Striving for excellence – Shabbat Kodesh Parshat Bechukotai

At the start of our Parsha we read:

אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ וְאֶת־מִצְוֺתַ֣י תִּשְׁמְר֔וּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָֽם׃

וְנָתַתִּ֥י גִשְׁמֵיכֶ֖ם בְּעִתָּ֑ם וְנָתְנָ֤ה הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ יְבוּלָ֔הּ וְעֵ֥ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֖ה יִתֵּ֥ן פִּרְיֽוֹ׃

If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments, I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit. (Vayikra 26:3)

“If you will follow My laws “: You might think that this refers to fulfilling Mitzvot (i.e. commandments), however when the verse writes, “and observe my commandments”-the fulfilment of the commandments is already stated. What then is “If you follow My laws”?  Rashi explains that It means that you should be striving in Torah learning.

How does the expression “follow (or literally walk) My laws”-translate into toiling and striving in Torah study?  The Maharal explains in Gur Aryeh* that going or walking requires effort and exertion. So learning too requires effort. Learning is an active process that requires toil just like when a person travels from place to place. Still, why is learning and striving in Torah referred to in the language of the Holy Torah as “following or going”?

Often, I personally feel that I have not achieved the real spiritual (מדרגה) level that I could – if I was more consistent in my strive to excel.  Perhaps – this verse in the Torah tells us that as long as we are still walking and have not rested on our laurels, we are doing well and deserve blessings, even if we haven’t (yet) reached the highest level achievable to us.   Perhaps!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Chaim Michael Biberfeld

*Judah Loew ben Bezalel (Hebrew: יהודה ליב בן בצלאל; between 1512 and 1526 – 17 September 1609), also known as Rabbi Loew (alt. Löw, Loewe, Löwe or Levai), the Maharal of Prague (Hebrew: מהר״ל מפראג), or simply the Maharal (the Hebrew acronym of “Moreinu ha-Rav Loew”, ‘Our Teacher, Rabbi Loew’), was an important Talmudic scholar, Jewish mystic, and philosopher who, for most of his life, served as a leading rabbi in the cities of Mikulov in Moravia and Prague in Bohemia. Within the world of Torah and Talmudic scholarship, the Maharal  is known for his works on Jewish philosophy and Jewish mysticism and his work Gur Aryeh al HaTorah, a supercommentary on Rashi’s Torah commentary. He is also the subject of a 19th-century legend that he created the Golem of Prague, an animate being fashioned from clay.