An ancient Chinese proverb that appears in the Book of Tao - published about 2,500 years ago by Lao Tse - teaches us that "the easy way is the correct way." What could be simpler than that?! After all, aren’t we all seeking an easy and comfortable life?
When a person does things in life which are simple and don’t feel like a burden he feels free and relaxed. Therefore, people are constantly inventing and selling more and more electrical appliances, gadgets and other things to make our lives easier.
At the beginning of Parashat Bechukotai, when speaking of the blessings, the Torah opens with the words "If you follow my commandments," Rashi quotes the words of the Sages: "That you should labor in the Torah." And at the beginning of the curses, when the Torah begins with the words "And if you will not heed me," Rashi explains, according to the Sages, "and if you do not heed me – to be laboring in the Torah."
Why? What is wrong with studying Torah easily and simply?
We need to understand that our Torah is divine and originates from supreme worlds, while we are only flesh and blood. In order for the holy Torah to be able to penetrate our earthly beings and bring about internal improvement in us, we need to toil in it.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman from Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chassidism, writes in the Tanya that the Torah resembles food; when a person eats, the food is digested in the body and becomes part of the person. The same is true when a person toils in Torah; it becomes part of the learner's personality and makes him a better person.
We need to stress another point: the very labor put in to learning of the Torah, even before a person can even understand what he has learned, is already changing him for the better! Just making the effort to try to understand the Word of G-d is already causing improvement in the learner! Toiling over the Torah is not only a means of knowing the Torah, but the toil itself is the goal and brings all the blessings that follow, as the Parsha teaches us. When a person puts his effort into understanding the Torah, the Torah penetrates his outer layer and is engraved in his mind and heart, and so he and the Torah become one.
It is said that the great sages became who they were because of their very laboring over the Torah. As Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin said of the Vilna Gaon: "I heard from his holy mouth that many times angels came to him from heavens wanting to teach him the secrets of the Torah without his expounding any effort and he refused to listen to them. One of the angels put pressure on The Gaon and the Gaon said to him: I do not want my Torah knowledge to be revealed to me by angels or by any other means whatsoever other than what G-d himself reveals to me through my laboring and toiling with all of my strength!”
From this story we see that the Vilna Gaon understood that when you receive Torah from angels, you learn the Torah from the messenger of G-d, but when one labors to learn Torah they are learning it directly from G-d.
Rabbi Shlomo Sobol serves as Dean and Founder at the Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics and Community Development, and as rabbi of Kehillat Shaarei Yonah Menachem in Modi’in