Our parsha opens: “If you go in My statutes” – say the sages, this refers to toiling in Torah study. Rashi shows that it cannot refer to the fulfillment of mitzvos, for that is the next part of the verse. Why does the Torah refer to its study as ‘going’?
The greatness of man is his mind and heart. A person who uses these faculties properly can become great beyond measure, can change the world for the better, can make even the angels jealous. The gemarra relates a debate between the sages of the Mishna: Which is greater – action (mitzvos) or study (Torah) The consensus ruled that Torah is greater because it brings to action.
Their answer is a bit funny – for which is ultimately greater? If the greatness of study is that its leads to action, that would imply that actions are superior – but if that were the simple truth, it would have sufficed to say that actions are greater. What they were teaching is that they are not two disparate modes, rather there is a cause and effect relationship between them. Just as one only gets the golden eggs if one maintains the chicken, so too the Torah is the primary cause, and spiritual root of everything, and in particular of mitzvos. (The word Torah comes from the root Horah, which mean to impregnate, for the ideas and spiritual energy in the Creator’s manuscript, fill and ripen a person to bring out his positive potential, to express his neshama which is a breath from the Creator Himself.)
In short, learning Torah is more choiceworthy, and the goal is to grow through it in such a way that good actions flow naturally, whereby the actions are not the ultimate (for it is clear in halacha that if one has the choice of learning or another mitzvah, if that mitzvah is not incumbent upon him or can be done by another, than it is proper to learn), but rather a sign that one has internalized his study and is learning with the intent to fulfill it when necessary.
The mechanics of this development of greatness and seizing of life the maximum is like all areas of life: No pain no gain. To grow and development requires challenge, working against resistance, and persistence to break out of the old homeostasis and framework, into a new and improved one. That is why Rashi and the sages explain ‘going’ in Torah as toiling, for going connotes movement and progress, and this can’t happen if one is coasting in cruise control.
There is no word in Biblical Hebrew for retirement, for the essence of life is to grow and make good, this is not the world of rest and pleasure. The parsha delineates two paths: one leading to unimaginable blessing and peace, the other to unspeakable horror and affliction. It is all up to us – we call the shots, we can be good and receive support and warmth, or the opposite. The parsha shows that both paths start at the same point: if you go in my statutes, i.e. if you put your effort into learning. From there one will be brought to mitzvos (as we discussed), or away from them; after one has stopped beuing careful about matzos, one feels bothered by those who are more diligent about them, and so he belittles them to feel better. Then the parsha says after that one loses respect for even the righteous and the scholars since he does not want to be held to their standard. Beyond this one slips further, having disassociated himself from the better parts of the community, he rejects the validity and worth of the Torah itself (to allieve the cognitive dissonance of living a hypocritcal life), and finally the Torah says, that this person, who had began by simply desisting from striving to move forward through learning, will be compelled to deny the Creator, (as opposed to live with a Creator whom he is remiss in respecting and serving).
Personal experience shows this is a clear reality, namely that those who are moving forward in their growth as Jews, and as people really changing for the better, have in the heart of their schedule, time for serious learning. Without roots a tree can’t grow, so too, what connects us to our ultimate Source is our Torah, that is our nation’s treasure and the secret of our eternity.
On different note – the blessing that Hashem promises that if we go straight “I will go amongst you” – is a verse which needs explanation. Rashi says it refers to the Garden of Eden, the Next world. Others disagree, and says that neither this verse, nor any other verse in the Five Books refer to beyond this world. The Kli Yakar (1600 – leader of his generation, disciple of the Maharal of Prague), brings 7 fascinating explanations from the great early commentators regarding this phenomenon.
Have a sweet and meaningful Shabbas.
-Beth Shifra Crew