Im b’chukosai teileichu…”If you will follow My decrees…”
In batei medrash, yeshivos, kollelim and homes throughout the Jewish world, the famous words of Rashi’s explanation to this passuk, “You shall toil in the study of Torah,” are applied on a daily basis.
Joining those who are able to make Torah-learning their full-time occupation are the countless spiritual heroes who arise well before dawn to learn as much as they possibly can and then after an exhausting day of work still have a nighttime chavrusa. For these fortunate individuals, it is considered as if they actually learned Torah all day.
The halachah is that at harvest time, a worker placing produce in the vessels of his owner is permitted to eat some of the produce while he is working. Even the time spent walking from one ridge to another in order to gather the produce is also considered time spent working.
The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, uses this fact to teach us that when a Yid awakens in the morning and dedicates his day to serving Hashem, even the time he is involved in business dealings in order to support his family is considered part of avodas Hashem, for the purpose of his work is to provide him with the food and resources he needs in order to serve Hashem.
However, the Chofetz Chaim cautions us, this is only true when he uses all his spare time, such as in the evenings and on Shabbosos, to learn Torah. Otherwise, he not only loses the merit of the Torah learning he could have done during that period of time, but loses the right to be credited for the hours he worked as well.
There is another important angle to consider.
Harav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, once spoke of the importance of Torah study, and stressed the halachah that all are required to learn Torah. Whether poor or rich, or even in pain — a person is required to learn.
After his inspiring address, a Yid approached him and said, “Rebbi, it is incorrect to say that everyone is required to learn Torah. For I am patur from this responsibility …”
Rav Yisrael asked the Yid, “Why do you think so?”
“First of all, my parents never taught me anything,” the Yid explained. “I am a simple Yid; with difficulty I learned how to read a siddur. I keep the mitzvos to the best of my ability. However, I do not know how to learn. Surely HaKadosh Baruch Hu will not hold it against me.
“Secondly,” the Yid continued, “I am busy from early morning until night earning my livelihood, and return home exhausted and without any strength. How can it be expected of me to learn?”
With great patience and warmth, Rav Yisrael responded to the Yid. “Do you think that learning must necessarily be from a sefer? Learning can also be by heart. To the contrary, the main requirement to learning Torah Sheb’al Peh is by heart. Such type of Torah study can be done at any time — even on the way to work or on the way back!”
The Yid looked at Rav Yisrael with a puzzled expression on his face. “But Rebbi,” he exclaimed, “if I do not know how to learn from a sefer — then I certainly do not know how to learn by heart!”
Rav Yisrael began to ask the Yid pointed questions. “Tell me, what is your daily schedule?”
“I get up in the morning and wash my hands,” the Yid began. “Then I don tefillin and daven.”
“Why?” asked Rav Yisrael.
“What do you mean?” wondered the Yid. “That is the halachah.”
“Good,” said Rav Yisrael. “What do you do next?”
“After davening, I wash my hands and eat bread.”
“Without a brachah?” pressed Rav Yisrael.
“Chas v’shalom,” the Yid replied, suddenly frightened. “Of course I make a brachah before and after eating. Look, Rebbi, I am a good Yid, I keep the mitzvos. There will not be complaints against me. Except in learning Torah, for I do not know how to learn.”
Rav Yisrael Salanter turned to the Yid and responded, “You yourself have just proved that you are indeed required to learn Torah — and can learn! If not from within a sefer, then by heart!”
“I do not understand,” murmured the Yid.
“On the way to work,” Rav Yisrael instructed him, “you should repeatedly say, ‘When a Yid arises in the morning he is required to wash his hands, recite the brachos of Netilas Yadayim, and Elokai Neshamah. He is then required to recite Birchos HaTorah and Birchos Hashachar. Then, he is to wrap himself in a tallis, put on tefillin, and daven Shacharis…”
The Yid wondered aloud, “Indeed, Rebbi, that is my daily schedule — but what does this have to do with talmud Torah?”
“Do you not agree that one who learns even one halachah fulfills the mitzvah of learning Torah, and one is required to recite the Birchos HaTorah?”
“Of course,” responded the Yid.
“This is what the Chayei Adam says: That when a Yid arises in the morning he is to wash his hands, recite the Birchos Hashachar and daven.
“Every halachah is part of the Torah.” Rav Yisrael continued. “Therefore, when you think about it, you will find that there are a great many halachos that you are aware of. Dinim of everyday living, halachos regarding Shabbos and Yom Tov…
“Study them as you leave the house and upon your return,” Rav Yisrael concluded. “With every single word, you will be fulfilling a great mitzvah!”
We are fortunate that in our generation, nearly everyone has the possibility to learn and review the basic halachos of day-to-day life. Numerous sefarim — in many languages — are readily available, as are digital recordings and telephone hotlines of shiurim.
Through studying the pertinent halachos, and reviewing them as they are applied, one will be toiling in Torah throughout the day.