The basic idea is to learn Gemara, Rashi and Tosphot without having it in mind to use it as a means to make money. That is called Torah "Lishma"--Torah for its own sake.
Most yeshivas nowadays use Torah to make money, and so the higher blessing is obviously absent.
It is not a phrase that I have heard for a long time, but recently Moshe Rosten mentioned it to me: To get out of the "rat race." That reminded me a lot of what I think must have been my original idea in going to yeshiva to learn Torah. I think to large degree I wanted to get out of the rat race and devote myself to the service of God.
And to a large degree I still think that must be for me a major motivating factor.
It is not that I succeeded so well, but I think that without my actually being able to put it in those terms, I must have been very upset at the idea of spending my life in pursuit of things of this world.
And to a large degree I think this was the motivating idea for a lot of people in the Litvak NY yeshivas.
The idea of escaping the rat race to be attached to God and his service by going to a NY Litvak yeshiva was my approach to escaping the rat race. But where I grew up, most people were thinking in those directions. And those that were serious went into Eastern religions.
But then I came to Israel and there the religious world was functioning on a different wavelength. Religion was more like a mass movement, and conformity was the goal. Still for my seven years in Safed, I felt absolutely attached to God.
What I suggest for myself and others to regain this basic approach of seeing attachment with God as the ultimate goal is by means of learning Musar [Mediaeval Ethics]
In most of the cases of people joining some religious cause to get out of the rat race--the ultimate end was disappointment --especially with eastern religions. In my own experience in the religious world my own feeling also is largely that of disappointment. Not that the path is wrong but a lot of the people on the path are not there with the goal of escaping the rate race but rather to use Torah as means to get farther in the rat race than others.
So I can honestly say that my intentions were certainly affected by the larger mentality that was around in California at the time--the search for truth and meaning. But mine was more a kind of philosophical approach to Torah than a religious one. That could be a lack of awareness of a certain area of value.Though I certainly had some religious interest, but still it seems I was more in tune with the rational nature of Torah. The deeper spiritual aspects perhaps not. So when in fact I became somewhat attached to God, perhaps I simply was not prepared, and so jettisoned the whole thing.
So looking back on it all today, I would have to say that the Mir yeshiva was right--learning Torah (that is- the plain and simple Gemara Rashi and Tosphot) is the key to everything--all the good and all the light in all the worlds.
[I should mention that if I had been aware of the Rambam's opinion in the Guide and Mishne Torah that Physics and Metaphysics are a part of the Oral Law then I very well have added them to my learning session. But who knows? I might have felt not ready to take them up before doing Shas a few times. I anyway felt a tremendous surge of energy when I got involved in learning Gemara.