SALT - Monday, 15 Iyar 5779 - May 20, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of
David Moshe ben Harav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l,
whose yahrzeit is Thursday 18 Iyar, May 23
            In the opening verses of Parashat Bechukotai, God promises Benei Yisrael great rewards “if you follow My statutes and observe My commands.”  Rashi, citing Torat Kohanim, famously notes that these two clauses – “if you follow My statutes” and “observe My commands” – appear redundant.  To explain these seemingly repetitive phrases, Rashi writes that the first refers not to the performance of mitzvot, but rather “she-tiheyu ameilim ba-Torah” – “that you toil in Torah.”  The rewards described in the subsequent verses are earned by not only meticulously observing God’s commands, but also “toiling” in the study of Torah.
            Many have noted that Rashi here does not speak simply of learning, but of “toiling.”  The emphasis here is on the investment of hard work and effort in the pursuit of Torah knowledge and understanding, as opposed to simply learning.
            Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapiro of Piacezna, in Derekh Ha-melekh (Parashat Vaera), posits that the “toil” mentioned by Rashi refers to applying ourselves to study even when we feel disinterested and disinclined.  There are, invariably, going to be times when we are not naturally driven to learn, either because the material does not interest us or because we fee fatigued and or uninspired.  Chazal here teach us of the importance of ameilut – exerting effort to study when we don’t feel interested in studying, to motivate ourselves to learn when we don’t feel naturally motivated, to overcome our resistance and lethargy and apply ourselves to Torah despite our lack of enthusiasm.
            The Rebbe of Piacezna suggests explaining on this basis why the phrase understood as speaking of “ameilut” mentions “chukotai” – the term normally used in reference to commands whose reasoning eludes our comprehension.  The word “chok” – as opposed to other words used in reference to God’s commands – is commonly associated specifically with those mitzvot which might strike us peculiar, which do not appear to help advance any ethical or religious value.  Delving into the details of these commands is oftentimes more difficult than rigorously studying mitzvot whose value is self-evident and intuitive.  And thus Chazal draw our attention to the importance of “ameilut” specifically in regard to “chukotai,” those laws whose rationale lies beyond our grasp, and thus do not pique our interest.  Although we are not naturally driven to study this material, we are bidden to make the effort to study.
            Later in Parashat Bechukotai, in the tokhecha section, we read of the calamities that God threatens to bring upon Benei Yisrael should they disobey His laws, and the Torah warns several times that these punishments will befall the people “im teilkhu imi keri.”  Rashi (26:21) cites Torat Kohanim as explaining this phrase to mean that the people observe the mitzvot on a “temporary” (“ara’i”) basis.  The contrast to “ameilut,” to dedication to study even when we feel disinterested, is “keri” – observance only when it is convenient and when we feel so inclined.  The Torah here emphasizes that our commitment must be consistent and unconditional, and not depend on our mood or our emotions.  We are to study and observe even when it is not convenient, enjoyable or emotionally gratifying, viewing ourselves as God’s loyal servants who are devoted to fulfilling His will even when this demands hard work and self-sacrifice.