AMEILUS BATORAH (Toiling in Torah)


1) This sicha can be given at various times. During sefirah it is a time to talk about preparation for learning Torah. The weeks of Shovavim, (the parshios of Shmos-Mishpatim) are a special time to focus on repentance for any sexual misconduct, including purifying our thoughts and removing improper sexual thoughts. Rav Yeruchom Levovitz Zal, the Mashgiach of the Mir said that the best way to purify our thoughts is with "ameilus baTorah" - toiling in Torah.

2) The Rambam (Hilchos Issurei Biíah 22:21) also points out that "immoral thoughts can only penetrate a mind that is void of Torah." A certain talmid told his Rebbi that he had a problem of immoral thoughts. The Rebbi told him, to take a cup and fill it up to the top with water. When the talmid brought it back, the Rebbi asked him if he could put any more water in the cup. The talmid said, "Of course not. The cup is full, and nothing else will go inside." The Rebbi said, "That is the answer to your problem, as long as you fill your head up with Torah, then nothing else can go in."

3) The punishment for stealing and slaughtering an ox, is a fine of five times the value of the ox. In the case of a lamb, the fine is only four times the value (Shímos 21:37). The question is why is the fine for a lamb less than the fine for an ox? Chazal (Bava Kama 79b) explain that "Hashem cares about human dignity". When stealing a lamb the robber degrades himself by carrying it on his shoulder which is not the case by an ox. Hashem takes this lack of human dignity into account and diminishes the punishment by 20%.

The "Lev Eliyahu" (Shímos pg. 189) by Rav Eliyahu Lopian Zal, points out a few interesting lessons to be learned from this Chazal.
First of all, we see that Hashem cares about human dignity of even a lowlife robber, whose embarrassment came about because he decided to steal; who told him to steal? How much more so should we worry about the human dignity of regular people?
Secondly, the "Lev Eliyahu" asks why should carrying the lamb on the shoulder be considered a slight to his honor? If we were to ask the robber whether or not carrying the lamb on his shoulder degrades him, the answer would most certainly be "No". He couldn't care less how he steals the lamb, all he cares about is free lamb chops. Why then does he deserve a lesser punishment? Lev Eliyahu answers, that although on the outside the robber himself doesn't feel any degradation, but Hashem looks into the "the innermost (subconscious) of the robber". This inner feeling of somewhat lack of human dignity is enough to reduce the punishment by 20%.

Consequently, we see Hashem's unbelievable Justice. A person who does a sin but doesn't get the full pleasure, (even if the lack of pleasure is so slight that the robber himself feels it only in his subconscious), has the punishment minimized. (This point was explained in the sicha on "How to Listen To A Sicha.")

4) The Lev Eliyahu takes this a step further. Chazal tell us that the reward for a mitzvah is five hundred times more than the punishment for a sin. If Hashem takes into consideration every slight hardship and minimizes the punishment because of it, then he certainly takes into account every slight hardship involved in doing a mitzvah. If doing a mitzvah involved physical pain (e.g. the person was sick) or mental anguish (e.g. being ridiculed by friends) Hashem is guaranteed to maximize the reward.

5) In Pirkei Avos (chp 5:27) "Ben Hei Hei says, According to the pain is the reward." Hashem doesn't just look at the dry act, whether you did it or not, but rather he mainly looks at the toil and pain you incurred while doing it. Unlike the following quote from the Reader's Digest; "Don't tell me how hard you worked, tell me what you accomplished." We will also see later that even if you didn't accomplish - such as if you worked hard on a piece of Gemoro and you learned the wrong explanation, you still get reward.

It is also interesting to note is the explanation of Tosfos (Chagigah 9b) for the name Ben Hei Hei. Tosfos reveals that Ben Hei Hei was a convert to Judaism. Converts are the children of Avraham and Sarah (the first people to make converts), who were originally called Avram and Sarai. Hashem took the original "Yud" (which has the numerical value of ten) from Sarai, and split it into two "Hei"s ("Hei" has the numerical value of five). One "Hei" was added to Avram thus becoming Avraham. The other "Hei" replaced the "Yud" from Sarai, thus becoming Sarah. The name Ben Hei Hei, literally meaning the son of "Hei Hei", referring to a son of Avraham and Sarah, who both had the letter "Hei" added to their names. Imagine a person who lived all of his life doing things that a goy is permitted to do. One day he decides to forfeit all these pleasures and convert to Judaism. What tremendous hardships are involved? How much self control does this require? What about all the ridicule from his peers? It is therefore very befitting for such a person to truly understand that, "According to the pain is the reward."

Avos Dírabbi Noson (3:6) says;

"Rabbi Yishmael B'Rabi Yosi says, "It is better for a person one thing (Mitzvah) done with pain more than one hundred with ease."
Imagine a special sale at Macy's, 100 for the price of 1. Pay for 1 item and get 100. Everybody would run to this sale. It is same way when one wakes up in the morning and makes a list of pros and cons of whether or not to go to daven. Usually tiredness ends up in the "cons" column. This is a mistake however, because, that tiredness, (and any other problems) will increase the reward by 100 times, consequently it belongs in the "pros" column.

The Chofetz Chaim had a talmid in his Yeshiva who had many personal problems. Wanting to cheer him up, he asked him where he was up to in the Gemoro he was learning? The talmid said that he was up to daf (leaf in Enligsh, blatt in Yiddish) 3, which means that he learned 1 blatt (the Gemoro starts from daf 2). However the Chofetz Chaim exclaimed, "Wow you learned 100 blatt!" The talmid was embarrassed and said that he didn't say that he was up to daf 103 but rather daf 3. He had learned only 1 blatt. The Chofetz Chaim responded that since he was learning with so many problems, his 1 blatt in Hashem's book was like he learned 100. If we would only realize it, we would run after these golden opportunities. (This doesnít mean we should put ourselves into difficult situations in order to increase our reward. Such a move would very often backfire because we probably won't be strong enough to do the Mitzvah in that situation. The message is that we should take advantage of those difficult situations that we find already ourselves in.)

6) The Possuk (Malachi 3) says;

"You will return and see the difference between a righteous person and a wicked person and between one who serves Hashem and one who doesn't." In Gemoro Chagigah (9b), Bar Hei Hei (the same one quoted earlier from Pirkei Avos) asks Hillel a question, "Doesnít this possuk. seem repetitious? A righteous person is one who serves Hashem, and a wicked person is one who doesn't serve Hashem."
Hillel answers that the terms "served Hashem" and "didnít serve Hashem" are both referring to perfect Tzaddikim, but "There is no similarity between one who reviews his learning 100 times and one who does it 101 times." (The term "served Hashem" is reserved for a person who reviewed his study 101 times, while the term "didnít serve" applies to a person who reviewed it only 100 times. In other words the one who learned it 1 extra time gets the title "served Hashem".)
Ben Hei Hei asks, "For one time (less) you call him one who doesn't serve Hashem?"
Hillel answered, "Yes, go look at the donkey drivers who take 1 zuz for a trip of 10 parasangs, yet for 11 (only one more) they already take 2 zuz."
The Tanyah (chp 15) explains why there is such a difference. In the times of the Gemoro it was normal nature to learn 100 times without having to go against his yetzer horo. Learning 101 times entails battling the yetzer horo to go over his natural capacity. One who is righteous, but only according to his nature, is labeled as one who doesn't serve Hashem. The person who goes over his capacity, he is the true server of Hashem.
This shows us that extra special toil in Torah study, promotes a person to that special level of "a true server of Hashem".

Of course it's hard to know our individual capacity, so we have to keep trying. We should also discuss it with our Rebbeim, and not rely on our own judgment. It is very common for us to fool ourselves or underestimate our capabilities, due to our laziness. The very same person who says that he's too tired to come to learn, gets a miraculous recovery and is on his way out the door, the moment he is invited to a free meal in a restaurant.

7) The truth is sometimes even the goyim understand this to some extent, that you should give more credit when you work harder. I heard from my brother Mayer, who believes that is was Robert Burns who said, "If man's grasp does not exceed his reach, then what's a Heaven for?" If we think about it, he is saying something very profound in these simple words. Imagine a fellow wants to eat cereal for breakfast, but the cereal is beyond his "reach", so he decides not to "grasp" it. A man's "reach" represents that which is within his capacity and is easy for him to do. A man's "grasp" is what he actually accomplishes. If a manís grasp - accomplishments don't exceed his reach - his capacity, so What's a Heaven for? What's the big deal that you did something that came easy to you, the big earning of Heaven is when you do something that is hard for you to do.

We also see it in basketball with the "3 point shot". In my days you only got two points for a shot regardless of where you shot from. Now, however they realize that if you shoot from far away then you deserve 3 points.

8) We also have to understand that "ameilus baTorah" - toiling in Torah doesn't only include learning deeply, but other things as well.
If a person overcomes any type of difficulty in order to study Torah, this is also considered "ameilus baTorah" - toiling in Torah. This can include a person who is tired, poor, one has personal problems, one who has to travel a great distance in order to learn, or one who is forced to spend time looking up translations in the dictionary.

The Gemoro in Bava Basra (8a) describes Torah Scholars as those "who pound their feet going from city to city to learn Torah." The sefer Chayei Mussar (vol 1, pg.187) quotes the question of Rav Yosef Zundel from Salant (The Rebbi of Rav Yisroel Salanter). "Why bother mentioning the fact that they wander from city to city? Wouldnít it suffice to mention the fact that they study Torah?" This teaches us that the main point is actually the effort and toil put into the learning, not just the quantity of the learning.

I remember seeing a fellow in Camp, who had a photographic memory, and it made me very jealous. My rebbi then explained to me this point. The main thing is the toil. If you have to work harder you may get more reward than the guy who doesn't have to work so hard.

9) The Lev Eliyahu (ibid.) explains this with a beautiful illustration. There are many different types of sacrifices. The rich people bring a cow or a lamb, the middle class bring fowl, and the poorest bring a Mincha - a meal offering. When the possuk discusses a person bringing any type of sacrifice (other than a Mincha) it terms the person "Adam" (Man). In the case of a Mincha the possuk (Vayikra 2:1) says, "And a soul who wishes to offer a Mincha"
Why does it say "Soul?" Hashem said, Who usually brings a meal offering? A poor person (who can't afford anything better). I consider it as if he has sacrificed himself." (Menachos 104b)
Let's imagine a poor fellow is going up to the Beis Hamikdosh with his meager meal offering. He sees all the wealthy people around him with their big offerings, a cow or a lamb. He then looks at his meager offering and feels so lost and cheap. He brokenheartedly thinks to himself, "What am I compared to them? Hashem doesn't even want to look at me." Yet, the Torah says, "You're wrong, it's only you that Hashem embraces and deals with. Hashem considers as if you have sacrificed your very soul on the altar.

The same thing is with toiling in Torah. Many boys come to Yeshiva to learn Torah. There are those who learn very well; they have a quick grasp, understanding, and memory. These are a gift to them from Hashem, and they have nothing to boast about (of course they deserve some credit for using their talents for Torah).

However, there are those that are very weak, and they have to work very hard on every little piece (he's in the lowest shiur looking everything up in an Artscroll Gemoro or Jastrow dictionary, and even then he barely understands what's coming off). When he sees those that are swimming in the "ocean of the Torah" as if they owned it, (they are in the "Rosh Yeshiva's" shiur learning "lomdus" - Rav Chaims,) he gets very down and depressed and gives up G-d forbid.

It is about this person only that Shlomo Hamelech says, (Mishlei 16:26) "The toiling soul - they work for him because he has twisted his mouth for it." The Gemoro (Sanhedrin 99b) explains "He works hard (on Torah) here, and His Torah works hard for him somewhere else." Rashi (ibid.) explains that "His Torah beseeches Hashem to give him an understanding in torah." Why? Because "Öhe twisted his mouth (he worked hard) for it." Experience shows us that those who were constantly toiling in Torah, despite the lack of their capabilities, have succeeded and bore much fruit. The main point, in Torah study is the toiling.

10) I will end off with a beautiful vort from the Chofetz Chaim. There is a special Tefillah said at the conclusion of a day's Torah study, thanking Hashem for giving us the privilege of learning His Torah. (See Shulchan Oruch, OC 110:8.) In it we say, -

"We toil and they (people who work and don't learn) toil, we toil and get a reward , they toil and they don't get a reward." (Brachos 28b)
The Chofetz Chaim asks, what does it mean that they work hard and don't receive reward? Donít they bring home a nice paycheck?
He offers two explanations based on a simple moshol - parable. A person ordered a pair of shoes from a shoemaker agreeing to pay $100 for the material and $100 for the labor. When the shoes were ready the shoemaker wanted to charge an extra $100 for labor. He explained, that when he made the shoes he had tremendous difficulties. His wife was yelling at him, and his kids were dancing on his head. He also had very little sleep and a headache, and he received a few bills in the mail Ö.The buyer refused to add another cent arguing that had already made up to pay only $100 for labor. He only agrees to pay for the market value of the finished product which is $200. The personal difficulties of this particular shoemaker donít raise the market value of the product. What if the shoemaker was very happy when he made the shoes would he charge less?! So the truth is they don't get reward for their toil. They are paid for the finished product not taking into account their hard toil.
However, when it comes to Torah, Hashem takes in to consideration every iota of hardship that we may have had when we learned. We truly "receive reward for our toil".

The Chofetz Chaim offers a second explanation with the same parable. What if the shoes didnít fit, would the buyer pay? Of course not! The shoemaker nevertheless demands payment pleading that he worked so hard and deserves something for it. The customer adamantly refuses, and is even slightly amused at the idea. He insists that he is obligated to pay only for the product they had agreed upon. In this case the shoemakers entire effort goes down the drain.
When it comes to learning Torah however, Hashem gives reward for the toil even if the shoe doesn't fit. If you worked hard on a piece of Gemoro for an hour, and you still didn't understand it, or you learned the wrong pshat - explanation, you still get reward for the toil.

May Hashem help us to learn these concepts and give them over, and then we will live a better life in This World and in The Next.

List of Rabbi Price's sichot
Back to Neveh Homepage

The webspace for the Neveh Zion site has been generously donated by

send your comments to