastes 5:9), and “if he has a hundred, he wants to turn them into two hundred” (Kohelet Rabba 1:32). These people will even abandon their own families for money, despite knowing that they will eventually die and leave all their money behind, as it is written: “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 and good deeds” (Perkei Avoth 6:9). Nevertheless, such people put great effort into acquiring things in this fleeting world, completely bent on the pursuit of wealth.

It is in this regard that the prophet tells us, “Everyone who is thirsty, go to the water.” This refers to people who thirst after money and the pleasures of this world, in effect telling them: You – go to the water – just as a thirsty person drinks water. Yet if he drinks salty water, not only will his thirst not be quenched, he will be thirstier than ever! The same applies to work: If we work solely for money, we will hunger even more for it and never be satisfied. This is why we must invest our efforts into eternal life, not into this fleeting life. That is, we must invest our efforts in Torah. When we invest all our efforts in water – meaning in Torah – we will gain both this world and the World to Come, for by the merit of Torah we will arise at the resurrection of the dead. Thus “go to the water” means “go to the Torah.” This is what we must thirst after, and it is where we must place our efforts, for the Torah is man’s entire life, both in this world and in the World to Come. This is the sense of the expression, “If you walk in My statutes.” It is Hashem’s voice proclaiming: “Everyone who is thirsty, go to the water.” We must invest our efforts in the right place, in the study of Torah, not in the futile pursuits of this world, for a person’s life on earth is fleeting; the wind passes over it and it is gone (Psalms 103:15-16).

A person must realize, however, that when he takes it upon himself to study Torah, he must concentrate his forces on defeating the evil inclination, which constantly fights him and says: “You already perform numerous mitzvot and you’re an honest man! Why do you also have to study Torah?” To this a person must respond, “The study of Torah is like a law that cannot be understood [a chuk]. So even if I don’t understand it, I still must study.” By the study of Torah, a person will come to fulfilling mitzvot. Yet if he fails to study, the mitzvot he does will not be fulfilled as they should be, and he will constantly fall into the traps of the evil inclination. Hence the Torah warns us that it is not enough to study without putting an effort into it. We must elevate ourselves in Torah study, for only then will life take a turn for the good. It is like telling someone, “If you work hard for a few days, both day and night, you will become immensely rich.” In that case he will completely change. He will not eat, drink, or sleep as before, and all his time will be spent working. He will work well beyond his normal capabilities, and 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. The same applies to the effort we invest in the study of Torah. Each day we will feel different than the day before, elevating ourselves more and more. We will walk counter to our nature and destructive habits, which is what constitutes: “If you walk in My statutes.” It means elevating ourselves and investing everything into Torah. We will then receive the bliss that awaits us in the World to Come, as it is written: “How abundant is Your good that You have stored away for those who fear You” (Psalms 31:20). Now there is nothing “good” other than Torah (Perkei Avoth 6:3), and thus we will merit the reward described by the Sages: “In the future world…the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads feasting on the brightness of the Shechinah” (Berachot 17a). If we fulfill mitzvot with the greatest degree of love, we will merit the light of understanding them. From here we see that the second part of the verse, “and keep My commandments” (which means, according to the view of the Torah, the daily observance of mitzvot), only happens once we have performed the first part of the verse: “If you walk in My statutes,” a reference to the study of Torah. In fact studying Torah can be considered as a prerequisite for performing mitzvot.

As a result, the study of Torah and performance of mitzvot require great preparation against the evil inclination. Even before the giving of the Torah, we see that the Children of Israel prepared themselves for 46 days to receive it. In fact they elevated themselves from the 49 gates of impurity towards the 49 gates of purity. Yet in that case, why did they need three extra days of isolation, as Hashem said to Moses: “You shall set boundaries for the people roundabout” (Exodus 19:12), as well as: “Be ready after three days” (v.15)? After all, they had already been prepared for a long time at that point. The answer is that the evil inclination is very powerful when it comes to receiving the Torah, and so a person must prepare himself as much as possible. Thus preparation leads to the goal. This is especially true when the time comes for action, for then the evil inclination is even more powerful and whispers doubts into a person’s ears and inflicts terrible hardships upon him. Hence he must prepare himself even more. All this is contained in the words, “If you walk in My statues,” a reference to constantly preparing ourselves, walking against our nature, and progressively growing. How can we do this? By reducing to a minimum the pleasures that we seek in this world. This idea is alluded to in the word im (“if”), formed by the letters aleph and mem, and having a numerical value of 41. This means that we should add a little more to the 40 days in which the Torah was given, all while preparing ourselves as the Children of Israel did in the desert. This is what walking means – progressively growing – for then we will arrive at: “If you keep My commandments.” We must keep the mitzvot; we cannot neglect them. Therein lies the difference between “walking” and “keeping,” for the diligent study of Torah is a preparation for the performance of mitzvot, resulting in tremendous spiritual growth.


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