The opening phrase of the Torah, Im bechukosai teileichu, “If you proceed in My statutes,” is interpreted by our Rabbis as follows:

Is the intent the performance of the mitzvos? The continuation [of the verse] “and are careful to keep My commandments” pertains to the mitzvos. What then is the intent of “If you proceed in My statutes”? That you labor in the study of Torah.

Postulating that the phrase is referring to the study of Torah, however, presents a difficulty because of the term bechukosai. The root of that term, chok, refersto mitzvos whose motivating principle transcends understanding. As Rashi states: “It is a decree... you have no permission to question [the reason for its observance].” Torah study, however, involves comprehension and understanding, giving man the opportunity to intellectually grasp and identify with G‑d’s truth.

There is, however,another way of interpreting the term bechukosai, seeing itas related to the word chakikah, meaning “engraving.” According to this understanding, the implication of referring to Torah study with the word bechukosai is that we must labor in the study of Torah until the words are engraved within us.

The advantage of engraving over writing is not merely that engraved letters are united with the surface unto which they are carved, for this is also true with regard to written letters. Although letters written on parchment are not part of the parchment itself, they become one with the parchment.

Instead, the advantage of engraving is that the letters are not an independent entity. Their existence cannot be separated from the object onto which they have been engraved; the two form one integral whole.

This is the lesson the term bechukosai communicates with regard to the study of Torah. The intent is not merely that a Jew who studies the Torah should be united with the subject matter. Instead, the phrase teaches that a person must engrave the Torah he studies within his very being. Studying in a manner resembling writing — in which two separate entities come together — is not sufficient. Instead, one must study in a manner that resembles engraving; the student ceases to see himself as an independent entity, rather, his entire existence is the Torah.

This approach was exemplified by Moshe our teacher, the first recipient of the Torah. His bittul, self-nullification, was so great that he identified totally with G‑dliness, saying “I will grant grass....” The word “I” refers to G‑d, and yet it was uttered by Moshe because “the Divine Presence spoke from his throat.” Every person can, in microcosm, bring about that degree of identification with G‑dliness through Torah study. When he understands a Torah concept, he can appreciate how his mind has become one with the G‑dly idea that he is studying.

Looking to the Horizon

This Torah reading contains the verse: “I will remove beasts of prey from the land.” The commentaries interpret this as a reference to the era of Mashiach, because in the present gestalt, there have been and always will be beasts of prey.

Among the concepts derived from this verse: There is a difference of opinion among our Sages if there will be outright miracles in the era of Mashiach or not. The Rabbis who maintain that there will be such miracles use this verse as a prooftext to prove their assertion, for the removal of beasts of prey is certainly a miracle that transcends the limits of nature. Others, however, maintain that the verse is merely an analogy: the beasts of prey represent the gentile nations that prey on the Jewish people. The intent is that in the era of Mashiach, they will dwell peacefully with the Jews.

The conception which understands this as a prophecy of miracles is a subject of expanded discussion. What exactly will that miracle be? One view maintains that the beasts of prey will cease to exist. Another maintains that the beasts of prey will continue to exit, but their predatory nature will cease, as the verse states: “The lion will lie down with the lamb.” This represents the ultimate perfection of the era of Mashiach: that the undesirable entities will be transformed into good, not merely banished from existence.