"`This is the statute of the Torah.' Since the nations of
the world taunt Israel saying: What kind of a commandment is
this? What reason lies behind it? -- therefore it is called
`statute'. It is a [arbitrary] decree before Me and you have
no permission to question it" (Rashi).
We learn here that the word used, chuka, statute,
relates to a decree which rouses astonishment. What, indeed,
is the logic behind it? With the gates of understanding
sealed before us, the command was issued: this is a decree
from before Me. You have no permission to ponder over it and
The answer to this was pronounced in Heaven as well in
response to the clamor of the angels who pondered over the
terrible torture afflicted upon R' Akiva: Is this Torah and
its reward? A heavenly echo issued forth and declared: If I
hear another voice, I will reduce the entire world to water.
This is a decree issued by Me!
It is surprising to learn that Chazal included toil-in-Torah
in the category of an unfathomable edict. Truly, this fact
begs examination! "`If you walk in My statutes and heed My
commandments and do them' -- one might think this refers to
actually performing the mitzvos. How then am I to understand
the exhortation of walking in His statutes? [The
reconciliation is] that you toil in Torah" (Rashi,
It is clearly evident from here that the act of toiling in
Torah is included as an unquestionable edict, a chok.
It surpasses human understanding in the same manner as the
laws of the poroh adumoh. What does this actually
mean? The answer, says HaRav Simcha Zissel Broide
zt'l, is to be found in this week's portion. "`This
is the Torah: if a man dies in the tent . . . ' to teach us
that the words of Torah can only be fulfilled by one who
sacrifices himself over it [with `tent' referring to the
Tent of Torah]" (Brochos 63). This is the marvelous
statute embodied within toil-in-Torah.
Rosh Yeshivas Chevron writes: The Torah is everlasting life,
but most amazing of all is that while Torah is an elixir of
life for the entire world, it can also become a venomous
substance. It is written in maseches Shabbos that
Torah is a lifegiving potion to those who "go with it to the
right side," for the good, while those who use it for evil,
"to the left," will find it deadly.
Who are those who channel it to the right, and those who do
so to the left? Rashi explains there: Those who channel it
to the right are those who delve in Torah with all their
might and exert themselves to extract its secret, like a man
who employs his right hand dexterously, since his strength
lies in it. The `leftists' are those who do not delve
sufficiently in Torah but rather, they do not exert
themselves as much as they could.
What a prodigious, awesome power is contained in ameilo
shel Torah, exertion for the good. Its potency is so
great as to be beyond human grasp, a veritable
inscrutability. An axiom we cannot question or integrate,
for it is beyond our ken. The selfsame Torah is an elixir of
life -- but lacking the element of toil and exertion, it is
transformed to a poison.
Chazal teach us that Hashem overlooked the cardinal sins of
idolatry, adultery and murder, but would not overlook the
people's rejection and repulsing the Torah. Is this not
something unfathomable and inscrutable? Hashem was willing
to turn aside from the most terrible of sins, but could not
bear, as it were, the fact that Jews had despised the Torah.
And how was this expressed? To what degree did they `despise
Say Chazal: In their not reciting the blessing over it first
before they sat down to study it. For if they had delved
into Torah through toil and endeavor, their study would have
elevated them from the dregs and restored them to good.
Their study would have been far more effective than all the
exhortations and warnings of the prophets!
The gemora tells: "Our Sages taught that the
following halochoh was forgotten by the Bnei Beseira. The
fourteenth of Nisan fell on a Shabbos and the Sages did not
know whether the Pesach sacrifice was to be postponed
because of Shabbos or to be sacrificed as usual. They said:
Is there anyone here who knows whether the Pesach sacrifice
overrides the Shabbos or not? They said to them: A man by
the name of Hillel Habavli has recently come up from Bovel.
He attended the two great leaders of the generation, Shemaya
and Avtalyon. He would know . . . Thereupon, they [took
Hillel and] placed him at their head and appointed him
nosi over them. He sat and expounded upon the laws of
Pesach the entire day. And he began to taunt them, saying:
What brought about my coming here from Bovel and being
appointed nosi over you? The fact that you are lazy
and you did not attend the two gedolei hador, Shemaya
and Avtalyon" (Pesochim 66).
Bnei Beseira were, themselves, the gedolei hador, the
nesi'im of Eretz Yisroel. But they encountered a
question of practical halochoh and did not know what to do.
Along comes someone and tells them about Hillel the
Babylonian who, apparently, was not yet famous. "Someone
recently immigrated . . . " Not "someone special" or "a
great man," merely a scholar, one of many. And by virtue of
what thing should he be consulted in a matter that eluded
the Bnei Beseira? The fact that "he attended the two great
leaders of the generation." And indeed, Hillel was able to
enlighten them and determine the halochoh, and from his
words it was evident that he was truly a great person.
Bnei Beseira could have accorded Hillel great honor. They
could have praised and publicized him, included him in the
circle of the distinguished scholars who sit at the dais, so
to speak, who are first and foremost in everything of
import. This, in itself, would have been a great honor and
deference to an unknown scholar who had recently arrived
from Bovel and whose reputation was not yet established. But
Bnei Beseira would not forgive themselves or condone the
fact that a halochoh had eluded them. This, they felt,
showed that they had not exerted themselves enough in Torah.
They fell short in yegiya and consequently, were not
fit to serve as nesi'im. This unknown scholar,
Hillel, had apparently toiled much more in Torah. And so,
they forwent their stature and position and appointed Hillel
as nosi over them!
And what was Hillel's reaction? Let us see who this Hillel
is: The gemora exhorts us: "A person should always
[strive to] be as humble as Hillel" (Shabbos 30b).
Still, instead of being struck dumb with emotion and awe by
this magnanimous gesture of the Bnei Beseira, the
acknowledged leaders of the community, instead of showing
deep gratitude at the great honor bestowed upon him he --
uncharacteristically -- taunts and teases them!
What brought about this bowing out of the Bnei Beseira in
favor of Hillel? And what caused Hillel to act so out of
"Your laziness . . . " The Torah condemns the attribute of
laziness, or lack of alacrity and dogged perseverance.
Certainly they did not lack adherence and diligence in
Torah. But they could have achieved even more had they
exerted themselves to travel to Bovel and actually study
under Shemaya and Avtalyon, and attend them. To what lengths
is criticism aimed at the one who does not exert and extend
himself to the fullest, when just a bit more, and again a
bit more, could have gained him proportionately so much
greater benefit. Yet another achievement in Torah.
This is chukas haTorah, the secret of the statute of