“If you walk in My laws” (Vayikra 26:3)
The son of the Alter of Kelm, Rav Nachum Zev ztz”l related a parable on this pasuk: A group of men were sitting at a table, eating and drinking. All the men appeared to be similar — there wasn’t much to distinguish between them. After the meal, they rose and left, except for one man who remained in his place. No one understood why he didn’t leave, until they looked below and saw that he had no legs.
So too, explained Rav Nachum Zev, there are people who sit with their friends and learn, and it’s impossible to distinguish between them. However, when the time comes to get up, to leave into the big world, then it is easy to differentiate between those who have legs and those who do not. There are people who topple with every small breeze, and there are people who don’t budge despite gales and storms. As David HaMelech said: “Widen my footsteps beneath me, and my ankles did not stumble” (Tehillim 18:37).
This is what the Torah means in the above pasuk. You should walk with the Torah! You should have legs to stand firm in Torah and not be ashamed of those who scorn you. (Rav Yaakov Neiman, Darchei Mussar)
Back in high school, we didn’t have one table where everyone sat around. Rather, we each had a small narrow green desk, scratched, pockmarked and Wite-Out-stained from years of use and abuse. We sat behind these desks, diligently taking notes in our Chumash, Navi, halachah, and hashkafah notebooks. We were all eager and enthusiastic — full of dreams and aspirations.
We spent hours absorbed in fascinating heart-to-heart discussions about personal growth. We had strong opinions about everything, were determined and ambitious, and were sure we would conquer the world.
And then we graduated.
We hugged each other goodbye and promised to stay in touch. And then, after years spent taking notes in our cozy classrooms, after years of hypothetical discussions and analysis, we were tossed mercilessly into the big, wide world. It was time to get up and go.
We found ourselves building our own homes and entering unfamiliar workplaces. We walked with our husbands, with our children securely holding our hands. No longer was there time for discussions or visions. We were in the “Real World.” And only now was it possible to see who marched onward and who simply had no legs and collapsed.
This is why man was created alone, to know that all the levels of his soul are dependent on him alone. He is capable of completing his life’s mission even without others’ assistance. Hashem created each soul with the ability to accomplish unaided by others. (ibid.)
The life that we’d spent so many years dreaming about, discussing, and dissecting, was now here. We had waited many years upon the shore, excitedly anticipating the days when we would enter the ocean itself. But nothing prepared us for the shock when we were suddenly drenched in the oncoming waves. The longed-for future became the present and we were alone.
Without teachers, without friends. Without hashkafah classes and group discussions. Now we needed to walk on our own two feet.
Were we capable?
Were we capable of following Torah to any place life led us? Were we successful in treading an unmarked path within a forest of foes? Could we maintain our standing when we encountered differences, dark, thorny holes in the rose garden of our dreams?
The Torah states explicitly that we each are capable of standing on our own. Torah is “in your mouth and in your heart to do it” (Devarim: 30:14). However, given that man is naturally indolent and it’s difficult for him to achieve his potential on his own, it’s necessary for every person to acquire friends who will strengthen him in his avodas Hashem. Yet, one should not rely solely on this arrangement as it will compel him to act properly only when in the presence of others. Rather, he must also strive to safeguard the Torah even when he is alone or in the presence of people remote [from Torah].
‘If you walk in My ways …’ If you walk with the Torah in every place and in every circumstance, then ‘I will bestow your rains in their time’ — you will merit all the blessings of the Torah. (ibid[FP1] .)
If you are able to stride alone along the path of life … if you are able to support yourself with the memories of all those beautiful lectures, inspirational ideas, and rousing discussions … then you will stand straight and tall in life and will merit all the brachos in the Torah.