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Toiling in Torah

The Torah portion Bechukosai opens with the words “If you will follow My statutes (bechukosai)….”1 Rashi , quoting Toras Kohanim,2 explains that since the verse goes on to say “and you will observe My commandments,” “If you follow My statutes” must therefore mean “that you toil in the study of Torah.”

How does the word bechukosai (My statutes) — when used in the context of Torah study — express not only the concept of Torah study but also “toil in the study of Torah”?

Aside from the generic term mitzvos , which applies to all commandments equally, there are specific appellations that apply to the three categories of commandments:

Eidos , or Testimonies, refer to mitzvos like Shabbos and tefillin that serve as a witness and testimony to events such as Creation and the Exodus. Mishpatim , or Rational Commandments, allude to those commandments that could have been arrived at by man on his own.

The third category, Chukim , or Statutes, denotes commands that have no basis in logic — they are clearly Divine edicts.

The word chukim is rooted in the word chakikah,3 which means to hew out or engrave. What is the connection between suprarational commandments and engraving?

Engraving requires much more effort than simply writing. Suprarational commandments, commands that not only are not understood but often fly in the face of logic, are so much harder to perform than other mitzvos that observing them is likened to the difficulty of engraving as opposed to writing.

We thus understand that when the word bechukosai — rooted as it is in chakikah — is used with regard to Torah study, it refers to “toiling in the study of Torah.”

Since the term used to denote toiling in Torah — chukah — is the same at that used for suprarational commandments, we are also given to understand that toiling in Torah involves the transcending of rational thought.

This seems difficult to understand: As explained in the Zohar,4 “If you will follow My statutes” addresses itself specifically to toiling in the study of the Oral Torah, during which one must utilize one’s intellect. So it is that with regard to the Oral Torah, an individual may not recite the blessing made over Torah study if he fails to comprehend what he is studying. How, then, is this aspect of Torah study related to the suprarational?

In truth, both the actual toil in studying Torah as well as the results of that toil must go beyond the student’s rational understanding:

“Toiling in the study of Torah” must necessarily exceed the degree that the person thinks is required; if a person only strives to the degree indicated by his intellect, it is not considered toil, for intellect dictates that a person toil merely to satisfy his intellectual curiosity. Truly toiling in Torah study will lead a person to understand that even those matters that he comprehends intellectually are, in truth, beyond his intellect. For G-d and His Torah are one,5 and just as a created being’s intellect cannot possibly comprehend its Creator, so too, it is incapable of comprehending His wisdom.

This is in accord with the saying concerning knowledge of G-d, that “The ultimate wisdom is that we do not know You.”6 And just as this is so with regard to G-d, so too with regard to His Torah, for Torah is utterly united with Him.

Therefore, if a person says he understands Torah completely, it is a clear sign that he hasn’t toiled in it; were he to have truly toiled he would have recognized that Torah far transcends his limited intellect. The proper approach to Torah must be bechukosai — “toiling.”

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XVII, pp. 313-320.


FOOTNOTES

1. Vayikra 26:3.
2. Ibid.
3. Likkutei Torah , beginning of Torah portion Bechukosai.
4. Bechukosai (113a); see also Likkutei Levi Yitzchak , ibid.; Divrei David on Vayikra 26:14.
5. Rambam Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 2:10; Hilchos Teshuvah , conclusion of ch. 5.
6. See Bechinos Olam 7:2; Ikarim 2:30; Shaloh 191b.

 

 


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