Today’s daf (Eruvin 55a) begins with three different interpretations to Devarim 30:12-13 which states that, ‘[This mitzvah that I am prescribing to you today is not too mysterious or remote from you]. It is not in heaven, so [that you should] say, “Who shall go up to heaven and bring it to us so that we can hear it and keep it?”, and it is not over the sea so [that you should] say, “Who will cross the sea and get if for us, so that we will be able to hear it and keep it?”’.
Significantly, while Ramban interprets ‘this mitzvah’ as referring to Teshuva, much of Rabbinic literature interprets ‘this mitzvah’ as referring to the overall concept of Torah, and it is in this spirit that these three explanations are offered.
The Gemara first presents the interpretation of Avdimi Bar Chama who points out that if Torah were in the heavens, we would be required to go there in pursuit of Torah, and similarly if Torah were across the ocean, we would need to cross the ocean to seek Torah. What we learn from here is that we should be motivated to invest physical time and physical effort towards our pursuit of Torah, as well as our goal to understand and keep Torah.
We are then taught Rava’s interpretation who explains that Torah scholarship will not be found in someone who believes that their mind towers over Torah like the heavens, nor will Torah scholarship be found in someone who believes that their mind is as broad as the ocean such that they can fully grasp all of Torah. What we learn from here is that we should be motivated to invest spiritually, emotionally and psychologically in our pursuit of Torah, so that when we understand and keep Torah, we do so with the right level of humility.
Finally, we are taught Rabbi Yochanan’s interpretation who subtlety blends both of the previous explanations and who states that Torah scholarship will not be found among those who are haughty, and nor will not be found amongst those who are so busy that they do not make time for Torah study.
What we learn from here is that our pursuit of Torah requires both physical time and effort to understand and keep Torah, as well as spiritual, emotional and psychological investment to ensure that we do so with the right frame of mind. In fact, when Rambam speaks about the mitzvah of Torah study (Talmud Torah 3:9), he poetically summarizes the position of Rabbi Yochanan, stating:
‘The words of Torah can be compared to water, as [Isaiah 55:1] states: “Behold, all who are thirsty, come to the water.” This teaches you that just as water does not collect on an incline, but rather flows from it and collects in a low place, similarly, the words of Torah will not be found in the arrogant or in the hearts of any of the haughty, but rather in the humble and lowly, who sit in the dust at the feet of the Sages and remove the desires and pleasures of the times from their hearts. They do only a minimal amount of work each day [to earn] their livelihood if they have nothing else to eat. The rest of their days and nights are involved with Torah study.’
What we learn from here is that Torah study requires investment of the physical self and the spiritual conscience, of both mind and heart, in order for us to grow our Torah knowledge and our Torah personality. Yet though some of us may this this is beyond us, Devarim 30:14 continues by telling us that this, ‘is something that is very close to you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can keep it’ – meaning that whoever we are, and whatever we do, our pursuit of Torah and our ability to understand and keep it with the right attitude is within our reach.