True Labor

“If you will walk in My statutes . . . ,” says G‑d in the beginning of the portion of Bechukotai, “I will give your rains in their time, the land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit.”

Rashi explains that the “walking in G‑d’s statutes” means to labor in Torah.1

Interestingly, we are rewarded for laboring over the Torah. In fact, this is the only instance where labor without achievement is rewarded. In all other instances, mere labor is insufficient; one must actually achieve the objective to be rewarded. But in Torah study, the labor itself is the objective.2

There are two primary reasons to study Torah. The first is simply to know the law and understand its precepts. The second is to be suffused with Divine wisdom. When our objective is the former, we must study until we understand. When our objective is the latter, we must study until we labor.

In the days before the Talmud was recorded, Torah students would review their studies until they had memorized it. Common practice was to review each point of law 100 times. Yet the diligent students would force themselves to review it one more time, for a total of 101. They cherished that last repetition even more than they did the entire set of 100.

When you are accustomed to a standard, no matter how high it is, it becomes your norm. Exceeding that standard, breaking your norm, even by a little, is excruciating. For example, if you are accustomed to running 10 miles, you know that running even one extra mile is more difficult than all the 10 miles combined. But that one mile pushes your limits and expands your willpower.

For the Torah students, the last repetition constituted labor over the Torah. To labor means to push yourself beyond your norm. If you want to be suffused with Divine wisdom, you need to labor. You need to reach beyond yourself and transcend your highest point. Only then are you positioned to reach for the Almighty.3

Finding Transcendence

It is interesting that the Hebrew term for creation ex nihilo is yesh mei-ayin, literally, “something from nothing.” The term “from nothing” refers to the nothingness that existed before creation. But let us be clear about what we mean with the term “nothingness.” Before creation there wasn’t nothingness, there was G‑d. Yet we call it nothingness because to be suffused with the transcendence of Divinity, we must shed our perception of self and come to sense our own nothingness.

To reach this state of mind, we need to reach beyond ourselves. We must recognize our self-imposed limitations and strive to exceed them. We must set ourselves aside and yearn for transcendence. And here comes the fabulous insight. The numeric value of the Hebrew word mei-ayin, which means “from nothing,” is 101—the number of times the Torah students reviewed their studies to truly labor over the Torah.

By pushing beyond our norms and exceeding our own limitations, we encounter our own nothingness and are suffused with the transcendence of the Divine.4

Until You Walk

“If you will walk in My statutes” refers to the concept of laboring over the Torah. But what does walking have to do with Torah study?

The prophet Zechariah declared that whereas angels are capable only of “standing,” souls are capable of “walking.”5 In other words, angels are incapable of exceeding their limitations. They are holy creatures with vast spiritual capabilities, but they can neither do less nor more than their G‑d-given capacity.

Souls are different. We start off on a lower rung than angels, but if we push ourselves, we can journey higher than them. We can keep walking beyond our limitations and exceed even ourselves. We can keep studying the Torah and laboring over it until we reach our own state of nothingness. Thus we are “walkers” compared to angels, who are stationary.6

When we study in this transcendental way, we don’t just labor over Torah, we become the Torah. We awaken with thoughts of Torah and go to bed with thoughts of Torah, and when we sit idly, thoughts of Torah rise unbidden to our minds. King David once said that no matter where he set out to go in the morning, his feet would carry him to the study hall. When I was growing up, there was a particular rabbi in our community whose wife asked him to take out the garbage. Forgetting himself halfway between his home and the curb, his feet carried him to the synagogue, garbage bag in hand . . .

Those who labor over the Torah literally “walk in [Divine] statutes.”7


The ultimate experience of suffusion with the Divine will occur in the messianic age. This will be a time when all veils will be removed and the glory of the Divine will radiate. This too is alluded to in our enigmatic verse, “If you will walk in My statutes.”

The verse begins with the Hebrew word im, which is spelled with the letters alef and mem. These letters form the acronym of all the redeemers in our national history.8

The redeemers from Egypt were Aaron and Moses. The redeemers from Persia were Esther and Mordechai. The redeemers from our exile will be Elijah and Moshiach. The message is that if we desire the messianic era of Divine revelation and inspiration, we must labor over the Torah today until we are suffused with the transcendence of the Divine. And then, Moshiach will come.

May that day come speedily in our times. Amen.