For it is no vain thing for you; because it is your life (Devarim 32:47)
Many people walk into the Beis Medrash and upon seeing the daunting number of seforim there, give up hope of leaning anything before they even start. “How does Hashem expect me to learn all of this?” they wonder. “It is not within my physical and mental capacity!” This may be a good question if the only purpose of learning Torah was to accumulate Torah knowledge.
There once was a king who asked all of his servants to take jugs, fill them up with water and bring them to the other side of his property. They all began this task, but they quickly noticed that the jugs were leaking and by the time they got to the other side, there was no water left. Seeing no point in this exercise, the servants all stopped—that is except for one who continued the entire day bringing leaking jugs going back and forth. At the end of the day, the king appointed this one servant as the head servant. The other servants didn’t understand—wasn’t he the biggest fool? The king explained, “Who said that my goal was to transfer the water from one side to the other? Perhaps my goal was to clean the jugs?”
So too with Torah. Learning Torah is different than all other intellectual pursuits, for it has the ability to cleanse the character of those who learn it. In fact, the mishnah in Pirkei Avos tells us that the person who learns Torah is called “a friend of Hashem and a friend of the people.” This is because if Torah is learned with the proper intent, it affects the person in a very meaningful way which everyone notices.
While not as “grand” as learning Torah, performing mitzvos also help perfect a person. Every limb has a mitzvah corresponding to it that gives it a spiritual nourishment and every sinew has a negative commandment associated with it that gives a person spiritual nourishment. It is well known that even when the Chafetz Chaim was over 90, he still did not have a cavity or false tooth in his mouth. “If one uses one’s teeth properly, they will last forever.”
With Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur behind us, and Simchas Torah coming up soon, we find ourselves about to enter into the Sukkah. The Vilna Gaon tells us that the Sukkah is an unusual mitzvah in as much as all of the person’s body is involved in the mitzvah, for his whole body sits in the Sukkah. This affords us the opportunity to have a full physical body “tune-up” at one time, homogeneously energizing us all at once. The time of preparing for Sukkos, this year in particular, with a Shabbos in between, is very challenging for many people. There are many people who wonder if there is some way to take a shortcut (Can I also buy a Sukkah in a closed box at a tzedakah sale?). Rashi in Yoma (70a) tells us that on Yom Kippur people would bring their sefer Torah that they wrote and show it off to others because that is the Tiferes of a person, as it shows he toiled in mitzvos. We should look at the frenzied activity between Yom Kippur and Sukkos like a physical workout, honing and toning our body to become a more spiritually fit person. Indeed, when we feel good in this way, we will be able to have a true zman simchaseinu.