In “Inner Game,” the classic book about the internal state of mind required for peak athletes, author Timothy Gallwey describes:

In tennis, who is it that provides a person with the obstacles he needs in order to experience his highest limits? His opponent, of course! Then is your opponent a friend or an enemy? He is a friend to the extent that he does his best to make things difficult for you. Only by playing the role of your enemy does he become your true friend. Only by competing with you does he in fact cooperate!

No one wants to stand around on the court waiting for the big wave. In this use of competition, it is the duty of your opponent to create the greatest possible difficulties for you, just as it is yours to try to create obstacles for him. Only by doing this do you give each other the opportunity to find out to what heights each can rise.

The point is a universal one: difficult doesn’t mean bad, opposition isn’t the enemy, and challenge is more often than not the best that could happen to you.

Full of Laws

This week we begin the third book of the Torah, Vayikra, Leviticus. Unlike the epic stories of Genesis and Exodus, this book is distinct in that it’s full of sacrificial law without many stories.

When discussing the story of Creation at the beginning of Genesis, the Midrash says something interesting about Leviticus:

Rabbi Simon said: The word “light” is stated here five times, corresponding to the five books of the Torah. The words, “And G‑d said ‘let there be light’ correspond to the book of Genesis in which the Holy One, blessed be He, busied Himself and created the world. . . The words “And G‑d saw the light that it was good” corresponds to the book of Leviticus, which is full of laws.1

Two questions come to mind when reading this Midrash. Number one, “Full of laws” is not necessarily unique to Leviticus; the book of Deuteronomy has plenty of laws as well. And secondly, why is the only time light is described as “it was good” associated with the book of Leviticus? What’s particularly good about the fact that it’s full of laws? Is it that there’s simply more to learn, more laws to follow? Why does that make it “good” per se, more than any of the other books that also contain stories, lessons, values?

Hard Is Good

When reading the words, “full of laws,” the immediate understanding is that it is a description of quantity, namely that this book has many laws. But that doesn’t capture the uniqueness of Leviticus, nor the reason it’s so particularly “good.” Rather, it is a description of quality, meaning that the laws enumerated within are uniquely complex and challenging to comprehend.

So yes, Deuteronomy has many laws, but most of them are not nearly as complex as those in Leviticus; the sacrificial laws, mitzvot concerning the priests and Levites, and details of the Temple are all somewhat obscure and definitely challenging to understand.

This, then, is why specifically the book of Leviticus is referred to as “good”—because hard work is good. Sure, it’s great to plow through the easy laws compared to the grind required to work through some of the more obscure stuff, but as everyone knows, the benefit is commensurate with the amount of effort one puts in. After successfully navigating a complicated piece about the olah sacrifice, the feeling is both rewarding and satisfying.

Don’t Shy Away From a Challenge

Herein lies a valuable life lesson that’s as simple as it is critical: don’t shy away from something just because it’s difficult. It’s true about which Torah subject you choose to study, and it’s true about pretty much everything else. In fact, it’s quite possible that it’s precisely the thing you need—and that’s why it’s so hard for you: so you can sweat at it and earn it.

Sometimes, you get dumped with a certain responsibility that just seems “too much.” Your boss leaves you with a project that he really should have done himself. Your children are giving you a hard time and you feel like you simply can’t handle the load. Your friend is in a rut and asks you for something you can’t do. Your parents want you to do something that feels beyond your capabilities.

In all of these moments, it’s seductive to think, “It’s not for me; it’s too hard,” or to get frustrated and cry, “It’s not fair! Why me?”

It’s a tough question, and there aren’t always easy answers. But one thing is for sure: If you’re being tasked with it, that means you can do it, and the harder you work at it, the greater the satisfaction when you get to the other side.

The complex book we will be learning for the next couple months challenges us to think differently. It’s difficult indeed, but difficult doesn’t mean bad. In fact, it’s the best thing that can happen.2