July 19, 2024
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Ameilut in Torah: The Only Fuel for Protection

Parshat Bechukotai

Let’s get right into it. Last week we left off with the question of how to keep our Jewish values and commitment to Torah with unwavering confidence, as well as how to instill our loved ones with that same strength. Just to summarize, we explained that even if one fully understands what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s good and what’s bad, that still may not provide foolproof immunity against the influence of people who act improperly. The reason is because there is a nature we have to simply fit in with the people we interact with and to be like them, despite us knowing full well that what those people are doing is outright wrong. How do we resist that natural impulse to fit in, considering that it’s an impulse that is emotionally/naturally based as opposed to intellectually based?

Just two pesukim after the pasuk that taught us the danger of being pulled in, we are presented with the very first pasuk of Parshat Bechukotai: “If you will go in My ways and guard My commandments and perform them” (Vayikra 26:3). Rashi explains that the phrase “if you will go in My ways” is referring to Hashem’s charge to us to “toil in Torah” (tihyu ameilim baTorah). I thought that perhaps the close connection between the pesukim presents us with the solution we’ve been waiting for: Ameilut (toiling) in Torah is exactly what infuses us with the power, pride and confidence to firmly maintain our commitment to our beliefs and practices. What does this mean practically? Let’s break it down…

In Hebrew, the translation of exercise or working out is lehitamel. This comes from the word “amel,” like ameilut. Two people can go to the gym and spend the same amount of time there, but one of them will achieve the gains while the other one won’t. Why? Very simple: the one who accomplished was the one who was really “amel”—who pushed himself, who sweated, who put his full focus in, who exerted all his energies. He became a completely different person, albeit in a physical sense. If someone were to start up with him, he will have the tools (i.e., biceps) to stand his grounds. The same is true in spirituality: the more one puts in the sweat and tears, the more one totally dedicates oneself to the Torah, the more one works hard, toils, and labors in Torah, the more he will be armed with the tools to remain unfazed intellectually, emotionally and spiritually, to negative influences.

When one learns Torah one develops an awareness of what is right and wrong. There is more to it, however. When one toils in Torah study, one develops a thinking process that is like Hashem’s “thinking process,” so to speak. Studying Torah in depth (primarily the study of Talmud)—a training that requires a tremendous utilization of one’s energies and faculties—crafts one’s mind to see the truth beyond the obvious, but rather even in the “gray matters.” But it goes even more than that. Our emotions also have their own way of thinking, and Torah straightens this kind of thinking: R’ Dessler says that Talmud is different from all other disciplines: all other disciplines are trying to teach the intellect, whereas the Talmud is trying to get to the heart. One can know something intellectually, but if his heart is not penetrated with that belief or knowledge nothing may come out of it. And yet, it goes even more than that: toiling in Torah leaves one with a mystical protection. Those who have experienced a real toiling in Torah study can affirm to the inexplicable feeling and power that one is left with in the aftermath. The Yirat Shamayim felt is palpable, and one feels infused with a certain spiritual energy that arms one from adverse influence. R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzatto writes: This is what the wise man [King Solomon] said, “And Torah is light” (Mishlei 6:23), literally light, and not just wisdom; not that it is called “light” as a kind of metaphor, but rather it is literally “light,” for this is its existence above (in the higher worlds), and when it enters the soul the light enters it just like the sun’s rays enter inside a house (Derech Etz Chaim). Toiling in Torah infuses one with this light that builds one’s spiritual composer to stand tall amongst the influences that attempt to bring him down.

What about women and those who for some reason can’t properly toil in Torah study? I saw from R’ Yossi Mizrachi the following: there is no indication that the verse [regarding toiling in Torah] is specifically talking to men, but it seemingly directs itself to women as well. Yet we know that women are not technically obligated to study Torah beyond what practically applies to them. So how can they be expected to fulfill the commandment of toiling in Torah if they are not required to study? Toiling in Torah means to have the outlook that Torah is the most important aspect of your life. This includes those who study as well as those who support and encourage the ones who study. Even if a woman is not studying herself, she toils in Torah by revolving her life around the Torah and helping those who do study Torah. This concept would apply as well to men who do not have time to study in great depth but financially support those who toil in Torah; they are deemed to have labored in Torah also.

Based on this, perhaps we can add a broader idea that one who develops a complete devotion to Torah, who is emotionally driven to connect with Torah and would be willing to sacrifice for the Torah, is in the category of one who is in a state of ameilut. Instilling this fervor—this concept of ameilut in Torah both in regard to actually toiling in Torah study, but also sacrificing for Torah and a Torah lifestyle—in ourselves and our loved ones is precisely what keeps us unique as a nation, spiritually strong, and safe from the influences that seek to abandon us from our Jewish identity and commitment to Hashem and Torah.

By Benjamin Benji


Binyamin Benji learns in Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He holds an MSW and is the author of the weekly Torah Talk in the Sephardic Congregation of Paramus’ newsletter. He can be reached at [email protected].

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