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Home » B'Chukotai, Featured

Bechukotai: Labor over Torah

Submitted by on May 28, 2016 – 11:32 pmNo Comment | 3,489 views

True Labor

The first Mitzvah that the Almighty singles out for reward in our Parsha is that of Torah study.[1] But we aren’t rewarded for the mere study of Torah. We are rewarded for laboring over the Torah. It has been pointed out that this is the only instance where labor without achievement is rewarded. In all other instances mere labor is insufficient, one must actually achieve the objective to be rewarded. But in Torah study, labor is the objective. It is its own achievement for which we are rewarded generously.[2]

There are two primary reasons to study Torah. The first is simply to know the law and understand its precepts. The second is to be suffused with Divine wisdom. When our objective is the former, we must study until we understand. When our objective is the latter, we must study until we labor.

In pre Talmudic days, Torah students would review their studies until they had memorized it. Common practice was to review each point of law one-hundred times. Yet, the diligent students would force themselves to review it one more time for a total of one-hundred-and-one. They cherished that last repetition even more than they did the entire set of one-hundred.

When you are accustomed to a standard, no matter how high it is, it becomes your norm. Exceeding that standard, breaking your norm, even by a little, is excruciating. For example, if you are accustomed to running ten miles, you know that running even one extra mile is more difficult than all the ten miles combined. Yet that one extra mile pushes your envelope and nurtures growth.

For them, the last repetition constituted labor over the Torah. To labor means to push yourself beyond your norm. If you want to be suffused with Divine wisdom, you need to labor. You need to reach beyond yourself and transcend your highest point. Only then are you positioned to reach for the Almighty.[3]

Finding Transcendence

It is interesting that the Hebrew term for creation ex nihilo is yesh me-ayin, literally, something from nothing. The term from nothing, refers to the nothingness that existed before creation. But let us be clear about what we mean with the term nothingness. Before creation there wasn’t nothingness, there was G-d. Yet, we call it nothingness because to be suffused with the transcendence of Divinity we must shed our perception of self and come to sense our own nothingness.

To reach this state of mind we need to reach beyond ourselves. We must recognize our limitations and strive to exceed them. We must set ourselves aside and yearn for transcendence. And here comes the fabulous insight. The numeric value of the Hebrew word Me-ayin, which means from nothingness, is one-hundred-and-one.

We have now come full circle. By pushing beyond our norms and exceeding our own limitations, in Talmudic days this meant the labor of reviewing the Torah one-hundred-and-one times, we encounter our own nothingness and are suffused with the transcendence of the Divine.[4]

Until You Walk

The Torah actually makes oblique reference to the concept of laboring over the Torah. Rather than stating the words outright it describes labor over the Torah as walking [the path of] Divine decrees. Without getting into the minutia of how our sages came to understand the actual meaning of this walk we will look at the concept of walking as it pertains to Torah study.

The prophet Zachariah declared that whereas angels are only capable of standing stationary, souls are capable of walking.[5] The basic concept here is that angels are incapable of exceeding their limitations. They are holy creatures with vast spiritual capabilities, but they are cast in a mold that they cannot exceed. They can neither do less nor more than their maximum.

Souls are different. We start off on a lower rung than angels, but if we push ourselves, we can journey higher than them. We can keep walking beyond our limitations and exceed even ourselves. We can keep studying the Torah and laboring over it until we reach our own state of nothingness. Thus we are called walkers compared to angels, who are stationary.[6]

When we reach the state of laboring over the Torah we become ingrained with Torah habits. For example, when we wake in the morning, our feet carry us to the study hall of their own accord. King David once mentioned that no matter where he set out to go in the morning, his feet would carry him to the study hall. When I was growing up, people would talk about a particular rabbi in our community, whose wife asked him to take out the garbage. Forgetting himself half way between his home and the curb, his feet carried him to the synagogue, where he arrived garbage bag in hand…

When we study in this transcendental way, we don’t just labor over Torah, we become the Torah. We awaken with thoughts of Torah and go to bed with thoughts of Torah. When we sit idle, Torah thoughts rise unbidden to mind and when we walk, our feet carry us to the study hall. This is another reason the Torah refers to those who labor over the Torah, as people who “walk” [literally] in Divine decrees.[7]


The ultimate experience of suffusion with the Divine, will occur in the Messianic age. This will be a time when all veils will be removed and the glory of the Divine will radiate. This too is alluded to in our enigmatic verse.

The verse begins with the Hebrew word “im,” which mean if. “If you walk [the path of] my decrees.” The Hebrew word im is spelled with letters, Alef and Mem, which in turn form the acronym of all the redeemers in our national history.[8]

The redeemers from Egypt were Aaron and Moses. The redeemers from Persia were Esther and Mordechai. The redeemers from our exile will be Elijah and the Messiah. The message is thus. If we desire the Messianic era of Divine revelation and inspiration we must labor over the Torah today until we are suffused with the transcendence of the Divine. And then, He will come.

May that day come speedily in our times. Amen.

[1] Leviticus 26: 3. See Rashi ibid.

[2] Chafetz Chayim Al Hatorah ibid.

[3] Tanya ch. 15.

[4] Torah Ohr Vayakhel 114:d.

[5] Zachariah 3: 7.

[6] Tiferet Yonbatan on Leviticus 26.3.

[7] Kli Yakar ad loc quoting Vayikrah Rabbah 35:1. The word for edicts is similar to the word for engraved. When the Torah becomes engraved in our heart its patterns becomes ingrained in our habits.

[8] Minchah Blulah. He further quotes Psalms 113: 9 “Em – Habanim smecha.” When Eliyahu and Mashiach appear, the children will rejoice.

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