Friday, May 7, 2010

Bechukosai, Vayikra 26:3. Bechukosai Teileichu; Ameilus in Torah: Hard Work and Perseverence

First of all: the dvar Torah is late this week because beside the usual crises and

It's strange, how life works.  Just as I had written that line, wondering whether the various issues that arose this week could be called crises or just the usual ups and downs, my mother shetichyeh slipped and fell a few feet away from me.  Baruch Hashem there was no damage, but it did remind me of the difference between crisis and minor disturbance.

So the real reason I'm writing late is that my wife and I took a few days off and drove to southern Kentucky, where we enjoyed the ice cream at Graeter's in Louisville, toured Mammoth Cave, visited an Australia-oriented petting farm where you mingle with kangaroos, emus, parakeets and lorikeets, and, following "The Bourbon Trail," toured the Jim Beam Distillery. 
Now, when I say the first two birchos hashachar, I have a lot more kavana.

And now, lehavdil bein yom uvein lailah, to the parsha.

Literally translated, אִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ is a directive to walk in the path of Torah.  Rashi (from Toras Kohanim,) however, says it means shetih’yu ameilim batorah, that you will work hard and expend all your energy in learning Torah. 

I want to know where in this passuk do we see that "teileichu" means "ameilus". Rashi does demonstrate that the passuk is talking about learning Torah and not only doing the mitzvos.  But that's all that Rashi proves; from Rashi’s proofs you only see that teileichu means limud hatorah, but you don’t see ameilus. Unless this is why the word “chukosai’ is used— that you should see the dinim as chukim, which are almost beyond human understanding, and diligently work to understand them.

Rabbi Dovid Zupnick zatzal told me that the Chofetz Chaim says that the proof is the fact that we are talking about chukim: the definition of ameilus is work that does not produce tangible results, and since chukim are incomprehensible, all the work you do to understand it will produce no real change in your understanding, so it is called ameilus.  I do agree that when I learn Taharos, it feels like ameilus.

In any case, the concept that we are obligated to learn Torah with hard work is found in several places.  There is the Rashi in Shabbos 63a. The Gemora brings the passuk in Mishlei “Orech Yamim biminah, bismola osher vekavod,” and says that for the "mayminim" in Torah, they have arichas yamim plus osher vekavod; "masmilim" only have osher vekavod. Rashi says two pshatim in masmilim; either that they weren’t “yegei’im bo kol tzarkan,” or they learned shelo lishma. So you see that Rashi learns that ikkar limud hatorah has to be with yegiah. And, in Shabbos 88b, the Gemora says that for maiminim Torah is a sam chaim, a life elixir, but for masmilim it is a sam hama'ves, poison, and Rashi says that ma’aminim means “asukim bechol kocham utrudim lada’as soda ke’adom hamishtameish be’yad yemino she’hi ikkar," working with all their strength and obssessed with knowing its secrets, like one who uses his right hand because it is dominant.  But I still don’t see it in the words of this passuk.

Some learn that ‘chukosai’ refers to the shlosh esrei middos shehatorah nidreshes bohem, so teileichu means that you will use the rules of drasha to understand and expand on the Torah Shebichsav. This certainly requires yegiah, because you are developing meaning where it is not obvious, and it needs consistency with kol hatorah kullah.

This is what I once said:
When Hashem told Avraham the mitzva of mila, He said “Ani Keil Shakai, Hishaleich lefanai ve’heyei samim.” Why was this sheim Hashem used here? The mefarshim (Arvei Nachal, Maharal) say that Hashem created the world incrementally, with the briah stepping from lower to higher quality as the briah progressed, but Hashem stopped the briah short of perfection, so that mankind would have the opportunity and duty to bring it to perfection, thus emulating Hashem’s work. The mitzvah of milah is the archetype of this concept, the concept that we are commanded to emulate the Ribbono Shel Olom in his brias ha’olam, which progressed from lower to higher quality.

We see that when Hashem commands us to bring ourselves and the briah to perfection, the Torah uses the term ‘his’haleich lefanai.” This shows that "halicha" does not mean a stroll to mediocrity, but instead it means ameilus to reach perfection. Only concerted and diligent effort can bring perfection. This is the raya that “bechukosai teileichu” means ameilus.  It means that we must strive to bring ourselves to perfection through limud haTorah.

I recently heard a teretz from the Alter of Kelm's son (see similar in Nesivos Shalom).  He says that anyone can learn Torah like any other scholarly pursuit, but such learning is superficial, it is like a scarf he puts on and can easily take off.  Only a person who dedicates himself to learning, who sacrifices his desires because he wants to focus on Torah, only such a person is permeated with Torah, it becomes a part of what he is.  The way you can tell the difference is how they act when they're outside of the Beis Medrash.  The ameil batorah will still look and act like a Ben Torah, while the other one will quickly lose the tzurah and become indistinguishable from every bum in the street.  How a person acts when he walks around is a proof of whether he is dipping his toes in Torah or pickling himself in it.  So when the Torah says bechukosai teileichu, that means that your halicha should illustrate the fact that your learn Torah; people should be able to see from the way you walk around that you are a ben Torah.  Learn Torah in a way that your teileichu is the teileichu of a Ben Torah.  That only comes with Ameilus.

This reminded me of something my father zatzal said.  My father learned in Slabodka.  He told me that the Alter said that he couldn't predict what would come of the talmidim in the yeshiva, whether they would be ye'rei'ei shamayim or not.  But one thing he knew for a fact: nobody that touched the door-knob of the beis medrash of Slabodka would ever have hana'a from olam hazeh. (Kein hano'eh fuhn oilem hazeh veht ehr shein nit hobben.)

His point was that for a person who has immersed himself in Torah, which every talmid of Slabodka did, worldly pleasures would be crass and low and unworthy of attention.  You might enjoy things, but you would never become a hedonist.  You might not be frum, you might abandon the Torah, but your limud hatorah would make an indelible mark; you could never sink to vulgar obsession with physical pleasure.

And another answer, that I just heard from a very nice man who was here collecting money.  He is Rabbi Yisrael David Stern from Bnei Brak.  He is a talmid chacham and has a yeshiva, and while he was in town, he was asked to speak at several yeshivos and kollelim.  This is what he said:

The Rambam in the last Halacha in Hilchos Sechirus, 13 Sechirus 7, says the following:
כדרך שמוזהר בעה"ב שלא יגזול שכר עני ולא יעכבנו כך העני מוזהר שלא יגזול מלאכת בעה"ב ויבטל מעט בכאן ומעט בכאן ומוציא כל היום במרמה אלא חייב לדקדק על עצמו בזמן שהרי הקפידו על ברכה רביעית של ברכת המזון שלא יברך אותה. וכן חייב לעבוד בכל כחו שהרי יעקב הצדיק אמר כי בכל כחי עבדתי את אביכן. לפיכך נטל שכר זאת אף בעולם הזה שנאמר ויפרץ האיש מאד מאד:

Just as the employer is warned to not cheat his employee or withhold his salary, so too the employee is warned to not cheat his employer by wasting a little time here or there....instead, he is obligated to be meticulous with every moment.  Chazal tell us that the laborer cannot say the fourth blessing of Birkas Hamazon because his time belongs to his employer.  And he must work with all his strength, as we find that the Tzadik Yaakov said that he worked for Lavan with all his strength.  This is why Yaakov received reward even in this world, as it says, and the man was mightily successful.  

From this Rambam we see that although there is no guarantee that one's efforts will be successful, if a laborer works with all his strength, he will be rewarded in this world.  If so, we can say that Rashi is using the same idea.  Although Reb Yaakovs rule (Kiddushin 39b) is thatשכר מצות בהאי עלמא ליכא, the reward for good deeds is not given in this world but only in the world to come, this does not apply when a person is an ameil, when he does his work with all his strength.  This is why Rashi says that the rewards of Bechukosai are for ameilus: mere fulfillment of the mitzvos does not bring the blessings enumerated in Parshas Bechukosai.  Only ameilus overcomes the general rule of     שכר מצות בהאי עלמא ליכא.

(Just for shleimus, please note that the Maharsha also asks this question- How the parsha can promise earthly reward for tzidkus according to Reb Yaakov?  The Maharsha answers that Reb Yaakov's rule is only for a yachid.  A tzibur gets schar in this world too.  If you think about it, you'll realize that the Mahrsha is not just right, he's absolutely and inescapably right.)


  1. I take it to mean that one has to work hard at learning no matter what your level or abilities. One shouldn't be satified in reaching any level. The Gaon slept 2 hours a day and there were the Rabbaim who learned at Slobodka who put their feet in ice water buckets to keep themselves awake.

  2. The father of the ba'al hablog was one of the feet-in-the-ice-water learners.

  3. Anon 2:24, I agree. And working hard at learning doesn't only mean learning all day: one could learn one hour a day, but spend that one hour completely immersed. That would be ameilus too.