Community Torah Corner, May 12, 2023

Rabbi Isaac Bernstein
Congregation Etz Chaim
Livingston, NJ
Parashat Behar-Bechukotai

The opening phrase of Parsha Bechukotai, “im bechukotai telechu,” means: “If you follow My statutes.” One may have thought that this phrase means to observe the commandments. The problem is, the very next phrase is “and observe My commandments.” So what does the first phrase mean? Rashi tells us that this is not just any other mitzvah; rather the Torah is telling us that there is a secret ingredient needing in our Jewish observance: ameilut

Ameilut, normally translated as toiling, is a key ingredient to Torah study. If one treats the Torah as one would a Harry Potter novel, just skimming the pages to gather information, that person has missed the point. Hashem gave us an incredible gift, which this upcoming Shavuot we will celebrate. He gave us the gift, not just simply to have the Torah, but of learning the Torah. Some may read that sentence and think, “I’m not sure it’s such a gift; it's hard! I don’t understand a thing!”

The Chafetz Chaim gives us a great parable to understand this gift. A person brings their watch into the store and asks the person behind the counter to change the band on the watch. For an hour, this man works hard trying to find the right band to fit in this watch. He tries this one, that one, and eventually, after an hour, he tells the customer none of his bands fit this watch. Asks the Chafetz Chaim, does the customer pay the man for his work? Absolutely not! He did not produce any results!

And yet, when it comes to Torah, Hashem has given us the greatest gift. We can work and work, toil in our Torah learning, and if at the end of the day, we didn’t fully understand, we're lacking in our result, we still get paid. Hashem sees the effort we put in, and rewards us greatly. 

This is the gift we will celebrate in just a couple weeks. This is the secret ingredient: ameilut.