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Parshas Bechukosai - To Lovingly Toil

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אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ וְאֶת־מִצְו‍ֹתַ֣י תִּשְׁמְר֔וּ וַֽעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָֽם: וְנָֽתַתִּ֥י גִשְׁמֵיכֶ֖ם בְּעִתָּ֑ם וְנָֽתְנָ֤ה הָאָ֨רֶץ֙ יְבוּלָ֔הּ וְעֵ֥ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֖ה יִתֵּ֥ן פִּרְיֽוֹ:

If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them, I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit. (Vayikra 24:3,4)

Rashi explains the meaning of the words אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ:

אם בחקתי תלכו: יכול זה קיום המצות, כשהוא אומר ואת מצותי תשמרו, הרי קיום המצות אמור, הא מה אני מקיים אם בחקתי תלכו, שתהיו עמלים בתורה:

If you follow My statutes: I might think that this refers to the fulfillment of the commandments. However, when Scripture says, “and observe My commandments,” the fulfillment of the commandments is [already] stated. So what is the meaning of “If you follow My statutes”? It means that you must toil in the study of Torah — [Torath Kohanim 26:2]

The Baal HaTurim explains that the gematria of the words, אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ, if you follow My laws, is equal to עמלים דברי תורה, toiling in the words of Torah.”

Several questions immediately jump out at us.

  1. If the passuk is referring to Ameilus B'Torah, why does it say teileichu, you will walk and not tilmedu, you will study?

  2. Rashi specifically uses the term ameilim, toil. Why not oskim, to engage, or lomdim, to learn? (This is certainly a fair question according to the Ba'al HaTurim who connects the passuk to ameilus using Gematria. Clearly the wording was very precise.)

  3. Why does the Torah specifically refer to Chukim (laws which we do not understand their reasoning) as opposed to Mishpatim? This is especially troubling considering that we are being told to toil in a Torah that is beyond comprehension? It seems to be a pointless exercise. Why not let us merely learn the halachos of the Chukim and toil in areas that we will be able to understand?

  4. The Torah tells us that the reward we receive for toiling in Torah is that the rains will fall in their time. What is the connection between the toiling in Torah and rain?

  5. Rashi (26:4) explains (based on the Gemara in Taanis 23a) that when the passuk tells us it will rain in its time it means specifically in a time when people are not out, for example on Friday night. What is the connection between toiling in Torah and rain on Shabbos evening?

  6. The Gemara in Kiddushin (39b) tells us there is no reward for the performance of Mitzvos in this world. The Mishna in Avos (1:3) tells us that we should not serve Hashem for the sake of a reward. Why then does the Torah tell us that there is a reward for our ameilus b'Torah?

  7. The Zohar (Bechukosai 113a) tells us that אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ is specifically referring to toiling in Torah she'Baal Peh. Why specifically does it refer to the Oral Torah as opposed to the Torah shebichsav?

  8. Finally, the Medrash in Vayikrah Rabbah (35:1) connects our passuk of אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ to the passuk in Tehhilim חִשַּׁ֥בְתִּי דְרָכָ֑י וָֽאָשִׁ֥יבָה רַ֜גְלַ֗י אֶל־עֵֽדֹתֶֽיךָ, I considered my ways, and I returned my feet to Your testimonies. The Medrash explains that Dovid Hamelech said, "Master of the universe! On each and every day I would consider and say, 'To place x and to the home of y am I walking,' but my feet would bring me to the synagogues and to the Houses of Study. Other than a cursory connection in that they both involve walking, what is the connection between Dovid HaMelech ending up in the Beis Medrash when he intended to go elsewhere and our passuk?

The Goal Is The Process

The passuk in Iyov (5:7) states: Adam l’amal yulad, Man was born into this world for toil. When we consider this passuk something seems off. A machine is not made to work. It is made for a particular purpose. It has a utility. The "toil" of the machine is only meaningful because in the end it produces a product. Why would Hashem create us only to toil? The passuk seems to indicate that our very reason for existence is for toil and not for an end product that we will ultimately produce.

אמר רבי אלעזר כל אדם לעמל נברא שנאמר (איוב ה, ז) כי אדם לעמל יולד איני יודע אם לעמל פה נברא אם לעמל מלאכה נברא כשהוא אומר כי אכף עליו פיהו הוי אומר לעמל פה נברא ועדיין איני יודע אם לעמל תורה אם לעמל שיחה כשהוא אומר (יהושע א, ח) לא ימוש ספר התורה הזה מפיך הוי אומר לעמל תורה נברא

Rabbi Elazar says: Every man was created for labor, as it is stated: “Man is born for toil” (Job 5:7). Based on this verse, I do not know whether he was created for toil of the mouth, speech, or whether he was created for the toil of labor. When the verse states: “For his mouth presses upon him” (Proverbs 16:26), you must say that he was created for toil of the mouth. And still I do not know with regard to the toil of the mouth whether it is for the toil of Torah or for the toil of conversation. When the verse states: “This Torah scroll shall not depart from your mouth” (Joshua 1:8), you must say that he was created for the toil of Torah.

We were created to toil in Torah. Not to produce in Torah but to toil in Torah. This makes Torah unlike any other discipline. In every other discipline the purpose of learning is to arrive at a conclusion. To obtain a particular skill set. To mastery a particular subject. Not so when it comes to Torah. The toil is the end goal. Whether we arrive at a conclusion or not we succeeded so long as we were amel b'Torah.

Still we must ask ourselves why does God desire our toil?

The Gemara in Sanhedrin (106b) tells us that above all God desires our hearts. When a person learns for the sake of understanding they may or may not require intense levels of concentration. Some people are smarter and some less so. Their need for focus is commensurate with their level of intelligence. Ameilus b'Torah is something else entirely. It is a level of devotion that reflects a love for God. It is not concentration for the sake of understanding but a thirst to draw close to God and his Torah.

As part of the bracha that Bilaam gave to Klal Yisrael he says:

לֹֽא־הִבִּ֥יט אָ֨וֶן֙ בְּיַֽעֲקֹ֔ב וְלֹֽא־רָאָ֥ה עָמָ֖ל בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהֹוָ֤ה אֱלֹהָיו֙ עִמּ֔וֹ וּתְרוּעַ֥ת מֶ֖לֶךְ בּֽוֹ:

He does not look at evil in Jacob, and has seen no perversity in Israel; the Lord, his God, is with him, and he has the King's friendship. (Bamidbar 23:21)

The Ohr HaChaim asks, what does it mean וְלֹֽא־רָאָ֥ה עָמָ֖ל בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל? Could this not be interpreted to mean that he did not see Klal Yisrael being ameil b'Torah? The Ohr HaChaim answers that Bilaam was blessing Klal Yisrael that their ameilus will be so incredible that it will not be noticeable. When we love something deeply we invest massive amounts of effort but it doesn't take a toll on us. No one is able to look at us and say they are being crushed under the burden of their devotion. Bilaam was blessing Klal Yisrael that our ameilus will be such an exceptional expression of our love that the only thing people will see on our faces is pure pleasure.

Later on in our Parsha (26:14) the passuk says

וְאִם־לֹ֥א תִשְׁמְע֖וּ לִ֑י וְלֹ֣א תַֽעֲשׂ֔וּ אֵ֥ת כָּל־הַמִּצְוֹ֖ת הָאֵֽלֶּה:

But if you do not listen to Me and do not perform all these commandments,

Rashi explains:

ואם לא תשמעו לי: להיות עמלים בתורה, לדעת מדרש חכמים. יכול לקיום המצות, כשהוא אומר ולא תעשו וגו', הרי קיום מצות אמור, הא מה אני מקיים ואם לא תשמעו לי, להיות עמלים בתורה. ומה תלמוד לומר לי, אין לי אלא זה המכיר את רבונו ומתכוין למרוד בו, וכן בנמרוד (בראשית י ט) גבור ציד לפני ה', שמכירו ומתכוין למרוד בו, וכן באנשי סדום (שם יג יג) רעים וחטאים לה' מאד, מכירים את רבונם ומתכוונים למרוד בו:

But if you do not listen to Me: to toil in [the study of] Torah in order to know the exposition of the Sages [corresponding to verse 3]. I might think that this refers to fulfilling the commandments. When Scripture says, “and you do not perform all these commandments,” the fulfillment of commandments is [already] stated. So what is the meaning of “if you do not listen to Me”? To toil in [the study of] Torah. And what is the meaning of “to Me”? This is speaking only about someone who knows his Master, and yet willfully rebels against Him (Sanh. 109a). Likewise, regarding Nimrod [whom Scripture calls], “a powerful hunter before the Lord ” (Gen. 10:9), [it means that] he recognized God but intentionally rebelled against Him; likewise, regarding the people of Sodom, [referred to as], “very evil and sinful against the Lord ” (Gen. 13:13)- [it means that] they recognized their Master but intentionally rebelled against Him. — [Torath Kohanim 26:18]

Rashi explains that when the Torah says וְאִם־לֹ֥א תִשְׁמְע֖וּ it is referring to being ameil b'Torah. Rashi then continues to say if someone is not ameil b'Torah he is considered someone who recognizes their master and intentionally rebels against him. At first glance this is exceptionally difficult to understand. Just because we aren't being ameil b'Torah we are rebelling against God? Is the Torah really telling us that someone who learned consistently but wasn't ameil b'Torah is worthy of all of the Klalos that the Torah describes? However, with the approach we have been taking, that ameilus b'Torah is a natural expression of our love for God, it is not difficult to understand at all. Being an ameil b'Torah is more than not wasting time. It is more than just showing up for a seder of learning. It is the way we approach the Torah. It is our privilege. It is our joy. Once we have come to recognize that Torah is a gift from God, an ameilus born of love is the natural response. Seen in this light, a failure to be ameil b'Torah is indeed a rebellion against God. God desires our heart. We can show up for seder and it can be a purely intellectual exercise. That is a failure in ameilus b'Torah. Learning God's Torah but ignoring the relationship is tantamount to a rebellion against God.

This is in line with the Gemara in Nedarim (81a) which discusses the consequences of faling to make a Birchas HaTorah.

ומפני מה אין מצויין ת"ח לצאת ת"ח מבניהן... רבינא אומר שאין מברכין בתורה תחלה דאמר רב יהודה אמר רב מאי דכתיב (ירמיהו ט, יא) מי האיש החכם ויבן את זאת דבר זה נשאל לחכמים ולנביאים ולא פירשוהו עד שפירשו הקב"ה בעצמו דכתיב (ירמיהו ט, יב) ויאמר ה' על עזבם את תורתי וגו' היינו לא שמעו בקולי היינו לא הלכו בה אמר רב יהודה אמר רב שאין מברכין בתורה תחלה

And for what reason is it not common for Torah scholars to give rise to Torah scholars from among their sons?... Ravina says: They are punished because they do not first recite a blessing over the Torah before commencing their studies. As Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: What is the meaning of that which is written: “Who is the wise man that may understand this, and who is he to whom the mouth of the Lord has spoken, that he may declare it, for what the land is perished and laid waste like a wilderness, so that none passes through” (Jeremiah 9:11)? This matter, the question as to why Eretz Yisrael was destroyed, was asked of the Sages, i.e., “the wise man,” and of the prophets, “he to whom the mouth of the Lord has spoken,” but they could not explain it. The matter remained a mystery until the Holy One, Blessed be He, Himself explained why Eretz Yisrael was laid waste, as it is written in the next verse: “And the Lord said: Because they have forsaken My Torah which I set before them, and have not obeyed My voice, nor walked therein” (Jeremiah 9:12). It would appear that “have not obeyed My voice” is the same as “nor walked therein.” Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: The expression “nor walked therein” means that they do not first recite a blessing over the Torah, and they are therefore liable to receive the severe punishments listed in the verse.

Of course it goes without saying that someone should make a Birchas HaTorah before they learn but to say that as a result one's children won't become Talmidei Chachamim? That Klal Yisrael should be sent into exile? These seem like very harsh punishments that don't fit the crime.

The Ran, basing himself upon Rabbeinu Yonah, explains that the Talmidei Chachamim of the time were constantly involved in their Torah learning. So much so that when they were sent into exile they could not understand why their Torah was not a shemira (protection) for them. The matter remained a mystery until Hashem Himself explained that it was a function of the fact that they did not recite a Birchas HaTorah before learning. The Ran explains that the Sages of the time did not learn Torah because it was the will of God but because of their own intellectual satisfaction. Their neglect to make a Birchas HaTorah revealed a fundamental flaw in their learning. While they were certainly diligent men who spent massive amounts of time learning, they were lacking in what we have described to be ameilus b'Torah. Their Torah was not an act of devotion but an intellectual pursuit. Such Torah can not be transmitted to the next generation and can not be a shemira for Klal Yisrael.

The Transformation of Ameilus b'Torah

Ameilus b'Torah is an incredible expression of our love for Hashem but it also has a transformational impact on the person who is ameil b'Torah.

The ameilus b'Torah in our Parsha is specifically in the area of Chukim. The Alter Rebbe explains that Chukim here does not just mean those laws that are beyond human comprehension. Chok also means to engrave. When a person toils in Torah the words of the Torah become engraved in their very being. It changes who they are.

We are all familiar with the famous story (Avos D'Rebbe Nosson 6:2) of Rav Akiva but it bears repeating. At the age of forty Rav Akiva was a shepherd and while he was an observant Jew he was totally ignorant in Torah learning. He did not even know the Aleph-Beis. One day, while tending to his sheep, he became thirsty and went to take a drink from a nearby brook. As he was drinking the water he saw drops of water falling on a stone. Upon careful examination the drops of water had bore a hole in the stone. Rav Akiva began to think to himself about the power of a drop of water and wondered to himself if his stony heart could ever be softened. Rachel, his master's daughter, approached Rav Akiva and asked him what he was starting at. Rav Akiva told her about the rock that had caught his attention and asked her if she thought there was hope for him. Rachel answered that if Rav Akiva would dedicate himself to Torah then slowly but surely, like the drips on a rock, he could become a great Talmid Chacham. The rest is history. Rav Akiva went on to become one of our greatest leaders with tens of thousands of talmidim. He would often tell them that it was a drop of water that changed his life.

One drop of water certainly will not make an impact on a rock. There needs to be thousands of drops that consistently fall in the same place. But over time, even when no change is initally apparent, a hole will begin to form. The same is true with ameilus b'Torah. Torah requires toil but that toil makes a lasting impact on a person. No wonder ameil, toil, shares the same shoresh as heelam, hidden. When a Jew is ameil b'Torah, the Torah is no longer hidden from him. When a Jew is ameil b'Torah, their hidden love for God becomes revealed.

What exactly is the impact of being an ameil b'Torah? Again, let us turn to the concept of chok as engraving. There is a fundamental difference between engraving and writing. When one writes on a sheet of paper, the ink becomes unified with the paper. When one engraves letters on a stone, the letters and the stone are one entity. In other words, there is a difference between two entities that are unified and one single entity. Writing is a union of two different elements. Engraving means that there is only one entity. Learning Torah does not necessarily have the desired impact. It is possible for our learning to be a purely intellectual pursuit. When someone is ameil b'Torah then they have engraved the Torah into their very being. No longer are they merely unified with God but they become one single entity.

In contrast the Mishna in Avos (3:11) says:

רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר הַמּוּדָעִי אוֹמֵר: הַמְחַלֵּל אֶת הַקֳּדָשִׁים, וְהַמְבַזֶּה אֶת הַמּוֹעֲדוֹת, וְהַמַּלְבִּין פְּנֵי חֲבֵרוֹ בָּרַבִּים, וְהַמֵּפֵר בְּרִיתוֹ שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִֽינוּ, וְהַמְגַלֶּה פָנִים בַּתּוֹרָה שֶׁלֹּא כַהֲלָכָה, אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁיֵּשׁ בְּיָדוֹ תּוֹרָה וּמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים, אֵין לוֹ חֵֽלֶק לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא

Rabbi Elazar of Modi'in would say: One who profanes the kodoshim ("holy things" consecrated for the service of G‑d in the HolyTemple), degrades the Festivals, humiliates his friend in public, abrogates the covenant of our father Abraham (i.e., circumcision), or who interprets the Torah contrary to its true intent---although he may possess Torah knowledge and good deeds, he has no share in the World to Come.

How can someone who is described as יֵּשׁ בְּיָדוֹ תּוֹרָה, possessing Torah (literally: in his hands), come to do such terrible deeds? Why didn't the Torah have its desired impact? Because the Torah remained in his hands. He and the Torah were always two disparate entities. While this person may have been joined with Torah, they were never one. In such a state it is possible to separate yourself from the Torah and forfeit your portion in the world to come. Only when a person is ameil b'Torah does the Torah become engraved on his heart. In such an exalted state there can be no separation because the ameil has become one with the Torah.

The Gemara in Pesachim (68b) tells us that Rav Yosef would prepare a feast on Shavuos, explaining that were it not for Shavuos and the giving of the Torah, he would just be another Yosef in the Shuk (marketplace). An average Joe so to speak. What is fascinating is that the Gemara in Nedarim (41a) tells us that Rav Yosef fell ill and forgot all of his learning. Abaye had to reteach him everything he once knew. That being the case, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that Rav Yosef would make a special seuda on Shavuos. Hadn't he forgotten all of his learning? What was he celebrating? Furthermore, how was Rav Yosef able to relearn a lifetime's worth of material from Abaye? For an ill person to suffer permanent memory loss and then to relearn it is an almost super human feat! The Gemara in Kiddushin (31a) tells us that Rav Yosef was blind. One can only imagine the challenge of being blind and becoming one of the great Amoraim to ever live. The toil he must have exerted to become as great as he was is unfathomable. But because he was an ameil b'Torah, the Torah was engraved in his very being. What his brain may have forgotten, his heart retained. Abaye was not teaching Rav Yosef from scratch. The Torah was a part of him. Abaye was merely restoring the Torah to his consciousness. And this is why Rav Yosef continued to make a special seuda on Shavuos even when he was not the Talmid Chacham he once was. Rav Yosef was celebrating the impact Torah can have on a person. Without the ameilus b'Torah he would have been like any other Yosef in the Shuk. With ameilus b'Torah he was a fundamentally enhanced person. One single entity with Hashem.

The Sefas Emes explains that we find the idea of Torah being a transformational experience in Birchas HaTorah itself. We ask HaShem, “v’haarev na HaShem, Elokeinu, es Divrei Torasecha..., please, HaShem, make the Torah sweet…. The word v’haarev is classically translated as sweeten. We are asking Hashem to make our Torah learning a sweet experience. Another way of understanding the word v’haarev is to mix. (The shoresh of v’haarev is ayin, reish, beis which spells Erev, evening. Erev is the time when darkness and light begin to mix.) Thus the Birchas HaTorah would be one where we ask Hashem to "mix" the Torah into our being. We don't want merely to learn Torah, we want to become one with the Torah. And in light of what we said above, namely that Ameilus b'Torah is a function of the love that we have for Hashem, one can see that the notion of a sweet Torah is one that will naturally mix into our essence. As the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh (Devarim 26:10) writes,

כאומרם ז׳׳ל (ברכות ה׳.) ואין טוב אלא תורה, שאם היו בני אדם מרגישין במתיקות ועריבות טוב התורה היו משתגעים ומתלהטים אחריה ולא יחשב בעיניהם מלא עולם כסף וזהב למאומה כי התורה כוללת כל הטובות שבעולם

"If people tasted the sweetness and the goodness of Torah, they would go crazy and they would wildly pursue it. They won’t consider a world filled with gold and silver as anything at all, because the Torah has in it all the goodness of the world."

Those who taste the sweetness of Torah will naturally be ameil b'Torah. And those who are ameil b'Torah will merit to taste its sweetness.

With this in mind we can explain the connection between our passuk and Dovid HaMelech ending up in the Beis Medrash despite his intention to go elsewhere. Ordinarily a person walks where he intends to go. When we lose focus, our natural instincts kick in and take us to the most comfortable place. How many times do we end up examining the contents of the freezer before we even realize where we are? Dovid HaMelech was so transformed by his ameilus b'Torah that it changed his natural autopilot settings. Even if he set out to go elsewhere he would instinctively end up in the Beis Medrash. His ameilus b'Torah changed the nature of his תלכו. The most comfortable place for Dovid HaMelech became the Beis Medrash. Such is the transformational impact of ameilus b'Torah.

Ameilus b'Torah - Beyond Human Comprehension

We are now ready to understand why it is specifically Chukim and not Mishpatim where we find the concept of ameilus b'Torah.

One of the hallmarks of Jewish philosophy is the belief that our intellect is limited. The finite mind is capable of understanding the finite world but the realm of the infinite is beyond human comprehension. As Chazal state (Derashos HaRan Derush Revii, Sefer HaIkkarim 2:30, Maharal, Derech Chaim, Avos 5:6): If I would know him I would be him. And just as we cannot know God, there are areas in the Torah that are beyond our capacity to understand. These are the Mitzvos known as Chukim. Those laws, like Parah Adumah, that even if we were to gain some insight, their inner nature would still be beyond our grasp.

So then why should we exert ourselves to be ameil specifically in these areas? Why not exert ourselves in areas where will at least be capable of mastering the subject matter?

A jew learns Torah not because of the intellectual satisfaction it brings but simply because God commanded him to do so. God desires to have a dwelling place in our world and that means that we must bring him into every facet of our lives. God gave us a mind and we are meant to use it in his service. It is certainly meaningful to be an ameil in the areas of Torah that have been given over to human comprehension but it is an act of love when we do in those areas that are beyond our understanding. Why else would we be toiling if it were not for the fact that God told us to? There is no intellectual satisfaction in the arena of Chukim. It is an act of pure and selfless devotion.

And in truth, all of Torah, even those parts of Torah that are given to human understanding are beyond human comprehension. While God was mitzamtzem His will and wisdom into the Torah, its true unrefracted essence will always be beyond our understanding. Chukim teach us that even the logical Mishpatim have a dimension that is hidden from us. Only ameilus b'Torah will connect us to the inner point of Torah that is neelam (hidden) from us.

This is in line with the Gemara in Megillah (6b) which if someone tells you that they did not put in any effort and still was able to learn Torah, do not believe him. However, if someone tells you that they toiled in Torah and understood it, that you can believe. The precise language of the Gemara is yagati umatzasi taamin. If he said I toiled and I found you can believe him. The lashon of matzasi is a strange one. When someone toils they don't "find" success? They've "earned" success! The Gemara is making it seem as if when one toils in their learning they find success unexpectedly. And in truth, that is exactly what happens. Torah is beyond human comprehension. When we toil in Torah we become aware that it is beyond our grasp. And once the transformational experience occurs, God gives it to us as a gift. We suddenly and unexpectedly find success.

This idea is also seen in the Gemara in Berachos (63b) which says:

אָמַר רֵישׁ לָקִישׁ: מִנַּיִן שֶׁאֵין דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה מִתְקַיְּימִין אֶלָּא בְּמִי שֶׁמֵּמִית עַצְמוֹ עָלֶיהָ — שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״זֹאת הַתּוֹרָה אָדָם כִּי יָמוּת בְּאֹהֶל״.

Reish Lakish said: From where is it derived that matters of Torah are only retained by one who kills himself over it? As it is stated: “This is the Torah: When one dies in a tent” (Bamidbar 19:14);

But what exactly is the chiddush of Reish Lakish? The Mishna in Avos (6:4) already taught:

"כך היא דרכה של תורה פת במלח תאכל ומים במשורה תשתה ועל הארץ תישן וחיי צער תחיה ובתורה אתה עמל אם אתה עושה כן אשריך וטוב לך וכו'".

Such is the way of Torah: Bread with salt you shall eat, water in small measure you shall drink, and upon the ground you shall sleep; live a life of deprivation and toil in Torah. If so you do, "fortunate are you, and good is to you" (Psalms 128:2): fortunate are you in this world, and it is good to you in the World To Come.

Furthermore, the very statement of Reish Lakish seems to be illogical. A genius is certainly capable of remembering large quantities of Torah even without ameilus, let alone the type of ameilus that Reish Lakish is referring to. What does Reish Lakish mean?

The chiddush of Reish Lakish is that he is teaching us what true ameilus b'Torah requires. Ameilus b'Torah is not simply hard work for no matter how hard we work the true essence of Torah would still elude our finite minds. Reish Lakish teaches that our ameilus must be of such a nature that it moves us beyond the finitude of this life. To "kill ourselves" over the Torah means that we are tapping into a place that is beyond this world. Only that type of ameilus will connect us to the true essence of God's will and wisdom as embodied in the Torah. Only then will we be given the Torah as a gift from above. This is what Reish Lakish means when he says only when one is killing themselves over the Torah will their Torah be "retained." Reish Lakish is not speaking about a person's memory. He is speaking about the impact of Torah on a person. To tap into the essence of the Torah so that it connects with our Godly essence and is contained within means that our Torah learning must move us to a place that is beyond our physical limitations.

No wonder that the Torah identifies ameilus specifically with Chukim.

Walking Towards Hashem

The Navi (Zechariah 3:7) tells us about the prophecy of Yehoshua the Kohen Gadol.

כֹּֽה־אָמַ֞ר יְהֹוָ֣ה צְבָא֗וֹת אִם־בִּדְרָכַ֚י תֵּלֵךְ֙ וְאִ֣ם אֶת־מִשְׁמַרְתִּ֣י תִשְׁמֹ֔ר וְגַם־אַתָּה֙ תָּדִ֣ין אֶת־בֵּיתִ֔י וְגַ֖ם תִּשְׁמֹ֣ר אֶת־חֲצֵרָ֑י וְנָתַתִּ֚י לְךָ֙ מַהְלְכִ֔ים בֵּ֥ין הָעֹֽמְדִ֖ים הָאֵֽלֶּה

So said the Lord of Hosts: If you walk in My ways, and if you keep My charge, you, too, shall judge My house, and you, too, shall guard My courtyards, and I will give you free access among these who stand by.

The Malachim throughout the Nevua are always described as עֹֽמְדִ֖ים, standing, whereas Hashem was telling the Kohen Gadol that he would be a מַהְלְכִ֔ים בֵּ֥ין הָעֹֽמְדִ֖ים. This does not mean that he will be walking together with the Malachim but rather that while the Malachim are standing still he will be walking around.

Malachim are called עֹֽמְדִ֖ים because they have no capacity for growth. They can stand but there is no movement. Despite the fact that a Malach has the ability to move about and fulfill their mission, the mission has no impact on them. They are standing still. In contrast a human being has the capacity to be a growth oriented person. Our lives are meant to be dynamic. While the Malachim stand still, we walk around. We are not עֹֽמְדִ֖ים but מַהְלְכִ֔ים.

For this reason the Torah describes ameilus b'Torah as אִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ, if you will walk in my statutes. Our growth is defined not merely by learning Torah but by our ameilus in Torah. Thus the Ohr HaChaim in Parshas Emor (22:12) says that our growth will be in accordance with the extent that we toil in Torah.

The Ohr HaChaim gives many explanations of our passuk, I would like to share one that I feel is particularly relevant to our approach.

The Gemara in Succah (45b) teaches that there are Tzaddikim who are described as דמסתכלי באספקלריא, they see the Shechinah through a bright partition (meaning: they have clarity in their Godly vision), and those who are דלא מסתכלי באספקלריא המאירה, they do not see the Shechinah through a bright partition (meaning: their vision is muddled). Even within the group of Tzaddikim who do see God clearly there are two groups: those that are able to enter and greet the Divine Presence whenever they wish and those who need to be granted permission before entering. The Ohr HaChaim explains that one can achieve the highest level of greeting the Divine Presence whenever they wish by being an ameil b'Torah. Since they have rectified their "walking" they merit to enter into God's presence even without permission.

In light of our understanding that ameilus b'Torah is more than just diligence but an act of devotion that creates the supreme connection, it is readily understood why the ameil b'Torah is worthy of greeting the Shechinah whenever he desires. One does not need to ask permission when entering into their own home. Ameilus b'Torah creates such a connection.

In contrast, the Gemara in Nedarim (81a - quoted above) said that the Jews were exiled because they did not make a Birchas HaTorah. We explained that their Torah was intellectual in nature and not a Torah of connection to the Divine. For this reason the Torah was not a shemira for them. Let us take a quick look at that Gemara one more time.

ויאמר ה' על עזבם את תורתי וגו' היינו לא שמעו בקולי היינו לא הלכו בה אמר רב יהודה אמר רב שאין מברכין בתורה תחלה

Chazal understood לא הלכו בה to mean that we did not make a Birchas HaTorah. Our passuk links ameilus b'Torah to walking and the Gemara connects it to making a Birchas HaTorah as well. Being an ameil b'Torah meansour learning is growth oriented, moving us closer to the Master of the Universe. Ameilus b'Torah leads us to have an intimate relationship where we are not just unified with God but we are actually one entity with Hashem. In this fashion, we are worthy of greeting him whenever we please. On the other hand, one who does not recite a Birchas HaTorah is not worthy of living in God's land. This is a Torah that can actually create distance between us and God as it fails to recognize the Godliness that inheres within.

We can now understand the Zohar (Bechukosai 113a) which tells us that אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ is specifically referring to toiling in Torah she'Baal Peh. Yes, Torah sheBaal Peh is more difficult to master and thus requires more ameilus. This can be seen from the Medrash Tanchuma (Parshas Noach 3) which teaches that Hashem held the mountain over our head at Har Sinai in order to compel us to accept the Torah sheBaal Peh. Because of the difficulty of learning the Oral Torah there was a reluctance to accept it. However, this is not the only reason why Torah sheBaal Peh is uniquely suited for ameilus b'Torah.

The Torah sheBaal Peh represents the Bris between Hashem and Klal Yisrael. The Gemara in Gittin (60b) addresses the passuk (Shemos 34:27) :

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־משֶׁ֔ה כְּתָב־לְךָ֖ אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֑לֶּה כִּ֞י עַל־פִּ֣י | הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה כָּרַ֧תִּי אִתְּךָ֛ בְּרִ֖ית וְאֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:

The Lord said to Moses: "Inscribe these words for yourself, for according to these words I have formed a covenant with you and with Israel."

Rav Yochanan explains that עַל־פִּ֣י | הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה means that because the Torah sheBaal Peh expresses our unique covenant with God we are not allowed to write down the Oral Torah.

While the Gemara does not clearly explain the rationale we can deduce the Gemara's intent from the Medrash in Shemmos Rabbah (47:1). The Medrash records a conversation between Moshe Rabbeinu and Hashem where Moshe asks Hashem if he should write down the Torah. God responds by saying that it will only partially be written down because in the future Klal Yisrael will be subservient to other nations who will then claim the Torah as their own. Therefore, God allows the Torah to be written down whereas Mishna, Talmud and Aggada were only meant to be transmitted orally so that they would remain exclusively in the domain of Klal Yisrael.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin (59a) paskens that a gentile may not learn Torah. Many of the commentators (Maharatz Chayos, Sota 35b, Netziv, Meshiv Davar 2:77) understood this prohibition as referring only to the Oral Torah. In light of the Medrash above this is certainly understandable as the Torah sheBaal Peh expresses our bris with Hashem.

Knowing that the Oral Torah symbolizes our unique connection to Hashem explains why it is the focus of our ameilus. Since ameilus means more than just mental exertion but is a reflection of our love for Hashem it follows that its primary expression ought to be in the area of Torah that symbolizes our unique connection to God.

Love Knows No Boundaries

We are now ready to understand why despite the fact that we don't serve Hashem for the reward, nor are we rewarded in this world, here the Torah promises a reward.

The Rambam in the 9th perek of Hilchos Teshuva answers that the schar Hashem promises here is not reward but rather simply the means by which to do more mitzvos.

The Ohr HaChaim explains that God isn’t promising us a reward but rather is allowing us to share in the natural consequences that are created through our ameilus b'Torah.

I would like to suggest an alternate possibility that is in line with our approach thus far.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin (105b) teaches us that Avraham Avinu arose early in the morning and saddled his donkey on his own (not waiting for his servants to do it for him) to go to the Akeida because ha'ahavah mekalkeles es hashurah, love distorts the boundaries of propriety. The Gemara in Pesachim (4a) teaches that we emulate Avraham Avinu, who woke up early and ran to do God’s will, by making a Bris Milah early in the morning (when possible). The Yerushalmi (Rosh Hashanah 1:2, see also Vayikrah Rabbah 35:3, Medrash Tanchuma, Nasso 29, which states that this even applies to Rabbinic decrees) tells us that Hashem is not like a king of flesh and blood for whom the law is not biding but rather He is the first to observe the commandments as the passuk (Vayikra 22:9) says וְשָֽׁמְר֣וּ אֶת־מִשְׁמַרְתִּ֗י וְלֹֽא־יִשְׂא֤וּ עָלָיו֙ חֵ֔טְא וּמֵ֥תוּ ב֖וֹ כִּ֣י יְחַלְּלֻ֑הוּ אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה מְקַדְּשָֽׁם, They shall keep My charge and not bear a sin by [eating] it [while unclean] and thereby die through it since they will have desecrated it. I am the Lord Who sanctifies them. (מִשְׁמַרְתִּ֗י indicates that Hashem first observes his own commandments)

We make a Bris Milah first thing in the morning because ahavah mekalkeles es hashurah, where do we see that Hashem does the same?

As per the Mishna in Avos (quoted above) we do not serve Hashem for the reward. The ultimate expression of this idea is found in the ameil b'Torah who serves Hashem not for any intellectual satisfaction or for any reward but because he is totally devoted to God. As a reflection of the love that the ameil expresses towards Hashem, Hashem responds in kind. Although there is no reward for our Mitzvos in this world, ha'ahavah mekalkeles es hashurah and Hashem goes beyond his normal rules and grants us a reward for ameilus b'Torah. Just as the ameil cannot wait to get back to his learning and devote himself to God, so too God cannot wait, so to speak, for Olam Haba to bestow his reward on the ameil.

This concept is also expressed in the reward itself which is rain in its proper times. The Gemara in Taanis (6b) teaches that Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav that rain is the husband of the earth. Just as a husband impregnates his wife, who conceives and produces children, so too, the rain impregnates the earth that becomes fertile and yields produce. (see also Pikrei D'Rebbe Eliezer 6 which compares the rain to a chassan and the land to a Kallah who is impregnated by the male waters.)

The Gemara in Brachos (59b) also makes the connection between the rain and a chassan and a Kallah.

מֵאֵימָתַי מְבָרְכִין עַל הַגְּשָׁמִים — מִשֶּׁיֵּצֵא חָתָן לִקְרַאת כַּלָּה.

From when does one recite the blessing on rain? From when the groom went out to meet the bride. (Rashi explains that the puddles of water on the ground are the Kallah and the Chassan is the rain that falls from above.)

In other words, Chazal see rain as a form of intimacy between a husband and a wife. It is a connection of heaven and earth and the resultant produce is the expression of their oneness.

The Gemara in Taanis (7a) connects the giving of the Torah and rain saying that a day of rain is as great as the day on which the Torah was given. Similarly the Gemara (Taanis 7b) states that the rains are withheld because of bittul Torah.

Putting this all together we can understand that when a Jew is ameil b'Torah he establishes a oneness with God (not a unity of two things but more like letters engraved on a stone) that connects heaven and earth. The result of that love is the rains that fall impregnating the earth which ultimately leads to a succesful harvest.

As we mentioned, Rashi explains that rains falling "in their time" means that the rain will fall on Friday night. Why Friday night? The Gemara in Kesubos (62b) teaches that Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel that the appropriate time for a Talmid Chacham to be intimate with his wife is on Friday night. It therefore follows that if God is going to send rain which is an expression of his love for us (as a reward for ameilus - the ultimate expression of our love) the most appropriate time would be on Friday night.

In a similar vein the Bnei Yissaschar, connects ameilus b'Torah and Friday night rain with a beautiful idea. The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 30:9) tells us that a heretic once asked Rav Akiva how it could rain on Shabbos given that on Shabbos it is assur to transfer from one to domain to another. Rav Akiva replied that the entire world belongs to Hashem and therefore it is all one domain to Him. Having established that the entire world is one domain, a different question arises.

The passuk in Yirmiyahu (3:8) says:

וָאֵ֗רֶא כִּ֚י עַל־כָּל־אֹדוֹת֙ אֲשֶׁ֚ר נִֽאֲפָה֙ מְשֻׁבָ֣ה יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל שִׁלַּחְתִּ֕יהָ וָאֶתֵּ֛ן אֶת־סֵ֥פֶר כְּרִֽיתֻתֶ֖יהָ אֵלֶ֑יהָ וְלֹ֨א יָֽרְאָ֜ה בֹּֽגֵדָ֚ה יְהוּדָה֙ אֲחוֹתָ֔הּ וַתֵּ֖לֶךְ וַתִּ֥זֶן גַּם־הִֽיא:

And I saw, because of all that backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I sent her away, and I gave her her bill of divorcement, yet treacherous Judah, her sister, did not fear, and she too went and played the harlot.

Our relationship with Hashem is compared to a marriage. If we commit "adultery" Hashem will chas vishalom "divorce" us. (see also Yoma 86b where Rav Yochanan explains that despite the fact that Klal Yisrael committed adultery and therefore it should be assur for the adulterous wife to return to her husband - Hashem - the power of Teshuva is so immense that it even overrides this principle in the Torah.)

But how is it possible for Hashem to divorce Klal Yisrael? Divorce requires that the husband transfer the get from his domain to the domain of the wife. If the entire world is the domain of God, how can Hashem divorce Klal Yisrael? Where would be the transfer into a different domain? Obviously, to divorce Klal Yisrael Hashem would need to completely remove Himself from our world and only then could he transfer the get into our domain. In bringing the rain of Friday night Hashem expresses that both heaven and earth continue to be one domain. In other words, because of our ameilus b'Torah, the incredible love and devotion that is expressed through our toil, we merit to live in a world that is only one domain which is why Hashem can bring the rain without violating Shabbos. In such a unified state of existence Hashem would not be able to divorce Klal Yisrael because there could no possibility for transferring the get into our domain.

Ameilus B'Torah Brings Redemption

Let us end with an exquisite vort from the Mincha Belula. Our passuk begins with the word אם, if. These two letters (Aleph and Mem) are deeply connected to the concept of redemption. In Mitzrayim we were redeemed by Moshe (Mem) and Aaron (Aleph). On Purim were we were redeemed by Mordechai (Mem) and Esther (Aleph). After our golus in Bavel we rebuilt the Beis HaMikdash with the assistance of Esther's grandson Artachshasta (Aleph) and on Chanukah the redemption occurred through Matisyahu and the Maccabees (Mem). In Hallel we say eim habanim semeicha, a joyful mother of children. The word אם is the Roshei Teivos of Eliyahu and Mashiach. When Eliyahu and Mashiach come to redeem Klal Yisrael, then the children (Klal Yisrael) are very happy. The Mincha Belula explains that this is the inner meaning of the word אם in our Parsha. When we will be ameil b'Torah and express our deep love and affection for Hashem then we will merit to be redeemed by Eliyahu (Aleph) and Mashiach (Mem). May we merit to see this redemption speedily in our days.

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