June 6, 2024
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The Impact of Intense Torah Study on Our Daily Lives

In the early 1900s, the Turkish emperor issued harsh decrees against the Jews. Naturally, the chief rabbi tried to convince him to rescind these decrees. In the middle of the meeting, the rabbi excused himself to use the facilities. When he returned, the rabbi quietly said the bracha of Asher Yatzar. The emperor asked, “What are you whispering? Are you putting a magical spell on me and my country?” The rabbi began to explain Asher Yatzar. “This is a blessing we recite after we use the restroom, thanking God that all our organs are working properly, and we are able to expel the toxins and waste from our body.” “Every time you go to the bathroom?” asked the emperor. The rabbi nodded. The emperor said, “You Jews are incredible. I also pray, but I don’t pause during my busy day. You Jews bring God into your lives throughout the day, and not just for spectacular things—basic, private things too. I’m impressed. Please tell me more.”

The rabbi continued to explain how all our actions are governed by the Torah—when we shower; when we get dressed, how we put on shoes: the right shoe before the left, but then we tie the left shoe before the right. The emperor listened in amazement. “I had a terrible misconception of the Jewish people. I see you Jews are truly genuine people who have a close connection with God.” With that, the emperor rescinded all the evil decrees.

Parshas Bechukosai opens with the words, “Im bechukosai teileichu—If you will walk in My ways.” The Midrash Rabbah connects the idea of walking in Hashem’s ways to the words of Dovid HaMelech, “Chishavti derachai va’ashivah raglai el eidosecha—I planned my routes (my daily schedule), but my feet returned me to Your testimonies.”Is it possible that Dovid HaMelech could lose focus on important matters and accidentally end up in the beis midrash, missing important scheduled meetings?

The Gerrer Rebbe (Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Alter) explains that Dovid planned his schedule…and kept it. The explanation of this Midrash is that all of Dovid’s actions were governed by what he learned in the beis midrash. Even when he was not engrossed in Torah study, the laws and spirit of the Torah governed how he acted. Every moment, his Torah study accompanied him and guided him.

Rashi, based on the Toras Kohanim, explains the words “im bechukosai teileichu” differently than the literal meaning of walking in the laws of Hashem. He says that here walking refers to toiling in Torah study, i.e., “If you will toil in My Torah.” The Gerrer Rebbe suggests that Rashi’s explanation and that of the Midrash Rabbah are one: following the mitzvos in accordance with one’s toiling in Torah. The Hebrew word for toil is amal. These letters, aleph-mem-lamed, are the roshei teivos (initials) of “al menas la’asos,” which means on condition to perform. Hashem promises great blessings to one who toils in Torah and then follows up on it.

Parshas Bechukosai contains blessings and curses. There are 11 verses which discuss the blessings; 30 which discuss the curses. Close to 20 blessings are listed, but 49 curses. The Gemara says that Hashem’s measure for reward is much greater than the measure for punishment. Then why is the punishment here so disproportionately more than the blessing?

Rabbi Chaim Friedlander explains as follows: Humans take a long time to build or develop things. For example, we’ve been working on the planning of a new building for our yeshiva for many years. Even when we start construction, it may take close to two years to complete. But knocking down the current premises can be done in one day!

For Hashem, it’s the opposite. Whatever Hashem fashions is perfect. That’s the “regular” way for Hashem. It is natural that we should receive blessings when we fully observe the mitzvos and the ways of Torah. However, if someone doesn’t follow the mitzvos, then Hashem has to alter the natural course of blessing and engage instead in destroying. Therefore, there are more pesukim and more curses, indicating the more involved process of breaking the natural order.

The natural state of a Jew is to want to follow the path of Torah and mitzvos, as expressed by Dovid HaMelech above. May Hashem help us to follow our naturally good tendencies and always find ourselves in the beis midrash! And in all our daily activities, as mundane as they may seem, let us follow the ways of the Torah and be blessed accordingly.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. 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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