The Business of the Torah

Delivered at Telshe by Rosh HaYeshiva Maran HaGaon HaRav Mordechai Gifter, ZT”L on the Holy Shabbos Va’eschonon, 1969

“Beware, lest your heart become allured, and you will stray to serve other gods and prostrate before them.” Devarim 11:16

The Abeyance of Torah Learning Leads to Idol Worship.

In explanation of the words “and you will stray,” Rashi quotes from Chazal: “to depart from the Torah, thus serving other gods. For when one strays from the Torah he will then go and attach himself to idol worship.”

We find this concept (that departure from Torah leads to idol worship) mentioned by the covenant at the Plains of Moav, wherein it says “do not stray from these words [of Torah] to go after foreign gods and to serve them” (Devarim 28:14).

Rashi continues: King David expresses the same as well (Shmuel 1, 26:19), “G-d has detached me from the legacy of Hashem, saying: ‘Go serve [foreign gods].'” Who told David to go serve idols? Rather, he reasoned, “Once I am removed from the toil in Torah, I’m very close to serving idols!”

From all of the above we learn that the betrayal of Hashem which leads to idol worship is not the suspension of performing mitzvos, rather, it is one’s departure from the study of Torah–from working hard and toiling in the Word of G-d–that leads to the dreadful conclusion of idol worship.

Beware! The Feeling of Fullness Causes Rebellion.

Indeed, the main connection a Jew has with Hashem is through toiling in His Torah. By definition, to “toil in Torah” is to exert oneself to understand the wisdom and will of Hashem. The essential point of labor in Torah is the struggle to clarify and comprehend the intellect of Torah, the Divine Intellect. Therefore, one who toils in Torah connects himself to that Higher Wisdom. It is as if is he is determining reality together with Hashem Himself to the point that one who toils in Torah has the power to establish the reality of the Higher Intellect and even change the physical nature of our world! (As clarified in Bava Metziah 59B. See also Nefesh Hachaim, Gate 1 Chap.)

Furthermore, the very lifeblood and essence of our performance of mitzvos receives its vitality from the preceding Torah study we learn in regard to that mitzvah. Through that study we come to understand the will of the Commander, the desire of Hashem, whose Divine Will is actualized by the physical fulfillment of the mitzvah.

This too is the idea of behind the language of the prayer (the 5th blessing of Shemona Esrei): “Return us, Father, to your Torah,” and subsequent to that: “Bring us close to your service/mitzvos.” Only after our genuine return to Torah study, which propels us to the performance of mitzvos, can we go on to experience the ultimate purpose of mankind: “Return us in genuine repentance before you.”

In fact, any mitzvah, any service of Hashem, that is not bound together with the Torah toil of that mitzvah, can progress into ‘self-service’ and even evolve into idol worship, G-d forbid.

We can now understand the formulation mentioned in our original verse. The paragraph in the Torah begins by telling us that when we will listen to Hashem, He will bless us with a bounty of physical good until we “will eat and be satiated.” Then the Torah comes to warn us. The nature of man is that when he is ‘satiated’ he becomes arrogant and this will cause him to renounce the effort required for toiling in Torah (which established above, is necessary for genuine connection to Hashem). He then loses his desire to understand the Divine Will and to comprehend it fully. The rationale for this is that one who is arrogant is not interested in considering the will of others, only his own will, and all that he perceives is from within the narrow perspective of himself.

Therefore, the Torah teaches us “Beware!” As Rashi explains: “Since you will eat and become satiated…Beware! You shouldn’t kick/rebel.” For a man only rebels unto Hashem from a feeling of fullness. As it says in Devarim 8, 13:14, “Lest you eat and be full, and your cattle and sheep will grow…” What does it say afterwards? “And you will become haughty and forget [Hashem].” We learn from this that the root of rebellion lies in feeling satiated, which brings one act arrogantly. The rationale being: Through fullness one becomes controlled by his own lusts and desires, forgoing toil in Torah. This is the polar opposite of genuine service of Hashem which is rooted in the toil of Torah. It is the toiling in Torah that brings life into the fulfilling the mitzvos of Hashem.

Toiling in Torah Gives Vitality to Our Performance of Mitzvos.

This thought is the root understanding of a development we find in our generation, as well as in many others wherein small minded men speak “in the name of Torah” to present reforms in our holy religion. All of these people, without exception, have left the pursuit and labor of Torah, and the majority of them have never experienced this phenomenon whatsoever. For them, the study of Torah is the same as the pursuit of any other secular wisdom.

These men, in their foolishness, talk and write empty words, arrogantly preaching the need to be acquainted with the wisdom of the nations in order for us to understand the Torah. They quote from the Rambam (Yesodei Hatorah 4:10) where he discusses the natural wisdom of the original creation, as well as quoting from that “angel of G-d,” the holy Gaon of Vilna who mentions praises of the other wisdoms. However, they do not wish to comprehend that our Torah giants of the past had a solid “digestion” system, meaning they toiled endlessly in Toras Hashem, and were thoroughly connected to Him. All that they “ate”–any wisdom they learned–was automatically “digested” and transformed into the wisdom of Torah itself. As Torah envelops everything and is all inclusive, when one attaches himself to Torah he attains the power to remove the kernel of truth and Torah essence from within all knowledge, while the rest of the wisdom is set aside as waste, and is ejected from the person.

Not so, by someone who has not toiled and attached himself to Torah, for all that he learns is only seen from his small, arrogant perspective, and he therefore espouses ideas based upon wisdoms that are essentially idol worship and serve to merely further his own desires and lusts. This is the situation of our lowly generation that has been ensnared in the traps of these small minded men.

The nature of the digression from straying from the toil in Torah until the serving of actual idol worship is explained elsewhere in the Torah. In Parshas Bechukosai (Vayikra 26:15), Rashi there expounds the following progression: “When one doesn’t study Torah, he will then not fulfill the mitzvos, he will then find repulsive those who do fulfill, he will then hate the Rabbis, then hindering others from fulfilling, then will reject the mitzvos until he becomes a complete heretic!”

In fact, in our generation we are experiencing the “complete vision” as described above. We find that those who have distanced themselves from the toil in Torah have come to not fulfill the mitzvos. They then preach false interpretations of the Torah and become disgusted with those who do fulfill the mitzvos. In turn they spread words of hate against those who cleave to the Toras Hashem, calling them “those who run from life.” Then they fill their mouths with arrogance and hate against the giant, wise men of Torah, thereby hindering others from accepting the words of the Torah leaders of the generation. Finally, they come to deny Torah and mitzvos–Kofer B’ikur–as they “vote” to have ecumenical conferences and dialogues with the Catholic Church–the very core and essence of heresy! All this was caused by the mere straying from learning Torah with effort and toil.

Again, from all of this, we must be inspired to recognize the value of Torah, its study with toil in its genuine fashion, for that and only that gives vitality to the fulfillment of mitzvos and the rest of our religious experience.

Tu B’Av is a Time to Increase Our Toiling in Torah.

We can now understand the essence of our present Yom Tov, the Holiday of Tu b’Av. The Mishna in Taanis 26B tells us, “Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said: ‘There were no holidays for the Jewish people the likes of Tu b’Av and Yom Kippur!'” The Gemarah in Taanis 30B gives one explanation of the significance of Tu b’Av: “Rabba and Rav Yosef both said ‘It was the day that they ceased to cut down trees for burning on the Mizbeach. From this day (Tu b’Av) and on, he who adds more time to learn will receive additional life, he who does not shall perish!'”

The simple meaning of this is that they established a Yom Tov for the joyous occasion of the completion of a mitzvah (cutting the trees for the Mizbeach). And although the cutting of the trees is merely a preliminary act in preparation for actual mitzvah of burning the wood on the Mizbeach, nonetheless, this too was a source of celebration as they completed this preparatory phase of the mitzvah. (See Maharsha ibid.)

However, in the commentary of Rabbeinu Gershom he writes: “The day they finished cutting the trees for the Altar, they were able to learn extra time (for the nights get longer).” Perhaps Rabbeinu Gershom is simply adding that aside from the joy of the mitzvah completion, there is also additional joy in the fact that they had more time to learn. This however is difficult because the added time in the night is merely taken from the time during the day, so in reality there isn’t any “added” time. Indeed, if we take look at the commentary of Rabbeinu Gershom in Bava Basra 121 he expresses his intention clearly: “The joy was not the extra time they had to learn at night, rather, it was the extra time they had to learn now that they did not need to spend time cutting the trees!” In other words, the celebration was not due to the conclusion of the mitzvah, rather, they celebrated the extra time for Torah learning engendered thereby.

We learn from this that if one learns Torah but does not appreciate it to the point of joyous toiling, he cannot truly understand the joy of the holiday of Tu b’Av. We also must learn from this that one who truly feels the celebration of Torah learning must actualize that joy by adding extra time of Torah study from Tu b’Av and on.

Based on the above, we can also understand why the Gemarah in Shabbos 10A refers to learning Torah as being involved in “eternal life,” while one who is involved in tefilah (prayer) is occupied in “worldly/temporal life.” For although when one stands in prayer he stands connected to G-d in divine service, our actual connection to eternity–to the unity of Hashem–is only engendered by our connection to Torah.

From this perspective, we understand why prayer is merely “temporal life.” For the essential purpose of prayer is to cleave to the will of G-d and to fulfill His mitzvos in this world. Yet the connection to the Divine through the toil in Torah is an effort to understand His will which produces total association with Hakadosh Boruch Hu.

May Hashem open our hearts in His Torah, and thereby we shall merit to love and fear Him!


This ma’amer is from the forthcoming sefer “Pirkei Emunah” which is in the process of being published now, B”H.

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