“I don’t want to—it’s too hard!”

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard that from my kids. Whether it’s pulling them out of bed, getting them to eat their broccoli, or making sure they’ve said their morning prayers, resistance comes in many forms. And even when they finally get the job done, it doesn’t make it any easier the next time.

When I think about it, can I really blame them? It is genuinely difficult to get out of bed when you’re tired, it’s no fun to eat broccoli when you detest the green leafy stuff, and it’s downright boring to pray when you’re not in the mood.

So what do I tell them?

For that matter, what do we tell ourselves when it’s just so very hard to do the things we know we’re supposed to do?

And even if you power your way through and get it done, perhaps the most frustrating part is that it doesn’t seem to get any easier. It doesn’t change you, make you different, make you more positively disposed towards it. So, what should you do to finally start enjoying the right things?

How can we change the positive things we do from outward actions that slide right off into penetrating, moving actions that transform our attitude, becoming breezy and enjoyable?

Keeping Mitzvot or Torah Study?

The opening verse of this week’s parshah promises immense reward for those who follow G‑d’s ways and keep the Torah laws:

“If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them, 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.”1

Now, the average reader would understand the words “My statutes”—in Hebrew, “bechukotai”—to mean “My commandments.” Indeed, as we know from other verses, the Hebrew word chukah, the root of the word bechukotai, does mean commandment. And not only that, it means a particular class of commandment—the ones that defy logic.2 As opposed to mitzvot like honoring one’s parents or even keeping Shabbat, which make much sense, chukim refers to those mitzvot like keeping kosher and not mixing wool and linen which lack conventional reasoning.

So far so good. The trouble is that when you take a look at Rashi, the Torah’s preeminent commentary, you see: “What is the meaning of ‘If you follow My statutes’? It means that you must toil in the study of Torah.”3

So it doesn’t refer to logic-defying mitzvot, but the act of studying Torah. Or, more accurately, toiling in Torah study.

Rashi provides reasoning to back up this unique translation, so we’ll take his word for it. What’s left for us to figure out is: What are the implications of the fact that the verse uses the unique word “bechukotai” usually associated with logic-defying mitzvot when talking about Torah study? Granted there’s good reason to interpret it that way, but still, what’s the deeper significance of this anomaly?


The answer lies in a closer examination of the word bechukotai. Stripping the word down to its core three letters, it means “to engrave.”

In a lengthy essay on the parshah, the Alter Rebbe4 contrasts engraving to writing with a quill on parchment, or pen on paper. The latter method applies ink to paper—two disparate items—and creates a letter. But even after they come together, the letter remains independent, existing on its own atop the paper upon which it has been composed. The letter does not penetrate and become part of the paper; it retains its own identity throughout.

In contrast, when one engraves something into a stone, there is only one entity—the stone. The letter is part and parcel of the stone itself, without any independent existence. It penetrates all the way through—leaving nothing other than stone.

Of course, it’s easier to write on paper than to engrave into stone. Engraving is tough work, and to achieve such heightened levels of penetration, you’re going to need quite a bit of elbow grease.

Bringing it back to our conversation about Torah study, we can now understand why the verse uses the word bechukotai specifically about toiling in Torah study. You see, if it’s just regular Torah study—you know, kicking back on the couch and perusing your favorite Jewish book—then it’s not bechukotai, it’s not “engraving.” But when you bend over a tome, much like the old-world scholars who legendarily kept their feet in ice water to stay awake as they pored over sacred texts by candlelight, then you achieve “engraving.”

Put differently, breaking a sweat when studying Torah has both elements of engraving: it’s hard work, and it penetrates deep into your mind and heart.

So, by using the word bechukotai for Torah study, the verse imparts an important message: If you wish for the Torah to drill into your mind and heart, to bore through the bedrock of your indifference and lack of attunement, then you must work hard at it. A true, lasting, and transformative impact will not come easy. But like the steady drip of water that can bore through even the toughest rock, if you keep at it with vigor, determination, and plain old hard work, the holy words of the Torah will break through.


So, if you find that the good things you’re doing and learning are not penetrating into your psyche, your heart, and your soul, perhaps you’re just not working hard enough.

Don’t give up. Roll up your sleeves and get uncomfortable. Study until late at night. Pick up a tractate of Talmud and break your head a little. If you can’t crack it the first time around, keep at it and try again. Read it again, think about it, and try to really understand what’s going on. It will break through if you remain determined.

And here’s the good news: The harder you work and the more workdays you log, the deeper it will penetrate. Those Jews who felt so deeply for their Creator and His mitzvot didn’t arrive at such feelings in a day. Good old hard work and a gritty devotion that challenges your comfort level is precisely the recipe for deep-seated affection and joy.

You may not be the type to keep your feet in ice water late at night. That’s fine. Pick your own personal challenge and hack away at it with determination. But be careful—it may just penetrate so deep, you will find your soul on fire.