Midreshet Amit


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Technology, Torah and Toil

By: Mrs. Naomi Schraeger

Today’s technology offers students and adults alike a myriad of tools with which to learn.   When one wants to know something, a plethora of information is always just a mouse click away. But with all this readily accessible information, one would think that people would become masters of different disciplines and experts in many fields. What we see instead is a breadth of knowledge, with very little depth. As a teacher, I see that even my best and most dedicated students are perfectly satisfied to find information on Wikipedia; libraries have become a thing of the past. While psychologists and philosophers today are debating the merits and disadvantages of this new way of thinking, we can look to the Torah for insight in this matter.  

This week’s Parsha opens with a promise of reward for those who follow the path set out by Hashem in the Torah. We are promised success in all of our agricultural endeavors and Hashem’s protection from our enemies. Of course to receive these rewards, we must do our part. Hashem’s expectation of us is expressed as follows: ‘If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them…’ Rashi points out that the first part of the pasuk can not simply mean following the commandments in the Torah, as that is stated in the latter part of the verse. Rashi posits that ‘following My statutes’ refers to toiling in Torah study in order to understand the commandments. According to his explanation, we do not gain the promised reward for simply adhering to the laws of the Torah. A rote relationship with the mitzvoth is not enough. Hashem tells us that in order to receive the reward, we must strive for a deep understanding and appreciation of the Torah. I would like to point out that the Hebrew word which Rashi uses for study of Torah is not ‘limud’ or to learn, but rather ‘amelim b’torah’-  laboring through the Torah. When one studies Torah and really wants to understand it, one should work up a sweat!  
At first glance, there is something very puzzling about this. Normally, we don’t think of doing Mitzvoth and learning Torah for the sake of reward. We do it to become better people, and to come closer to God. If this is the ideal, why is Hashem ‘lowering the bar’? Why mention a reward if the ideal is to live this life because it is the right thing to do? One possible answer to this is given in the Talmud. We are taught the principle of ‘mitoch shelo lishma, bah lishma’ – if one performs a commandment for the wrong reason (an ulterior motive), one will come to perform it for the right reason (for the sake of Heaven). This means that Hashem dangles the reward in front of us so that even if we are not up to the challenge of being idealistic in our performance of the Mitzvot, we will still perform them.

Although this is a beautiful and practical idea, I think there might be something else to the reward which is promised. While it may seem strange as an incentive for spiritual pursuits, we are promised material security and wealth for studying and adhering to the Torah. I would like to suggest that the reward we receive is actually a means to continuing the Torah lifestyle. Pirkei Avot teaches us that the reward for a mitzvah is the opportunity to perform another mitzvah. Part of the presentation of that opportunity is Hashem’s blessing of our environment. By providing for our physical needs, Hashem ensures that we will be able to continue with our task of ‘ameilim b’torah’ (toiling with the Torah).

With this in mind, let us return to the challenge of today’s technology. As was mentioned above, there is a glut of information, but because it is so readily available, there is often little mastery or depth of knowledge.  The Torah weighs in heavily on this issue. From the words of the Torah (and Rashi’s commentary), we see that we are expected to actively engross ourselves in the world of Torah. There can be no wikiTorah as far as this week’s Parsha is concerned; skimming the surface is just not enough.  May we all merit to benefit from the fruits of our hard work and Torah achievement, and be presented with a life full of opportunities to continue on that path.