The Sages tell us that the Torah is one of the three things the world rests on, and that "the study of Torah outweighs all the other mitzvot" in importance and in the reward attached to it.
A deeper understanding of this mitzvah requires that we distinguish between its two aspects, one within the other.
The study of Torah is, first, the way that knowledge of Torah in all its dimensions—theoretical and practical, abstract and concrete—is acquired.
It is through such study that one obtains guidance for life.
It is through such study alone that one attains knowledge of Judaism itself.
The study of Torah also has another, inward aspect to it: it is itself a mitzvah and an important one, not only a means but also an end, an act that is inherently meaningful regardless of its practical consequences.
The study of Torah is not a matter of learning "about" Judaism, but is in itself one of Judaism's essential components.
Just as every mitzvah-fulfilling act derives meaning from the link it creates between the doer and the Giver of that mitzvah, so too does talmud Torah establish a connection between the learner and the Source of the text.
Torah is both a gateway leading into the
Being both means and end makes the study of Torah doubly obligatory.
True, the Torah is "longer than the length of the earth and wider than the sea" (Job 11:9), and it is rare to attain mastery over more than a few of its many aspects.
Nevertheless, no Jew is free of the obligation to study it to the best of his ability.
The Jewish notion of "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" rests to no small degree on the fact that Jewish knowledge is not restricted to a separate learned caste but incumbent upon all.
One need not become a talmid hakham (i.e., achieve the pinnacle of scholarship), but he must not remain an am ha-aretz (ignoramus) either.
The mountains of halakhah, the sea of the Talmud, and the vast plain of Jewish thought loom beyond the ordinary person like a terrain he cannot hope to traverse, particularly if he has not given the best years of his youth to this kind of study.
Nonetheless, he is expected to learn what he can, to go as far as his abilities will carry him.
Those ignorant of Torah have always been regarded as fundamentally deficient, however devoted they may have been as Jews, and however distinguished they may have been in other ways.
Of course, ignorance is not always easy to remedy—the material or spiritual resources may be lacking—but this is no excuse for not trying.
Indeed, over the ages, unlearned Jews have usually tried to learn, or at least to educate their children.
Ignorance was never a state to which people simply resigned themselves.”
–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From Teshuvah by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz