Being a religious Jew requires a lot of hard work. Unfortunately we live in an age in which people look to simplify things. The 30 second sound bite is king. This trend has spread to Judaism where books galore can be found summarizing the essence of a Jewish way of life. The underlying, even if unintentional message is that by reading a few books - in English no less - one can be on their way to being an expert in Judaism. Yet to imply so, is nothing short of a distortion of Torah. Would anyone dare suggest that one who knows no more than addition could master mathematics in a few relaxing classes? It is no wonder that the great first century sage Shammai when asked by a prospective proselyte to teach him the entire Torah while he stood on one foot, threw him out of the house. While Hillel was more tolerant of this display of intellectual arrogance he too instructed him zeil gmor , go and learn. Loving your neighbour as yourself, as important as that is, just isn't enough.
No doubt that when trying to attract those of limited backgrounds to study our texts emphasizing the difficult road that one must travel to become a knowledgeable Jew could be counter productive. Yet we must be careful never to water down the commitment and effort necessary to even begin to scratch the surface of our Torah.
"If you follow my laws and are careful to keep my commandments" (26:3). So begins this week's parsha as it details a series of blessings that we will merit if we keep the Torah and warns us of the calamities that will befall us if we do not. Rashi however is bothered by the seeming redundancy in this verse. Surely if we are careful to keep G-d's commandments that means we are following the laws of our Torah! Apparently more is demanded than "just" observing the laws and commandments of our Torah. What is necessary, observes Rashi, is that we must be " Amelim b'Torah ", we must toil in Torah. It is constant work, always looking for ways to enhance our observance of Torah. A good athlete will be full of sweat and will have dirtied his uniform during the game. We thus know the effort that was expended in trying to win. Torah demands no less. One must, if necessary, be prepared to "eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, live a life of deprivation - but toil in the Torah" (Pirkei Avot 6:4). While pointing this out may not be popular, this is the meaning of "following My Laws."
Of course it is not only in the area of intellectual growth where hard work is necessary. Developing and refining our character traits, creating a religious personality requires lots of hard work. Modern psychology has recognized that which our Torah proclaimed long ago, that moral behavior can be inculcated even amongst those of us who do not have such a natural inclination. It is hard work but it can be done. But are we even trying? Do we even think about it or do we observe mitzvot by rote? Have we at least learned the laws relating to those areas where we are weak? How many people are willing to change their seat so that they will not be tempted to talk during davening? Are you conducting business with the type of people that will ensure your ethical conduct?
Our Sages recommend keeping a diary, an ethical diary where we record our accomplishments and failures on a daily basis. Just doing so is bound to have a positive impact upon us. Analyzing such data on a periodic basis will allow us to detect trends and highlight areas in which we must work to improve. If players and coaches spend hours upon hours reviewing game films shouldn't we do the same?
Nothing truly meaningful in life is accomplished without hard work. Observing the Torah is the most meaningful activity that we can do. Let us work hard at it and no doubt G-d's many blessings will be bestowed upon us. Shabbat Shalom !