Toiling in Torah
B’H | By David Speyer
We read in Parshas Bamidbar, that Hashem tells Moshe to count the Jewish people and instructs Moshe: “You and Aharon shall count them by their groups, twenty years old and over, all those among Yisrael who are eligible for army service.” Why does Hashem tell Moshe to count from the age of 20 and at the same time adds “who are eligible for army service?” The Levyim are counted separately later and not included in “all men eligible for army service.”
Before Parshas Bamidbar in Parshas Behar-Bechukosai - Hashem commands us to “pursue the study of the Torah.” Rashi uses the expression “to study the Torah laboriously.” Hashem tells us that if you don’t work in Torah, in learning, in keeping my mitzvahs and do not fulfill my commandments, then you are against me.
What does the “counting of all men of fighting age” and “working in Torah” have in common, especially now when there are so many internal challenges between us?
The Torah is EMES – Truth. All of existence is revealed in and through Torah. The Jewish soul is the embodiment of Hashem’s revelation – a partner with Hashem to create a balance between spirituality and physicality - with free choice – choose Torah and choose life. The Jew can bend and change reality through actions in-line with or counter to Torah. This is a law in nature and of creation – it’s why the power of the Jew is in prayer and deeds. Hashem showed Avraham the stars and said you have the power to go above nature – to change reality – your mazal is not in the stars. Your power for good and for bad is your mouth and your impact is the “world of action.” Action influences the divinely encoded DNA of the heavens and earth – it is My gift to you – it is called Torah and Mitzvot – the expression of Hashem’s Wisdom and Will. Wisdom (Chochmah) is the blueprint of creation. Prayer and mitzvot bring down Hashem’s light into the world. It’s an incredibly stunning reality. This is how we reveal G-d in this world.
Since there is an “absolute” purpose in Torah – how can anything in creation be out of place? If things seem to be out of balance - why?
Everything is a manifestation of Hashem. There are no mistakes. Hashem says clearly that all men who are in the count are also men eligible to fight. The Torah elsewhere details who is exempt from fighting and who is not. When Jews went to war, it included scholars and farmers – Moshe Rabbeinu, Yehoshua, Aharon HaCohen – the leaders of the tribes - everyone. Each person had a part in affecting the outcome of the battle. Some fought, others prayed, others were involved in logistics and there was those who continued to learn. Hashem tells us that all of Israel has an obligation to protect the Jewish people and this is how we watch over each other.
Coming back to Rashi and Hashem’s command to “work in Torah.” Work is toiling – putting your essence, your “being” into what you do. A person who owns a business understands the process – to sweat, to worry, to break ones-self - to make sure the work gets done – to keep at it until the job is complete – to not be satisfied with ones level of achievement – that’s toiling and that’s work. This is about dedicating yourself to the task.
Today in Israel, some secular and observant Jews and some in Government are up in arms about those in Kolel. Why? Generally when you toil you do so with all your energy. You work for your money, pay taxes – money and donations that help support families whose men sit and learn all day. It’s a self-fulfilling partnership. According to Chassidus, your money becomes on some level a manifestation of your essence. The Torah and commentary are replete with discussions and proofs that show that money is an expression of a person’s life-force because their “toil” is in their work. Work requires your energy and this comes from your blood through which the soul provides life to the body. Rabbi Sholom Lipskar often says as irrational as it is, that’s why a person will fight and put his life on the line when being robbed of his money. The robber is extracting the person’s essence.
Look at what is going on through the eyes of the Torah. The Jew is commanded to toil in Torah – do all men in Kolel toil in Torah? Do they “break their teeth” in their learning? When a person commits to learn Torah, whether for an hour or the entire day, even for only 15 minutes a day – is he focused in his efforts? When men at Kolel learn are they toiling as commanded by Hashem?
So in the Parshas, Hashem comes to tell us what happens when we are not “laboring” in Torah in our learning, in our mitzvahs and in keeping his commandments. We have twisted the balance in the world. Hashem sends us a clear message – and the messenger is the voice of those who want to stop funding Yeshiva’s, Kolel’s and to expand enlistment. It’s Hashem begging and pleading with all of us to straighten out – we are winding creation in the wrong way. I am giving you the power to control creation – to save the Jew, to balance the world.
Hashem is saying - if you don’t want to toil in Torah then there are consequences. It’s not enough that there is so much animosity between us – it’s because “we” are feeding the fire. We create the antagonism between us. Collectively we become the source of this spiritual impurity, the world’s imbalance. Hashem is giving us what He promised – if you don’t fight in the “work” of Torah – then I will let you fight in the toil of “fighting.” But toiling you will do! The choice is yours.
If you won’t toil for Hashem - then I will send my messengers to wake you up - you are going to be pulled away from your learning. Is this what we really want? Hashem is calling out. Are we listening? Hashem gives us what our “actions” ask for. You want to learn or do you want to learn at your leisure? In learning My Torah, I am going to hold you to a higher standard. And even though these messengers are messengers of discontent, it’s still Hashem trying to wake us up. We are hurting each other. While this wheel turns, let us allow Hashem to decide if there is “toiling.” Otherwise, we will all is some way be held accountable for our actions.
Hashem should bless us as one nation that each of us does our part – and that the light of Torah shines brightly through intense laborious performance of Mitzvahs and learning – this is the fight Hashem looks for in us. Then we can know with certainty that Hashem will take care of us and the rest of the world. There will be “love of your neighbor as you truly love yourself.”