Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Torah Study - Effort That Really Counts

Effort That Really Counts

"The quality and effort while on the journey of Torah study is way more important than the destination."

As we conclude the third book of theTorah in synagogues around the world this week, I am reminded of the traditional prayer recited upon completion of a tractate of theTalmud. In it, we thank G‑d for the great opportunity to toil in the study of Torah. The prayer contains a line that goes like this: “We toil and they toil. We toil and receive reward, while they toil and don’t receive reward.”1 The prayer is obviously contrasting Torah study with all other activities and forms of work: while Torah study offers meaningful compensation, other endeavors don’t.

But this needs further explanation. Is this really so? Is there really no meaningful compensation in other fields of work? Last I heard, people were being compensated in other areas as well! So, how does Torah study differ?

Torah study is mostly about the means, not so much about the endsThe explanation lies in careful examination of the words of the prayer: “. . .they toil and receive no reward.” Why did the author of this prayer of thanksgiving choose the word “toil” as opposed to, let’s say, “work” or “achieve”?

The answer, I believe, is that Torah study is all about the effort and the “toiling,” in contrast with other endeavors or sciences, where the main focus is on accomplishment and the final product.

Torah study is mostly about the means, not so much about the ends. In other areas of life, who cares about your toiling? Toiling is just a means to an end. There is no reward for hard work and shvitzing. In fact, if you could accomplish the same job without toiling, that would be just as good. No extra reward is given for the toiling. It is mostly the results that count! In Torah study, however, it’s the opposite. Even if you were to toil in Torah study without any tangible results, that itself is worthy of reward!

The reason for this is because unlike other sciences, Torah study is not about accumulating knowledge. Unlike other self-help books and religious manuals, the Torah is not only about learning how to observe. Torah study is primarily about forging a relationship with G‑d. When we toil in the study of Torah, and connect to the fountain of G‑d’s wisdom, we are at that moment experiencing oneness and forging a relationship with our G‑d—regardless of whether we succeeded in totally mastering the subject we are studying. The relationship with G‑d is experienced mostly while toiling and studying, not in the results or accomplishments.

This thought is echoed in this week’s Torah portion, which tells us: “If you will walk in my statutes” (Leviticus 26:3), explained by Rashi to be a reference to “toiling in Torah.” Again, the emphasis here is on the effort and not so much on the results.

What a refreshing approach and dramatic contrast to all those other areas, where the only thing that matters are your results! From a Torah perspective, we don’t care so much about what your grades are, or even how many titles and degrees you master in life. What is most cherished and valued by G‑d is the hard work and effort that you put into your Torah studies! The quality and effort while on the journey of Torah study is way more important than the destination.

The Obligation to Study Torah Practical Parshah - Bechukotai By Mendel Kaplan Even laymen are obligated to be learned in Torah. But how much is one actually obligated to study? How often?
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