Dear Readers,

Think of a couple that has been married for a number of years. Their lives have settled into a comfortable routine and an almost predictable pattern.

Perhaps too comfortable.

With the passage of time, a relationship risks slipping into auto-pilot mode. It may be functional, but it can become stale, with neither spouse putting forth effort to ignite its flames. They may be spending time together, but they are not “connecting” and deepening their bond.

Every relationship needs an infusion of tender effort, thought and concern.

“If you will walk in My statutes (chukim) and observe My commandments and perform them . . .” (Lev. 26:3).

The sages translates the Hebrew word im (“if”) as a request and plea, as in “if only . . .”, rather than a condition or choice.

Rashi explains: That you shall labor in the study of Torah in order to observe and fulfill the commandments.

“. . . If however, you will walk casually with Me and have no desire to listen to Me . . . I too, will act casually with you” (ibid. 26:21, 23–24).

Rashi comments: Casually, irregularly, by chance, [something occurring] only occasionally.

The husband-and-wife paradigm is often used to depict the relationship between G‑d and the Jewish people. This is because no other relationship exemplifies such dynamic growth.

While the relationship between a parent and a child is strong, that love is constant and steadfast. Though the love grows, the disparity between what it was and what it becomes is usually not radical. The love has always been there and normally always will remain.

In a healthy marriage, on the other hand, the love between spouses must deepen and grow, or the relationship is at risk of becoming static and stale.

This is true with our “marriage” to G‑d as well. It is not enough for our relationship to remain in “default mode,” with the knowledge, in the background, that G‑d is always there for us when we really need Him.

We need to connect with G‑d rather than just pass our moments of prayer without concentration or energy. We need to spend moments of our day thinking about how we can help the relationship develop, doing something “special” for Him.

This is laboring in Torah, growing in our practice of making G‑d a real part of our day.

To “labor” means to strain ourselves, going outside of the limitations of our ego, finding or creating room for something other than our own selves, our wants and needs.

This is also the meaning of walking in G‑d’s statutes. “Walking” implies a constant progression to a new level, to an even higher faith and commitment, to a greater awareness and understanding of what G‑d desires from us.

That is why the Torah uses the word chukim, “statutes,” when referring to the mitzvot in the above verse. Chukim are those laws that defy our logic or intellectual capacity. These are not laws that we would derive on our own because of their moral imperative.

Our relationship with G‑d must be deeper than what makes sense to our limited understanding. It must extend beyond what seems to work for us, or what neatly fits into the time slots of our daily schedules.

The word chok also means “engraved.”

The implication is that Torah must become so much a part of our being that it is engraved into our mindset and is as important to us as our very life. Internalizing Torah means making its teachings a part of our essential selves, to the extent that we remain committed to its ideals, because we have made the Torah’s will our own.

If we show such effort in our relationship with G‑d, He promises us all the greatest material and spiritual blessings. These blessings encompass every type of bliss—everything contained in reality from aleph (the first Hebrew letter) to tav (the last Hebrew letter). The blessings in the opening verses therefore begin with the letter aleph (in the word im, “if only”) and end with the letter tav (in the word komemiyut, in verse 13).

The greatest blessing is G‑d’s promise, “I will set My dwelling among you”—we will dwell together with G‑d in harmony, in deep love and devotion.

If, however, we take our “marriage” for granted, and we walk “casually” with G‑d, then G‑d reciprocates in kind.

The worst punishment is for G‑d to say, “Have it your way. If you want an autopilot relationship that is effort-free and concern-free, I’ll do the same. What happens to you is of no significance to Me.” This is G‑d acting “casually” toward us, as if He really doesn’t care about us or our connection with Him.

Because the most destructive thing for a relationship is leaving it to its own devices, allowing it to self-destruct through casual neglect.

For only when there is an infusion of thought, concern, love, and passion—only when there is laboring in a relationship—can the love endure. And grow.