The Tzemach Tzedek, the third Rebbe of Chabad, was raised by his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe. Once the Alter Rebbe told him: “I want to give you all the Torah knowledge I possess as a present.” The Tzemach Tzedek declined, saying that he preferred to gain his knowledge through his own labor and toil.

Years later, however, he regretted the decision. “I should have taken the present from my grandfather,” he remarked, “and then begun to toil. I could have achieved far more if my initial base of knowledge had been broader.”

Parshas Haazinu

In the second verse of this song, Moses tells the people: “Let my teaching drop like rain, let my sayings flow like dew.” With these metaphors, he is informing the people of two dimensions of Torah. Dew flows at all times. Rain, by contrast, is dependent on the evaporation of moisture from the earth. Only when there is a sufficient amount of moisture that has risen from the earth is it possible for rain to descend.

Dew is thus an analogy for the revelation of Torah that comes from Above. Thus it is interpreted as a reference to the Written Law which is G‑d’s word, made known to us by the prophets on His initiative. And in a personal sense, it refers to the awareness of G‑d that is, from time to time, granted to a person as a gift from above, as an expression of G‑d’s kindness.

Rain, by contrast, refers to that dimension of Torah associated with man’s labor. Of course, its source is also Above, for the Torah is G‑d’s truth, not man’s. But this facet of Torah requires man’s input. Therefore it refers to the Oral Law which is revealed as a result of man’s study.

In that vein, our Sages teach: “Every new insight developed by an experienced sage was given to Moshe at Sinai.” The insight was developed by the scholar through his effort and striving. And yet, it is not an entirely new insight — for then, it would be merely a human truth. Instead, it is part of the Sinai revelation. The scholar, through his diligent work was able to align his understanding with G‑d’s truth and reveal an aspect that was previously unknown.

In the personal sense, this refers to the awareness of G‑d that comes from a person’s own efforts. He labors to appreciate spiritual concepts, not as they can be appreciated by the soul as sparks of spiritual truth, but as they are internalized and understood by the human dimensions of our being.

Now both of these dimensions are important. Revelation from above is always more refined and pristine than truths realized by man. But the truths man realize on his own are more lasting and have a greater effect on his own spiritual development.

To go back to the analogy, any farmer will tell you that dew is useful, but if you really want crops to grow, rain is necessary. To generate sincere and real change, it is necessary that a person work on himself.

Looking to the Horizon

These two patterns are reflected in different eras in our nation’s spiritual history. The era of the Temple was an era of “dew.” G‑dliness was manifest from above as an expression of His kindness. Miracles took place in the Temple even when the Jews acted decadently and rebelled against G‑d.

The era of exile, by contrast, is characterized by concealment and any awareness of G‑d which we are granted is attained by our hard work in refining ourselves and our surroundings. On the other hand, precisely this approach is what will bring the ultimate revelations that will characterize the era of Mashiach. Like rain which comes as a result of vapor, those revelations will be brought about by our efforts in this era of exile.