A Taste for Learning Torah

In the Midrash our Sages say, “If you walk in My statutes [Vayikra 26:3]. This bears on the text, ‘I considered my ways and I returned my feet to Your testimonies’ [Tehillim 119:59]. David said: ‘Sovereign of the universe, every day I used to plan and decide that I would go to a certain place or to a certain dwelling, but my feet always brought me to houses of prayer and houses of study.’ Hence it is written, ‘I returned my feet to Your testimonies’ ” (Vayikra Rabba 35:1).

I find it difficult to understand the connection between King David’s thoughts and the verse in this week’s parsha: “If you walk in My statutes.” Let us begin by citing the explanation of our Sages on the verse, “Man is born to toil” (Job 5:7). They begin by recalling the verse, “The toiling soul toils for him, for his mouth urges him on” (Mishlei 16:26), and note that as he works in one place, the Torah works for him in another. The Sages then cite Rabbi Elazar as teaching, “Every man is born for toil, as it is written: ‘Man is born for toil.’ I still do not know, however, if he was created for the toil of the mouth or for the toil of work. When the verse says, ‘his mouth urges him on,’ this tells me that he was created for the toil of the mouth. Yet I still do not know if he was created for the toil of Torah or for the toil of [mundane] speech. Yet when it is said, ‘This book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth’ [Joshua 1:8], this tells me that he was created for the toil of Torah” (Sanhedrin 99b).

From here we learn that the more one studies Torah, the more pleasure he finds in it. Likewise the more one immerses himself in the frivolous pursuits of this world, the more pleasure he finds in that as well. Hence we find the fulfillment of all Torah mitzvot only with one who studies Torah, for that is the fruit of his work. The Sages teach that study leads to practice (Kiddushin 40b), and there is no practice that is not preceded by study. Commenting on the phrase, “and observe My commandments” (Vayikra 26:3), Rashi writes: “You shall toil in the study of Torah in order to observe and fulfill,” meaning that because we study Torah, this work will lead to the fulfillment of all mitzvot.


We can now understand what the Midrash is saying. King David studied with tremendous intensity, to the point that he was one with Torah and mitzvot. In fact when he wanted to go elsewhere, to a place devoid of Torah, his feet automatically brought him to places of prayer and study because he had studied so much. This is not a reference to his raglav (“feet”), but to his regilut (“regularity”). The Midrash therefore begins with this verse in order to tell us that the study of Torah leads to the regular performance of mitzvot, for only one who studies regularly can perform them all.

Furthermore, the Holy One, blessed be He, rewards a person who studies Torah measure for measure, meaning a definite reward in the material realm. In this context, the Sages have said that “the Torah toils for him in another [place].” Since he has given up toiling in this fleeting world in order to devote himself to learning Torah, he succeeds in fulfilling all mitzvot, something that can only be achieved by a person with enough to live on.

The Effort to Invest in Torah

The Sages tell us that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Rabbi Elazar lived in a cave for 12 years, and when they emerged they saw a man tilling and sowing. Upon seeing this, they exclaimed: “They forsake eternal life and engage in temporary life!” Whatever they cast their eyes upon was immediately burned. On the eve of Shabbat, before sunset, they saw an elderly man holding two bundles of myrtle. “What are these for?” they asked. “They are in honor of Shabbat,” he replied. “But shouldn’t one be enough?” they asked. “One is for Zachor and the other for Shamor,” he answered. Rabbi Shimon said to his son, “See how precious the mitzvot are to Israel!” At that point, their minds were put at ease (Shabbat 33b).

This presents a difficulty. Why was Rabbi Elazar’s mind not at ease prior to seeing this elderly man? He apparently was afraid of his father’s reaction, who once said: “If a man tills in the tilling season, sows in the sowing season, reaps in the reaping season, threshes in the threshing season, winnows in the season of wind, what will become of the Torah?” (Berachot 35b). Hence when they emerged from a cave and Rabbi Elazar saw people abandoning eternal life for temporary life, he felt resentment and burned them.

However Rabbi Shimon was not of the same opinion. He knew that it is impossible for everyone to study Torah all day long. Yet by sowing and reaping, grain is produced and it becomes possible to say a blessing over it. In fact we fulfill many mitzvot in the field, such as leket, shikcha, and pe'ah (obligatory gleanings), and the mitzvot of terumot and ma'aserot only result from toiling in the field. When the Children of Israel occupy themselves with the life of this world, they accomplish many mitzvot, and they do not forget what is essential.

Rabbi Elazar said, “Father! Before, you used to say: ‘If a man tills in the tilling season, sows in the sowing season, reaps in the reaping season, threshes in the threshing season, winnows in the season of wind, what will become of the Torah?’ Why have you changed your mind, such that you’re saying that all this not only concerns tilling and sowing, but is the cause that allows us to fulfill mitzvot?” When they met the elderly man carrying bundles of myrtle in honor of Shabbat, Rabbi Shimon said to his son Rabbi Elazar: “My son, if they happily breathe in the scent of myrtle without being commanded to, and if they take two bundles instead of one in honor of Shabbat, then how much more will they fulfill all the other mitzvot that they have been commanded to observe with joy, and not out of habit! You must admit that everything they do in this world is only done in order to fulfill mitzvot, and they will certainly not forget G-d!”

When Rabbi Elazar heard this, his mind was put at ease.


Hevrat Pinto • 32, rue du Plateau 75019 Paris - FRANCE • Tél. : +331 42 08 25 40 • Fax : +331 42 06 00 33 • © 2015 • Webmaster : Hanania Soussan