The biggest hester of Hashem is in man’s heart – the more we look at ourselves and focus on the “I” that is human ego, the less we see Hashem; the smaller the human ego, the closer we can come to dveikus. R’ Dessler (Michtav m’Eliyahu vol IV p 33) writes that the simplest path to overcome the hester of the human ego is through the avodah of tefila. What is prayer if not a constant reinforcement that the human “I” is itself powerless without the intervention of G-d? When the yetzer that says “kochi v’otzem yadi” is crushed, when a person becomes overwhelmed by a sense of hisbatlus, the hester of the world ceases to exist because the “I” that is our independence has been erased.
Anyone who experiences the joy of limud haTorah will find that description of avodas Hashem inconsistent with reality. Who, asks R’ Dessler, does not get an ego boost from being mechavein to a good sevara, who does not feel “I did it!” when they answer up a difficult Rambam or say a new chiddush? Part of the “rischa d’oraysa” that comes from being willing to argue the point with a Rebbe or chavrusa is because it is not just “toras Hashem” we are fighting for, but “toraso” – the torah becomes part of us, our Torah, attached to who we are, and so we stand up for ourselves. When a kashe is raised on our sevara, it is the “I” inside us which drives us to try to answer the point. But this begs the question: if the tachlis of avodas Hashem is hisbatlus, surrendering the ego in self-sacrifice to G-d’s ultimate power, how do we justify the “I did it” that is inevitably a part of limud haTorah? One can’t simultaneously pat the “I” inside on the back for its brilliance and at the same time say that the “I” is nothing and bateil!
The mechanism of drawing close to Hashem through talmud torah is clearly very different than the hisbatlus of tefilah, and we need to understand how it works.