“And these are the statutes that you
shall place before them.” Shemos 21:1
The Dos Zakainim teaches us that “before
them” means before the Jews and not before the
gentiles. The Torah is for the Jewish people exclusively.
He then brings an example of this
concept. On the inside of almost every Chumash is the Targum
written by Onkolus. While Onkolus became a profound
talmid chacham, that wasn’t his beginning. He was a
gentile, the nephew of the Caesar Adrianna. He became aware
of the truth and desired to convert to Judaism, but he was
afraid of his uncle’s reaction.
He approached his uncle and said, “I wish
to engage in commerce.”
His uncle responded, “If you need money,
my treasure house is open to you. Take whatever you need.”
Onkolus responded, “It isn’t money that
I seek; it is knowledge. I wish to go out to discover the
ways of the world. Please, my uncle, give me advice. Which
type of merchandise do you recommend that I invest in?”
Adrianna responded, “Find a commodity
that is depressed in value. The ways of the world are
cyclic. What is low now will rise later, and you will ride
the crest upwards and find your fortune.”
With that, Onkolus left to Israel and
approached the Chachamim, seeking to learn Torah. They told
him, “The Torah cannot be absorbed by one who isn’t Jewish.”
He converted, went to yeshiva to learn, and became a Torah
After he returned home, his uncle
noticed that his appearance had changed. “Why do you look
different?” he asked.
Onkolus responded, “Because I converted
and have learned Torah.”
“Upon whose advice did you do this?”
“Yours, my uncle. Didn’t you tell me to
invest in merchandise which is currently depressed because
surely it will rise? I searched and found no nation as
downtrodden as the Jews. Yet in the World to Come, there is
no people that will be as exalted.”
His uncle was so impressed with this
line of reasoning that he promptly smacked him across the
face. “You could have learned Torah without converting!” he
Onkolus responded, “Torah cannot be
learned by one who doesn’t have a Bris Milah.”
While this is a beautiful story, when we
take into account two points, a powerful question emerges.
1. We are dealing with a man who is
clearly brilliant. Once he converted, he became such a
master of the Torah that he was able to distill all of its
wisdom into a concise Targum that has become universally
accepted throughout the generations. Obviously, he was of
2. We are dealing with an extremely
motivated individual. He was living in the lap of luxury,
enjoying great power and prestige, and had the entire world
open to him. He was a favored nephew of the most powerful
emperor of his time. When he approached his uncle for help,
his immediate response was, “My treasure house is open to
you.” In simple terms, he had everything that a young man
could dream of. Yet he was willing to give it all up, at
risk of his position and maybe even his life, to go to a
foreign land to learn Torah. Clearly he was a driven
With all this, why couldn’t
he learn Torah without converting? The Chachamim
didn’t say to him, “You aren’t allowed to learn.” They
didn’t tell him that the halacha prohibits a gentile
from studying Torah. They said it won’t work.
The question is, why not? Here we have a man who was so
brilliant and dedicated that he was willing to give up
everything to learn. Why would he be incapable of learning
Torah if he wasn’t Jewish?
The nature of Torah
The answer to this lies in understanding
the nature of Torah.
The Torah is pure wisdom from HASHEM. A
Rashi on Chumash can be understood by an eight-year-old
child. Yet that same Rashi contains worlds of depth and
opens up to understandings that are infinite. The ability to
delve into the depth of Torah is specifically what a gentile
can’t do. A gentile can study geometry, physics, or business
law. Those studies are accessible to the mind of man. The
Torah is different. It is the “word of HASHEM” and cannot be
perceived by man.
However, HASHEM created the Jew with a
Nishamah uniquely suited to learn Torah. Different
than all of the nations of the world, the Jew alone has the
ability to access the Torah, to be able to plumb it depths,
and to reach the Divine wisdom contained in it. But more
than simply the ability to learn Torah, we were given a
tremendous receptivity to it.
comes naturally to the Jew
This seems to be the answer to the
question. As wise and as motivated as Onkolus was, had he
remained a gentile, he could never have mastered the Torah.
Torah is the exclusive heritage of the Jew. Only we have the
right to it, but even more, only we have the inborn capacity
to understand it and master it.
This concept is very relevant to us
because the Torah contains all the wisdom of the world.
There may be times when we feel overwhelmed by the
challenge. But the understanding that the Torah is our
exclusive heritage and that we are uniquely suited to learn
it should be a motivating force to help us set goals of
mastering our portion in Torah.
We have a natural affinity for learning
Torah; while we may have to strain our minds and exert
ourselves, we are naturally suited to it, so it settles into
our soul easily. We are like a musically gifted child
sitting down to play the violin - it is in our blood.
Sent by: Joy Haber
on Jan 3, 2012