The Fountain of Life

מרן הגאב"ד שליט"א
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"אִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ וְאֶת מִצְוֹתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם, וְנָתַתִּי גִשְׁמֵיכֶם בְּעִתָּם וְנָתְנָה הָאָרֶץ יְבוּלָהּ וְעֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה יִתֵּן פִּרְיוֹ."

"If you walk in My statutes and guard My mitzvos to perform them, then I will grant your rains in their proper times.  The land will give forth its produce and the trees of the field will give forth their fruit."

Rashi explains that "If you will walk in My statutes" cannot refer to mitzvah observance, since mitzvos are mentioned in the continuation of the verse, "and guard My mitzvos to perform them."  Rather, "walk in My statutes" must refer to toiling in the study of Torah -  שתהיו עמלים בתורה"".

Before his passing, Moshe Rabbeinu warned us of the importance of Torah study as the crucial prerequisite by which we would merit to live peacefully in our land:

וַיְכַל מֹשֶׁה לְדַבֵּר אֶת כָּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֶל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל.  וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם שִׂימוּ לְבַבְכֶם לְכָל הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מֵעִיד בָּכֶם הַיּוֹם אֲשֶׁר תְּצַוֻּם אֶת בְּנֵיכֶם לִשְׁמֹר לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת.  כִּי לֹא דָבָר רֵק הוּא מִכֶּם כִּי הוּא חַיֵּיכֶם וּבַדָּבָר הַזֶּה תַּאֲרִיכוּ יָמִים עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ.

"Moshe finished speaking all these things to the entire Jewish people, and he said to them, 'Turn your hearts towards all these things that I testify before you today, in order that you may instruct your children to guard and fulfill all the words of this Torah.   For this is no paltry matter to you.  It is your life, and by this thing your days shall be lengthened upon the land that you cross the Yarden to inherit.[1]"

The Torah is the very essence of our lives.  It is the cornerstone of the Jewish nation, the purpose for our existence, and the source from which we draw vitality and meaning, both as a nation and as individuals.  It is the secret of our success in all spiritual and material pursuits, the assurance of our security in our homeland.  It is the very air that gives life to our souls.

However, the Talmud Yerushalmi places an interesting condition to the Torah's wondrous segulos:

רבי מנא "כי לא דבר רק הוא מכם" ואם רק הוא מכם, למה שאין אתם יגיעין בו.  "כי היא חייכם" אימתי היא חייכם בשעה שאתם יגיעין בו.

Rebbe Manna taught: "This is no paltry matter to you" – If it seems paltry it is because of you, since you do not toil in its study.  "For it is your life" – When does the Torah become our life?  When we toil in it.[2]

We can fulfill our minimum obligation to study Torah by reading only one short verse each day and night.[3]  However, this does not enable us to draw a sense of vitality and meaningfulness from the wellsprings of Torah.  For a person to live with the Torah, and make the Torah into the essence of his life, he must toil in its study.

What exactly does it mean to toil in Torah?  The Gemara states as follows:

דברי תורה יש בם להמית ולהחיות. היינו דאמר רבא: למיימינים בה - סמא דחיי, למשמאילים בה - סמא דמותא.

Words of Torah have the power to grant life and to kill, as Rava said, "To those who lean towards the right side of the Torah it is a potion of life, but to those who lean towards its left side it is a deadly poison."[4]

Rashi explains "leaning towards the right side of Torah" to mean: " עסוקים בכל כחם וטרודים לדעת סודה - Toiling in it with all their might, and concentrating to understand its secrets."

Rashi here notes two distinct aspects of toiling in Torah.  "Toiling in it with all their might," refers to the physical exertion involved in Torah study.  This includes the "limited business activity, limited pleasure, limited sleep and limited conversation,"[5] which our Sages list as the means by which Torah is acquired, and the lifestyle of "sleep on the earth, drink water in careful measure, eat bread with salt, but toil in Torah."[6]  Only thereby can the life-giving waters of the Torah be drawn.  Of this the Gemara states:

אמר ריש לקיש: מנין שאין דברי תורה מתקיימין אלא במי שממית עצמו עליה - שנאמר "זאת התורה אדם כי ימות באהל."

Reish Lakish taught: the Torah can only be preserved by those who kill themselves over it, as it is written, "This is the Torah of the man who dies in the tent [of Torah study]."[7]

When a person kills himself in Torah study, the Torah grants him new life, like the dew that descended around Har Sinai to revive Bnei Yisrael, when their souls fled from their bodies in awe of Hashem's spoken word.[8]

The second aspect of toiling in Torah mentioned by Rashi is, "concentrating to understand its secrets."  This involves the mental exertion necessary to go beyond the superficial meaning of the words and understand its deeper complexities.  A person who reads the words of Chumash and Mishna with minimal understanding certainly fulfills a mitzvah of Torah study.  However, the life-giving waters of the Torah are available only to those who peer behind the walls of superficial understanding to gaze at the inner beauty of the Torah.

 אִם תְּבַקְשֶׁנָּה כַכָּסֶף וְכַמַּטְמוֹנִים תַּחְפְּשֶׂנָּה. אָז תָּבִין יִרְאַת יְקֹוָק וְדַעַת אֱלֹהִים תִּמְצָא.

"If you seek it like silver, and search for it like buried treasure, then you will understand the fear of Hashem and discover the wisdom of G‑d."[9]

*

The Ran[10] states that in addition to the mitzvah to study Torah every morning and night, as learned from the verse, "" וְהָגִיתָ בּוֹ יוֹמָם וָלַיְלָה - You shall study it day and night"[11], there is an additional mitzvah to achieve clarity of understanding in Torah, as learned from the verse, " וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ – You shall teach them to your children."[12]  The word "שינון" also means "sharpen," from which the Gemara infers: " שיהו דברי תורה מחודדים בפיך - Let the words of Torah be sharp upon your tongue."[13]

Rashi explains how to achieve the clarity to which the Gemara refers: " חזור עליהם ובדוק בעומקם- Review your studies and investigate their depths."[14]

It seems that these two directions correspond to the two aspects of toiling in Torah discussed above.  First, Rashi mentions, "חזור עליהם - Review your studies."  This corresponds to, " עסוקים בכל כחם– Toiling in it with all their might."  Constant review is a burden that is more physical than mental.  A Torah scholar must repeat the same page of Gemara or the same chapter of Shulchan Aruch again and again, even if he finds no new insights, and his mind is not stimulated by any depth of thought.

Nevertheless, in order for the words of Torah to be sharpened upon our tongues, we must review it again and again: four times, as Moshe taught Bnei Yisrael;[15] forty times, as did Reish Lakish when he prepared for Rebbe Yochanan's lessons;[16] one hundred and one times, as did those whom the Gemara calls "the servants of Hashem";[17] even eight hundred times, as did Rebbe Preida, who repeated a lesson to his student eight hundred times, and thereby merited to live for four hundred years and bring his entire generation to Gan Eden.[18]  This is a grueling labor of Torah, with no intellectual exhilaration, yet it is an indispensable key towards success in Torah study.

The other direction Rashi gives is "ובדוק בעומקם - Investigate their depths."  This is the mental effort that corresponds to Rashi's comment above, " וטרודים לדעת סודה – concentrating to understand its secrets."  Success in Torah also requires a creative thought process, in which ideas are not left at face value, but are investigated, challenged, resolved and thereby illuminated.

*

The importance of both aspects of Torah study can be seen by comparing the similar wordings of the following two passages.  On the one hand, the Tosefta states:

שהיה רבי יהשע אומר: השונה ואינו עמל כאיש זורע ולא קוצר.

 Rebbe Yehoshua taught: One who studies but does not toil [in his studies] can be compared to one who plants but does not harvest.[19]

On the other hand, the Gemara states in a similar wording:

רבי יהושע בן קרחה אומר: כל הלומד תורה ואינו חוזר עליה - דומה לאדם שזורע ואינו קוצר.

Rebbe Yehoshua ben Karcha taught: One who studies Torah but does not review can be compared to one who plants but does not harvest.[20]

By comparing these two teachings we are led to understand that the toil to which the Tosefta refers is none other than the constant review of which we spoke above.  Alternatively, we might explain that the Tosefta refers to both kinds of toil: the physical exertion of constant review and the mental exertion of unraveling the Torah's secrets.

By applying both kinds of exertion together, we can uncover the wellsprings of life that flow from the Torah, drink deeply from its sweet waters, and thereby merit to lead a meaningful life in this world and also enjoy the eternal life of the World to Come.

כי הם חיינו ואורך ימינו ובהם נהגה יומם ולילה.

"For the Torah is our life and the length of our days, and we shall contemplate it by day and by night."


[1] Devarim 32:47

[2] Yerushalmi Shvi'is 1:33

[3] Yehoshua 1:8; Menachos 99b

[4] Shabbos 88b

[5] Avos 6:6

[6] Avos 6:4

[7] Bamidbar 19:14; Berachos 63b

[8] Shabbos 88b

[9] Mishlei 2:4,5

[10] Nedarim 8a

[11] Yehoshua 1:8; Menachos 99b

[12] Devarim 6:7

[13] Kiddushin 30a, see Mahasha.

[14] Kiddushin loc cit, s.v. Yehu mechudadin

[15] Eiruvin 54b

[16] Taanis 8a

[17] Chagigah 9b

[18] Eiruvin 54b

[19] Tosefta, Parah ch. 4

[20] Sanhedrin 99a