“If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them…” – Vayikra 26:2
The Torah lays out two divergent destinies for the Jewish people: “If you will go in the ways of my statues…I will give you rainfall in its time, the land will give forth with abundance, the trees of the field will produce fruit…you will eat until you are satisfied…. There will be peace in land…”
However, “If you do not guard my statutes… you will suffer diseases and famine…you will plant and not harvest…your enemies will chase you… the skies will turn to iron…wild animals will attack…[and finally] an avenging sword will come into the land.”
Rashi explains that the pivotal point of these two paths is if you will labor in Torah. If you will labor in Torah, then you as a nation will find great success. Your enemies will fear you, and you will rise ever higher. If, however, you cease to labor in Torah study, then curses will befall you. In short, our success or failure as a nation hinges upon this one activity.
However, as Rashi also points out, this concept of laboring in Torah study is not found in the pasuk. The words are “If you will go in the ways of my statutes.” Nowhere does it specify what this refers to. Rashi explains that it cannot refer to keeping the mitzvahs because that is specifically mentioned at the end of the pasuk. So by process of elimination, he reasons that this must be referring to laboring in Torah study.
This Rashi is difficult to understand. There seems to be no indication of the concept in the pasuk. Granted, learning Torah is very significant, and we may know from other sources that laboring in Torah study is central to serving Hashem, but there doesn’t seem to be any indication here that this statement is speaking about laboring in Torah study. How does Rashi know that this statement of “If you will go in the ways of mystatutes,” refers to laboring in Torah study as opposed to any other mitzvah?
The Inner Workings of the Human
The answer to this question stems from understanding the inner nature of man. Chovos Ha’Levavos (Sha’ar Avodas Elokim) explains that Hashem created man from two very distinct elements. Part of man is pure intellect and wisdom. This part of the person only wishes to do that which is noble and proper. It desires to be generous and giving. It needs to do that which is good and right. This part deeply hungers to experience Hashem. Chazal call this segment the nefesh ha’sichili – the pure soul.
However, there is another component of the human personality that is pure instinct and desire. That part of the individual doesn’t care about anything but fulfilling its needs and wants. It is comprised of base appetites and inclinations. This is referred to as the nefesh ha’bahami” – the animal soul.
When Hashem created man, He took these two diverse segments and mixed them together, creating a new synthesis called man. Man has two competing sides to him, each one crying out to fulfill it needs, each one demanding its fill. These two elements are in competition for dominance of the person. Much like a muscle that grows stronger with use and atrophies with disuse, each side is constantly being strengthened or weakened. If a person gives in to his animal instincts, those instincts become stronger and more dominant. If a person listens to his spiritual soul, it becomes stronger, gaining primacy over his personality. The human is in constant flux, with one side or the other always growing, always gaining supremacy and control over the person.