ישיבת כרם ביבנה

The Toil of Torah

הרב זכריה טובי
ראש הכולל

"Im bechukotai telechu – If you will follow My decrees, and observe My commandments and perform them." (Vayikra 26:3) Rashi comments: "Im bechukotai telechu – that you will toil in Torah." (Sifra Bechukotai 2)

Chazal's view of Torah study is that toil is not just an enhancement of learning, but rather it is an essential part of Torah study. In order to acquire Torah, a person has to toil in it, and only through toil and hard work will he be able to obtain it. Thus, the Rambam writes in his commentary on the Mishna in Avot (5:23):

Wisdom that is acquired without toil and bother does not endure, and the person has no gain from it … [Chazal say] that the only wisdom that will endure is what you learn through toil, bother and awe … However, reading of pleasure does not endure, and there is no gain from it.

Following the Rambam's footsteps, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter derives from a legend of Chazal that a person is taught from heaven that Torah that is acquired without toil has no importance. The Gemara writes that while a baby is in his mother's womb he is taught the entire Torah, and when he is ready to be born – an angel comes and slaps him on his mouth and causes him to forget everything. (Nidah 30b) Rabbi Yisrael Salanter asks: If he is caused to forget, then why is he taught? It must be that heaven wishes that a person acquire the Torah all over again through his own toil, because there is no value to Torah if it is received as a gift.

This is how the Tosfot Yom Tov explains the Mishna in Avot (4:10): "If you have toiled in the Torah then you are given great reward." It does not say if you have studied… This means that the reward that a person receives is for the toil and the bother, and not according to the amount studied.

Based on this idea the Chafetz Chaim explains the Gemara in Brachot 64b:

Upon exiting the Beit Midrash one says: "...I toil and receive reward, but they toil and do not receive reward."

The Chafetz Chaim asks: Do craftsmen who toil in their craft not receive any reward for their work? Rather, the reward of every craftsman is according to the craft that he made. If he made a vessel, even if he greatly toiled over it – he is only paid according to the value of the vessel. This is not the case with Torah study; the reward of the studier is decided according to one's effort, as it says, "According to the suffering is the reward." This is the meaning of "I toil and receive reward" – for the toil of the Torah, even though the amount studied is not that great.

Moreover, even a person who studied and forgot what he studied receives reward for what he toiled in Torah study. This is what the Meshech Chochma writes in his commentary on the Mishna in Avot (5:14): "Know before Whom you study, and the owner of your craft can be trusted to pay the reward for your work." Rav Meir Simcha writes that even if you forget, Hashem will still pay you the reward of your action – that you toiled in Torah.

The Maharal in Chidushei Agadot writes that the toil of Torah has inherent value, even if it shows no results. He proves this through the Gemara in Bava Kama (41b) which says that Shimon Ha'Amsoni expounded all instances of "et" in the Torah  (to add something similar). When he reached the pasuk, "Et Hashem your G-d, you shall fear" (Devarim 6:13), he quit, because he was afraid to compare the fear of heaven to something else, and regretted all the other instances of "et" that he had taught. His students said to him "Rebbe, what will become of all the instances of "et" that you taught?" (I.e., they are no longer correct?) Shimon Ha'Amsoni replied to them, "Just as I received reward for teaching – so I will also receive reward for quitting."

The Maharal asks: It is understandable that he receives a reward for quitting, since he avoided a mistake, but what reward does he deserve for teaching – after all everything he taught was mistaken? The Maharal explains: Because Shimon Ha'Amsoni had thought that he was correct in his teaching – he is rewarded for those teachings as if they were true. This means that he was laboring in the toil of Torah, and even though there were no results in the end – he still receives a reward for them. The Maharal concludes with a general rule about Torah study: "Whenever one of the Talmudic sages provides an explanation of what is written, and that explanation is rejected, Heaven forbid that the toil of the first [opinion] should be in vain."

The first words that a person is supposed to place in the mouth of his infant son are: "Moshe commanded us the Torah, an inheritance from the community of Yaakov." (Succah 42b) The Torah is an inheritance for the person, which comes to the person without any toil or labor, yet the Mishna says: "Prepare yourself to study Torah, for it is not an inheritance for you?" (Avot 5:12) Tiferet Yisrael explains: The Torah is an inheritance and it is not an inheritance. It is an inheritance to the whole of Israel, in that we pass it down through the generations, and it is promised to every generation as an inheritance. However, every individual who wishes to acquire the Torah needs to toil and labor in it and this is what it means: "That you will toil in Torah."

 

 

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