Parashat Behukotai: The Effort and the Results
Parashat Behukotai describes the blessings that God promises to bestow upon Beneh Yisrael in reward for their observance of the Torah. The Parasha begins with the verse, “If you follow My statutes, and you observe My commands and perform them…” Much has been written about this opening verse of the Parasha, and among the famous commentaries is that of Rashi, who explains the phrase, “If you follow My statutes” to mean, “If you toil in Torah” (“She’tiheyu Amelim Ba’Torah”). According to Rashi, the Torah here refers not only to observing the Misvot, but to Torah learning.
Rashi’s comments are cited very often in Yeshivot when the Rabbis wish to impress upon their students the importance of hard work and diligence in learning. It is significant that Rashi does not speak simply of “learning” Torah, but rather of “toiling” in Torah – “Amelut.” This means exerting effort, sweating, and breaking our heads to understand the words of Torah to the best of our ability. Rashi’s comments are thus often invoked in the context of the unique importance of not just studying, but of putting in time, work and effort.
The importance of “Amelut,” as the Hafetz Haim (Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan, 1839-1933) explained, lies in a fundamental difference between Torah and all other endeavors. Outside the realm of Torah learning, what matters is the end product. If a salesman travels the world but fails to sell a single piece of merchandise, he won’t get paid a dime. Even if he invested Herculean efforts and marketed the item with the highest levels of professional skill, the bottom line is that he failed to produce the desired results, and he will not get rewarded. This is not how it is in Torah. What matters most in the area of learning is the “Amelut” – the work and effort that one invests. A student can come to the yeshiva, spend several days knocking his head against a single piece of Gemara, and leave more confused than when he came in. Still, assuming he genuinely tried and made sincere efforts to understand the material, he will be rewarded no less than the most accomplished scholar. He fulfilled the mandate of “Amelut”; he put in the effort, and this is what is expected of us. As Rashi says, the rewards of Parashat Behukotai are primarily for the “Amelut,” for the hard work invested, regardless of the bottom-line accomplishments.
This is a vital lesson for parents and educators. Unfortunately, many of our Torah education systems place too strong an emphasis on the achievements, rather than the effort. The students who receive prizes, accolades and notoriety are the ones who score in the top percentiles on the exams and who win the contests – but not necessarily those who try the hardest. Parents, too, tend to focus too heavily on exam scores and grades rather than the child’s attitude and efforts. We must remember that the goal in education is, ultimately, the “Amelut,” not the grade. Of course, we want all our children to succeed and to know and understand the material. But this goal is secondary to the goal of producing young men and women who put in the effort, who try, who work hard. This is the message of “Amelut,” and this is the message we ought to convey to our children and our students.