What is the Torah? The way in which we answer this question will define how we learn and live Torah. Perhaps the most common response given is that the Torah is a book of law, a set of rules which define every aspect of life. While it is true that law is central to Torah, it is a necessary but insufficient element of the answer we are looking for. Take a look at how Rashi responds to the idea that Torah can be reduced to law:
The specific reasoning aside, Rashi is teaching us that narrative is the essential context for understanding the laws of the Torah. The wholeness of context always defines the value of the constituent parts - take a look at the "real value" of money, or the meaning of your words when they are taken out of context.
Nonetheless, understanding the narrative context of law is also not enough to teach us what Torah truly is. This is because the stories which bind the Torah together are not an attempt to present a chronological sequence of events, as Rashi teaches us in his famous dictum אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה 'there is no before or after in the events of the Torah.' Rather, they are a presentation of a conceptual framework, as indicated by the argument in this Midrash:
The Torah is not primarily a legal, or even historical presentation - it is a conceptual one. It is a lens through which we are meant to view the entirety of existence. Every detail and nuance is important, but the the true nature of Torah is found in its wholeness which allows you to see the world through its eyes. Just read this statement from the Rambam, someone who certainly devoted much of his life to the particulars of Torah. Nonetheless...
...Rambam makes it clear that his focus was on teaching the larger concepts of Judaism.
The Torah is best understood as a vessel which can provide us with a lens through which to see reality, one through which our people have been looking for 3000 years. It is a dynamic conceptual framework which maintains its relevance in every generation because it is conceptual truth translated into human terms. Think of it like the relationship between electromagnetic theory and a light bulb. Once we grasp the underlying theory, we can shape the world to our needs in every generation. So too Torah, once we learn to see through its eyes, we can engage the questions of today from its perspective. To know this, to recognize that the very framework of creation has been given to us, is a very precious gift. As the Sages taught:
The significance of understanding Torah as a lens through which to see the world is that there is nothing which cannot be examined and understood through it. For example, the struggle which exists within the Orthodox world over whether secular studies are necessary, neutral or dangerous is only an argument if one looks at the “secular world” as if it were not an expression of Gd - as if the Torah is about rules and not a conceptual framework for knowing everything. This is not to say that the Torah lacks injunctions against what we can look at, relate to or even learn, like the prohibition against learning idolatrous texts or against pornography. Nonetheless, these laws are really warnings against stepping out of the context of the Torah, lest we lose the framework, as the Rambam teaches:
The danger is equally high when we fail to relate to the wholeness of Torah, extracting things from that wholeness and applying them outside the framework. Then the Torah has been falsified and itself becomes a danger.
This quote from the Sages can serve as our conclusion. What does זכה ("deserving") mean? It means one is faithful to the Torah, studies it completely and wholly rather than taking from it what they want or what they chose to see. In light of the definition of Torah as a conceptual framework, the question we should ask ourselves as both students and teachers is: Do we use Torah to say what we want to say, or do we sit before it like a child and listen to what it has to teach us?