The Art of Carving

“…If you follow my statutes and observe my commandments…” – Vayikra 26:3

אִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ וְאֶת מִצְוֹתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ – ויקרא כו, ג

The term chok, statute, has a number of meanings. In the context of Torah study, Rashi interprets the phrase “If you follow my statutes” as a requirement to “toil in Torah.” Generally, however, the Torah uses the term chok in reference to mitzvos that have no logical explanation. As well, the word chok is associated in Likutei Torah (Bechukosai 45a) with the Hebrew word for engraving, חקיקה, chakikah.

These three definitions are related. One of the obvious differences between writing and engraving is that writing requires minimal physical effort, whereas carving in stone (or other hard surfaces) is physically challenging and strenuous. Engraving is therefore a metaphor for observing the mitzvos that defy reason and logic, which is naturally a greater challenge than adhering to the commandments that we do understand. Similarly, in the context of Torah study, the term bechukosai, “in My statutes,” refers to laboring in the study of Torah, in Rashi’s words, “to toil in Torah.”

The Art of Carving

The metaphor of engraving also encapsulates the impact that laboring in the study of Torah has on the individual. Just as a hard surface, such as stone, can be engraved with persistent toil, even the most unmoved and hardened heart can be softened and inspired through diligent Torah study. As Rabbi Akiva famously remarked upon observing a stone that had been gouged by the consistent dripping of water, “If soft water can carve solid stone, how much more can the iron word of G-d penetrate the fleshy human heart” (Avos D’Rabbi Nosson, Chapter 6).

—Likutei Sichos, vol. 17, pp. 318-319

 

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