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:

(א) בראשית. אָמַר רַבִּי יִצְחָק לֹֹֹֹֹא הָיָה צָרִיךְ לְהַתְחִיל אֶת הַתּוֹרָה אֶלָּא מֵהַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם, שֶׁהִיא מִצְוָה רִאשׁוֹנָה שֶׁנִּצְטַוּוּ בָּהּ יִשׂרָאֵל, וּמַה טַּעַם פָּתַח בִּבְרֵאשִׁית? מִשׁוּם כֹּחַ מַעֲשָׂיו הִגִּיד לְעַמּוֹ לָתֵת לָהֶם נַחֲלַת גּוֹיִם (תהילים קי"א), שֶׁאִם יֹאמְרוּ אֻמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם לְיִשְׁרָאֵל לִסְטִים אַתֶּם, שֶׁכְּבַשְׁתֶּם אַרְצוֹת שִׁבְעָה גוֹיִם, הֵם אוֹמְרִים לָהֶם כָּל הָאָרֶץ שֶׁל הַקָּבָּ"ה הִיא, הוּא בְרָאָהּ וּנְתָנָהּ לַאֲשֶׁר יָשַׁר בְּעֵינָיו, בִּרְצוֹנוֹ נְתָנָהּ לָהֶם, וּבִרְצוֹנוֹ נְטָלָהּ מֵהֶם וּנְתָנָהּ לָנוּ:

(1) בראשית IN THE BEGINNING — Rabbi Isaac said: The Torah which is the Law book of Israel should have commenced with the verse (Exodus 12:2) “This month shall be unto you the first of the months” which is the first commandment given to Israel. What is the reason, then, that it commences with the account of the Creation? Because of the thought expressed in the text (Psalms 111:6) “He declared to His people the strength of His works (i.e. He gave an account of the work of Creation), in order that He might give them the heritage of the nations.” For should the peoples of the world say to Israel, “You are robbers, because you took by force the lands of the seven nations of Canaan”, Israel may reply to them, “All the earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it and gave it to whom He pleased. When He willed He gave it to them, and when He willed He took it from them and gave it to us” (Yalkut Shimoni on Torah 187).

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:

ר' עקיבא אומר: כל פרשה שהיא סמוכה לחברתה למדה הימנה. ר' אומר: הרבה פרשיות סמוכות זו לזו, ורחוקות זו מזו כרחוק מזרח ממערב!

R. Akiva says: Every section (in the Torah) which is juxtaposed with another is meant to be learned from. It is written above (Bereshit 24:14) "Come, I (Bilam) will counsel you" (how to undo Moav). He said to them: The G-d of this people hates harlotry, and they lust after flaxen garments. Come and I will counsel you. Put up tents for them, and seat old women outside and a young girl inside, and let them sell them flaxen garments, etc." Rebbi says: There are many adjoining sections n the Torah which are as far from each other as east from west.

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...

...יקר בעיני ללמד עיקר מעיקרי הדת והאמונה יותר מכל אשר אלמדהו.

...it is very precious in my eyes to teach one of the fundamental principles of religion and faith, far more than anything else I can teach.

...Rambam makes it clear that his focus was on teaching the larger concepts of Judaism.

The Ramchal (1707-1746) went even further, and quoting the Sages tells us that ALL we can grasp of the Torah are the big picture pieces:

ואמנם צריך שתתבונן שהנה מספר הפרטים עצום מאד מהכיל אותם שכל האדם וא״א לו לדעת כלם ואולם מה שראוי לו שישתדל עליו הוא ידיעת כללים כי כל כלל בטבעו כולל פרטים הרבה וכשישיג כלל א׳‎ נמצא משיג מאליו מספר רב מן הפרטים ואעפ״י שלא הבחין בם עדיין ולא הכיר היותם פרטי הכלל ההוא כי הנה כשבוא א׳‎ מהם לידו לא יניח מלהכיר אותו כיון שכבר ידוע אצלו הענין הכללי אשר א״א להם היות בלתו וכן אז״ל לעולם יהיו ד״ת בידיך כללים ולא פרטים:

However one must consider that the number of details is much too great for the intellect of man to contain, and it is impossible for one to know them all. Yet what is fit is for him to attempt to know the general principles. As the nature of every principle is to contain [knowledge about] many details. So when one grasps one principle, he [also] grasps a great number of details. And even though he has not yet examined them because they are [only] details [subsumed by] the principle; [nevertheless] when one of them comes to him, he is not stunted by knowing it, since [its] general matter - which perforce must exist - is already known to him. And likewise the Sages, may their memory be blessed, said (Sifrei Devarim 306:20), "Matters of Torah should always be in your hands as general principles and not as details."

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:

(יד) הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, חָבִיב אָדָם שֶׁנִּבְרָא בְצֶלֶם. חִבָּה יְתֵרָה נוֹדַעַת לוֹ שֶׁנִּבְרָא בְצֶלֶם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (בראשית ט) כִּי בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים עָשָׂה אֶת הָאָדָם. חֲבִיבִין יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁנִּקְרְאוּ בָנִים לַמָּקוֹם. חִבָּה יְתֵרָה נוֹדַעַת לָהֶם שֶׁנִּקְרְאוּ בָנִים לַמָּקוֹם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים יד) בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַה' אֱלֹהֵיכֶם. חֲבִיבִין יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁנִּתַּן לָהֶם כְּלִי חֶמְדָּה. חִבָּה יְתֵרָה נוֹדַעַת לָהֶם שֶׁנִּתַּן לָהֶם כְּלִי חֶמְדָּה שֶׁבּוֹ נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (משלי ד) כִּי לֶקַח טוֹב נָתַתִּי לָכֶם, תּוֹרָתִי אַל תַּעֲזֹבוּ:

(14) He would say: Beloved is man, since he is created in the image [of God]. A deeper love - it is revealed to him that he is created in the image, as it says (Genesis 9:6): "for in God's image He made man." Beloved are Israel, since they are called children of the Omnipresent. A deeper love - it is revealed to them that they are called children to God, as it says (Deuteronomy 14:1): "You are children of the Lord, your God." Beloved are Israel, since a precious vessel has been given to them. A deeper love - it is revealed to them that the precious instrument with which the world was created has been given to them, as it says (Proverbs 4:2): "For a good lesson I have given to you; do not forsake my teaching."

(פה) ואחר כך אמר חביבין ישראל שנתן להם כלי חמדה שבו נברא העולם, אמר כלי חמדה מפני שהעולם נברא בתורה, כי התורה היא סדר מסודר מן הש"י אשר גזר הש"י הסדר כפי חכמתו כמו שבארנו במקום אחר והסדר הזה היה מחייב את העולם, הנה התורה הוא כלי שבו נברא העולם, כי הסדר המושכל שהוא התורה הוא היה כלי שבו היה פועל עולם.

And afterwards it says 'beloved are Israel, since a precious vessel has been given to them, through which the world was created.' The mishna says 'a precious vessel' because the world was created through the Torah, the Torah is the order laid out by God. God decreed this order according to the Divine wisdom, as I have explained elsewhere, and this order itself necessitates the world. The Torah is the vessel through which the world was created because the conceptual order, which is the Torah, is the vessel through which God enacted a world.

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:

הזהירנו שלא לתור אחר לבבנו עד שנאמין דעות הפך הדעות שחייבתנו התורה אבל נקצר מחשבותינו ונשים להן גבול נעמוד אצלו, והוא מצות התורה ואזהרותיה. והוא אמרו ולא תתורו אחרי לבבכם ואחרי עיניכם. ולשון ספרי אחרי לבבכם זה מינות כענין שנאמר ומוצא אני מר ממות את האשה וגו' ואחרי עיניכם זה זנות כענין שנאמר ויאמר שמשון לאביו אותה קח לי כי היא ישרה בעיני, רוצה לומר המשך אחר התאוות הגשמיות והתעסק המחשבה בהן. (שלח לך, מדע הלכות ע"ז וחקות העכו"ם פ"ב):

We are warned not to go astray after our hearts to the point where we believe in opinions which are the opposite of those to which the Torah obligates us. Rather, we should retrain our thoughts and place a boundary upon them, this is the command of the Torah and its warning. In the language of the Sifre it says 'after your hearts, this refers to heresy, as it says "Now, I find woman more bitter than death..." (Kohelet 7:26) after your eyes, this is harlotry, as it says "...Samson answered his father, “Get me that one, for she is the one that pleases me" (Shoftim 14:3) meaning, lest one be drawn after physical lusts and their thoughts become occupied with them.

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.

אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי מאי דכתיב (דברים ד, מד) וזאת התורה אשר שם משה זכה נעשית לו סם חיים לא זכה נעשית לו סם מיתה והיינו דאמר רבא דאומן לה סמא דחייא דלא אומן לה סמא דמותא
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: What is the meaning of that which is written: “And this is the Torah which Moses put [sam] before the children of Israel” (Deuteronomy 4:44)? The word sam is written with the letter sin and means put; it is phonetically similar to the word sam written with the letter samekh, meaning a drug. This use of this word therefore alludes to the following: If one is deserving, the Torah becomes a potion [sam] of life for him. If one is not deserving, the Torah becomes a potion of death for him. And this idea is what Rava said: For one who is skillful in his study of Torah and immerses himself in it with love, it is a potion of life; but for one who is not skillful in his studies, it is a potion of death.

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?