Human nature seems to be all-or-nothing, which is often an issue when it comes to finding balance and making growth. If we want to grow in our observance, taking everything at once causes crash and burn. Repeat that too many times and the fatigue will lead to an overall burnout and going off the derech. Thus, slow steady progress is best. We accustom ourselves to frumkeit in a way that we can handle it.
The opposite direction is also true, but more dangerous. One can slowly walk away from the path, being a slow fade, or they can hit the eject button and hope the parachute saves them.
Either way, we are presented with an unique challenge. Not only must we continually make growth (much like a car in neutral on a hill will roll backwards), we must also make sure that growth is gradual and consistent (stop and go on a highway causes accidents).
What’s the relevance of this? The Torah highlights this human issue very clearly: we need continual growth. Concurrently, we receive the critique on how we can allow all or nothing, and not stop the negativity train.
Rashi comments on the pasuk (14) an enlightening conclusion. We have two sins in the forefront we need to avoid: not listening and not performing.
The first sin is not listening to HaShem’s commandments. What does that mean? Rashi says it is one who does not study Torah. The one who doesn’t study Torah then rejects Torah. When he rejects Torah, then we get to not performing.
This is the second sin. When we stop performing, we seek to annul Torah. This is what we see in contemporary society, especially in the non-Orthodox Jewish organizations. There is a staunch opposition to Torah values, and this dangerous concept has even been creeping into Modern Orthodox society. The notion that life is secondary to choice (the abortion debate), or even that sodomy and related practices are acceptable (LGBT, etc.) are in clearly opposition to a Torah-driven society and way of life.
Rashi points out this clears pattern: not learning Torah leads to hating the Torah scholars, which leads to preventing others from performing, which leads to renouncing the Torah, which leads to annulling the covenant.
There are seven sins that result from lacking in Torah study:
- Not studying
- Not performing
- Hating those that perform
- Hating Torah scholars
- Preventing others from performing
- Renouncing the commandments
- Renouncing the covenant with HaShem
As we see, the lack of studying and living in Torah causes Torah to be discarded as a whole and those that stand for it to be the villains. It’s not just a slippery slope – it’s a cliff of death and despair and we have only one clear caution sign – don’t forsake or reduce Torah learning. Learning is the key.
Growth is best accomplished as a slow acceleration, but most people like to put the pedal to the metal, so to say, and burn out in the process. Sure, some can handle this, but not very many. Falling away, however, is most often a slower approach, and starts with the lack of studying Torah every day, and finding value in that study. Devek Tov only confirms this, arguing that those who do not study will inevitably not perform. It is an essential equation.
For this reason, we must see that Torah is the eitz chayim, the tree of life. Its ways are everlasting, and everything else is shortsighted, foolish, temporary, destructive, and part of the sitra achra.
Takeaway? Learn Torah every day. Never give the yetzer hara room to draw you from deveikus with HaShem.