May 7, 2024
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The Benefit of Toiling in Torah

On June 12 there will be a major event in the CURE Stadium in Trenton, New Jersey, in honor of Adirei HaTorah—the Warriors of Torah. The purpose of this event is to uplift the honor and prestige of those who dedicate and devote their lives to learning Torah. The seeds of this initiative started with a group of businessmen and community leaders led by Mr. Lazer Scheiner, with the goal of increasing the currently small stipend given to the married men learning in Beis Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey. A big raise. And more importantly, a raise in the image the public has for those who diligently toil in Torah study.

This message coincides well with Parshas Bechukosai and the Yom Tov of Shavuos. Parshas Bechukosai opens with promises of incredible blessing, sustenance and children…contingent on following the introductory condition: “Im bechukosai teileichu ve’es mitzvosai tishmeru…”—If you will follow My laws, and guard and perform my mitzvos. Rashi questions the seeming redundancy of following the laws and keeping the mitzvos. He quotes the Toras Kohanim that says, “If you will follow My laws” really means, “If you will toil diligently in Torah study.”

Many commentaries struggle with Rashi’s explanation. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh wrote an astounding 42 (!) explanations on this one point. Rav Pinchas Freidman tells the story behind the voluminous insights written to explain this idea. Rav Chaim ben Atar (the Ohr HaChaim) was a tremendous talmid chacham (Torah scholar). One day, he heard a wealthy man say disparaging words about a certain talmid chacham and was silent. That night, the Ohr HaChaim had a dream that for his sin of not standing up for the honor of a talmid chacham, he must leave his home and wander from town to town without disclosing his identity. The next day, he began his wandering journey. The Friday of Parshas Bechukosai, he sat down to study the parsha and developed these 42 explanations. That Shabbos he was hosted by the rav of the town, who besides being a great talmid chacham was also privy to heavenly insights. On Friday night, the rav elucidated 14 explanations he had received, and he said that in heaven, they are quoting these explanations in the name of a Rav Chaim ben Atar—unbeknownst to him that Rav Chaim ben Atar was his own guest! This repeated itself at the next two meals, thus telling over all 42 explanations that the Ohr HaChaim had formulated.

These ideas were put together by the Ohr HaChaim through his incredible toil in Torah. But specifically, he was engaged in rectifying his wrong by restoring the prestige of a talmid chacham who dedicated himself to Torah study.

Why is toiling so central to merit all the blessings? Why is merely studying Torah insufficient?

The pasuk says, “A person is created to toil.” Rebbe Elazar proves from various other pesukim that this specifically means that man was created to exert himself in Torah study. Rav Yerucham Levovitz explains that man’s primary exertion should be to bear the burden of Torah study. In any event a man will have areas of responsibility in which he is accountable for his exertions. For a Jew, the most important area of exertion should be the study of Torah.

Most people do not have the luxury or ability to devote an entire day or even several hours a day to study Torah. But toiling in Torah per se is something everyone can do. Even if it’s 30 minutes, the emphasis is on the effort, not the quantity of material or amount of time. Our mandate is to give it all we’ve got to understand the words of the Torah we are learning.

(Fifty years ago, my father-in-law, Rabbi Shlomo Singer, saw the need to have a yeshiva to accommodate the schedules of working and retired individuals in order to really apply themselves to deep, intense Torah study, and the yeshiva he started has continued and grown over the years.)

Today’s greatest distraction to toiling in Torah…is no doubt our smartphones: the texts, the emails and the chats that distract us. Personally, I place my phone in a different room for the times when I’m studying in order to keep myself fully engaged in Torah. I can still check on things periodically, at the time of my choosing. The Torah promises tremendous blessing for those who dedicate themselves to Torah study.

As the Yom Tov of Shavuos approaches and we seek to devote ourselves to Hashem’s Torah, let’s make an extra measure of exertion in our Torah study. We then can watch the blessings open up in our lives and in the lives of those around us.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.

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