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It's a meaningful life

Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25-27 )

by Rabbi Boruch Leff

On the importance of toiling in Torah.

There's an old expression, "Time is Money." We all know as well that life is the sum total of all of our moments in time. Hence, "Time is Life." (It's not called the Time/Life magazine and corporation for nothing.) Through the transitive property, we conclude that Life is Money. This may very well be true among certain segments of American society who live solely for the fulfillment of the American dream, that is materialism.

But we know better. We understand that in order to live lives with meaning, we need to engage in daily spiritual activities. But how can we avoid getting caught up in the 'rat race' of the accumulation of wealth and greater dollar amounts in our bank accounts? The opening Rashi in this week's Parsha, Bechukotai, tells us the key:

"If you will walk with My laws and observe My commandments and keep them, then I will provide your rains in their proper times, and the land will give its produce, and the trees of the fields will bear their fruit." (Vayikra 26:3-4)

Rashi explains the phrase, "walk with My laws": "This means 'amelut baTorah', that we must toil and labor in the Torah."

Why is toiling in Torah so important?

The Parsha describes all of the many rewards and benefits that we can receive if we follow God's Instructions for Living, His Torah. The very first phrase in the first verse is the initial step necessary in fulfilling the entirety of the Torah and receiving God's blessings. And that phrase instructs us to labor in Torah.

In addition, what happens if we do not toil in Torah? Rashi (26:14, loose translation) later explains: "If you do not toil and do not study, you will not observe the laws. Then, you will regress to despise others who perform the commandments, then you will hate Torah scholars, then you will prevent others from fulfilling, then you will deny that I commanded them, until you eventually reject belief in God."

This tragic downward spiral towards heresy begins innocently with a simple lack of toiling in Torah. Mind you, a person may be very dedicated to consistent Torah study, but may not be laboring in Torah. Labor and toil require one to care deeply about Torah study and to work hard at delving into its profundity.

If I really want to make money in the stock market, I won't settle for a basic and simple understanding of trading and investing techniques. I need to know everything there is to know about stocks. All the more so concerning Torah. Superficial study may be a beautiful beginning, but it does not suffice. One must try to understand Torah at the deepest levels according to one's abilities. If one studies without plumbing the depths, one shows a certain lack of concern for what the Torah really has to say. This is why we must not merely study but we must work hard and toil. We must have 'amelut baTorah.'

Are we getting depressed? How is it possible to really toil in Torah? It's one thing if you are a Yeshiva student and can spend 10 hours a day learning Torah. But what about all of us who need to work to support ourselves? Is there a way in which we can still toil in Torah, having limited time?

There is indeed. The truth is we only ask that question because we misunderstand what 'amelut', laboring in Torah, really means.

In Pirkei Avot, it says, "Minimize your work and involve yourself in Torah" (4:12) and "Make the study of Torah primary"(1:15). What do these words of our Sages mean? We can understand these statements in reference to Yeshiva students who can afford to study all day. They most certainly can and do make Torah primary and they are not involved with work. Surely though, the Sages were also directing their words to all Jews. But how can working people accomplish the task of minimizing their work?

It's all in the attitude. It is not a matter of length of time but of focus. A Yeshiva student could be learning Torah for 10 hours a day but still might not make Torah primary. If after a long day of study he comes home and watches a baseball game with great passion and excitement; with much more enthusiasm than the way in which he studies Torah, baseball is primary to him and not Torah. He is not 'amel' and does not toil in Torah. His real profound concerns do not involve Torah.

On the other hand, if a businessman works very hard all day and comes home and studies excitedly at night for 2-3 hours, and/or he gets up at 5 am to start his day with a passionate zest for learning Torah, he is a laborer for Torah. Even if a person were so involved in his business and literally only had five minutes a day in which to study, but he yearns the entire day for those five minutes because the Torah is so important to him, he is an 'amel' and a toiler.

The issue is one of quality study time and outlook rather than the amount of time spent.

With the proper attitude, one can even be 'amel baTorah' without actually studying. We see this fact in analyzing the first verse and Rashi in the Parsha, cited above.

The phrase, "If you will walk with My laws" refers to toiling in Torah. This is talking to the entire Jewish people. Whether you are a Yeshiva student or a Torah scholar, you must toil in Torah. Therefore, toiling must not be defined by a matter of the hours spent but rather the quality of time engaged in studying.

In addition, there is no indication that the verse is specifically talking to men but it seemingly directs itself to women as well. Yet we know that women are not technically obligated to study Torah beyond what practically applies to them. (Of course women receive great reward if they choose to study Torah. A full discussion of women and Torah study is beyond the scope of this essay.) So how can they be expected to fulfill the commandment of toiling in Torah if they are not required to study? It is obvious then that what we have surmised is true. Toiling in Torah means to have the outlook that Torah is the most important aspect of your life. This includes those who study as well as those who support and encourage the ones who study.

Even if a woman is not studying herself, she toils in Torah by revolving her life around the Torah and helping those who do study Torah. This concept would apply as well to men who do not have time to study in great depth but financially support those who toil in Torah. The financially supporting businessmen are deemed to have labored in Torah also.

Toil in Torah. Get involved in serious Torah study. Don't learn superficially.

Support Torah students and scholars emotionally and financially.

By being a worker and laborer for Torah, leaving the 'rat race' behind, we live a meaningful life.


Sponsored in honor of:
G. Michael Bernstein
by Drs. Jay and Melissa Bernstein
of Cincinnati, Ohio


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