Living through Torah

In this week’s Parsha, בחקתי, we learn about reward and retribution. The Parsha opens reading the following, (א) אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ וְאֶת־מִצְוֺתַ֣י תִּשְׁמְר֔וּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָֽם׃ (ב) וְנָתַתִּ֥י גִשְׁמֵיכֶ֖ם בְּעִתָּ֑ם וְנָתְנָ֤ה הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ יְבוּלָ֔הּ וְעֵ֥ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֖ה יִתֵּ֥ן פִּרְיֽוֹ׃ If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments,I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit. Rashi explains that one might think אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י connotes the standard guarding of the mitzvot. However, here it is an order to be עמלים בתורה, working hard in Torah. Rashi continues, ואת מצותי תשמרו indicates that being עמלים בתורה subsequently conveys that one takes heed to fulfill the Torah’s ensuing Mitzvot as it says, “וּלְמַדְתֶּם אֹתָם וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם לַעֲשֹׂתָם”. 

Taken in Tel Azika, Israel. Torah learning comes alive by visiting the very place where David and Goliath fought.

This message is beautiful yet we know there’s a strong idea that we do not earn a reward for our Mitzvot in this world. It says in the Gemara in Kiddushin (39b), שכר מצוה בהאי עלמא ליכא, There is no reward for the performance of a Mitzvah in this world, [as one is rewarded for mitzvot only in the World-to-Come]. How do we understand the seemingly discrepant message of our Parsha— how do we receive a reward for Torah U’ Mitzvot if we supposedly can’t? 

The Netivot Shalom offers an explanation for this dialectic. The Mitzvot themselves are so exceedingly lofty, that they, singularly, cannot apply towards our mundane world. Their supernal levels are beyond our realms, and simply cannot manifest here. This explains how our completion of the Mitzvot cannot lend physical recompense. However, the aspects of which we can receive reward are regarding the ways of which we complete the Mitzvah. What is our approach and attitude toward them? Are we excited to do them? Do we simply fulfill the baseline standards, or do we reach beyond our daled amos and beautify them? That clarifies why our pasuk’s explanation is deemed as our level of עמלים בתורה, not the specified mitzva of וחגית בו יומם ולילה. 

It says in the Zohar that all blessing in the world is contingent upon the 7th day, שבת. Spiritual blessing is determined in regard to the essence of the day itself— its intrinsic milieu of kedusha and separation. While a physical blessing, following the logic previously outlined, is how we decide to keep Shabbat! It is based solely on the additions to שבת! It says in the Gemara in Shabbos (118b), כל המענג את השבת נותנין לו משאלות לבו שנאמר והתענג על ה׳ ויתן לך משאלות לבך. With regard to anyone who delights in the Shabbat, Hashem grants him his heart’s desires, as it is stated: “And you shall delight in God and He will grant you your heart’s desires”. When we elevate שבת beyond its 39 Melachot, we show our care and enjoyment. Every added minute and action of exultation is shared with Hashem, who subsequently rejoices by sharing with us. This explains how the word “תֵּלֵ֑כוּ” can be rearranged as an anagram of “כלות”, as it says in Tehillim “נכספה וגם כלתה נפשי”, Kalus nefesh is a yearning soul. When our soul truly yearns for Hashem, He reciprocates. 

The תורת כהנים states that just as much as we yearn for our עמלות בתורה, Hashem does as well. The parameters of it are seen through Rambam’s Hilchot Talmud Torah. One is ideally supposed to put their Talmud Torah first, and worldly matters second. One should not learn Torah for wealth or honor. Most intriguing, the Rambam codifies that one should learn and labor themselves with Torah to such an extent that they eat simply a salted morsel of bread and water. If one has increased their Torah study, they’ve similarly increased their reward— as the reward is equal to the pain. Yet, this pain can be seen through the lens of Torah or physicality. It depends where one’s standards primarily hold. The labors and subordination to Torah—the grappling with a Daf of Gemara for countless hours, the exceeding time spent sitting in a Beit Midrash, and the tendency and perseverance to continue— are just as arduous “pain”. The Question we may come to ask ourselves is what type of pain are we willing to take for our relationship with Hashem? What are our priorities and where do we wish to be? 

Hashem promises us after listing the Brachot, וְהִתְהַלַּכְתִּי֙ בְּת֣וֹכְכֶ֔ם וְהָיִ֥יתִי לָכֶ֖ם לֵֽאלֹהִ֑ים וְאַתֶּ֖ם תִּהְיוּ־לִ֥י לְעָֽם I will be ever present in your midst: I will be your God, and you shall be My people. Yet, to get there, we must be willing and put in the effort. When we push ourselves and are עמלות בתורה— we מדה כנגד מדה receive the Divine reward from Hashem. 

 

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