Parashat BeChukotai opens with the phrase, “Im BeChukotai Teileichu VeEt Mitzvotai TiShmeru,” “If you follow My decrees and observe My commandments” (VaYikra 26:3). Rashi observes that since the phrase “My commandments” clearly refers to Mitzvah observance, the initial phrase “My decrees” must refer to some other aspect of following Hashem’s will. He concludes that this verse calls for toiling in the study of Torah. Why is committed Torah study referred to as following Hashem’s decrees?
The Ohr HaChaim notes that Torah study LiShmah, with no ulterior motives, can be referred to as following Hashem’s decrees. Even if one has completed a particular area of study, or even the entire Torah, he is still commanded to constantly review and explore it further, for there is a unceasing obligation to study Torah.
Simchas Aharon suggests an alternate approach based on a novel interpretation by Rav Yisrael Salanter. The Torah contains a law called the “wayward and rebellious son” (see Devarim 21:18). If a young man steals, eats and drinks specified items, the courts are commanded to put him to death. The Sages teach us that such a case never did – and never will – occur. Why, then, is this law written in the Torah? The Gemara (Sanhedrin 71a) answers that this section exists so we can study its laws and be rewarded for the resultant Torah study. This answer creates another problem: Are there so few areas of practical Torah law that the Torah finds it necessary to write an entire chapter only for the purpose of its study? Surely not! Very few individuals in a generation fully and truly master even the practical areas of Torah law! Rav Yisrael Salanter explained this difficulty. The Sages teach us that one accrues greater reward for performing a Chok (a Mitzvah whose explanation is unknown) than for fulfilling a Mishpat (a Mitzvah whose explanation is rational). One might think that the study of all Mitzvot is equal, since even the Chukim have practical applications. The laws of a wayward and rebellious son offer us the opportunity to attain special reward for the study of Torah exclusively for the sake of study, since this is Torah study that has no practical application.
This can be seen as the thrust of Rashi’s comment. Torah study for the sake of fulfilling a Mitzvah is included in “My commandments.” To follow “My decrees” obligates us to study Torah for no practical purpose, not even to teach us how to fulfill the other Mitzvot. Hashem calls upon us to study Torah purely as a Chok, for its own sake.