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Shabbat Parashat Bo 5776

Ein Ayah: Weak Allegiance to Torah

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 2:137)

Gemara: There was a case of a non-Jew who came before Shammai and asked him: “How many Torahs do you have?” Shammai answered: “Two – the Written Law and the Oral Law.” The non-Jew said: “About the Written Law, I believe you. About the Oral Law, I do not believe you. Convert me on condition that you will teach me the Written Law.” Shammai scolded him and sent him away angrily. 


Ein Ayah: Sometimes an individual from the nations of the world who investigates the divine and has great intellect will be inspired to enter our religion because he recognizes the honor and sanctity of Hashem. Such a person will not trust anyone in regard to belief but will approach sanctity with an independent, internal recognition. Someone whose intellect is so great that his internal recognition will bring him to separate himself from foreign concepts and embrace the service and love of Hashem will also understand that the laws of G-d cannot be given to each person to interpret as he desires. Rather, there must be certain things that are accepted by all co-religionists. It will also make sense to him that those things that have been forgotten or about which there is no consensus because they concern new developments should be decided by a central authority of experts in a place chosen by Hashem. In that context, clear decisions will emerge to properly address every detail necessary on practical grounds.

In contrast, one whose intellectual powers are weak and whose attraction to the sanctity of the divine law is based only on great people who are connected to the Torah, will have a weak philosophical foundation. This will not enable him to reach a high level of belief in the Written and the Oral Laws. He will only be attracted by its glow and want to know more about it. He will not be able to comprehend why full dedication to the fulfillment of an extensive and detailed set of laws is required to attain the religion’s general goals.

The non-Jew who approached Shammai had all of the problems we alluded to. Regarding the Written Law, he did not say that he independently believed in it, but that he believed Shammai, due to his fame as a great, wise person who believed in the Torah. Such a basis is insufficient to volunteer to enter the ranks of Hashem’s nation.

That led to the fact that he did not even believe Shammai when it came to the Oral Law. That is because external belief will only take a person part of the way, and even if a person has a strong attraction, it is limited. Only one who is drawn to the Torah because he recognizes Hashem correctly will have an endless attraction, in line with the pasuk: “Draw me to You, I will run after You. The King brought me into His inner chambers. We will rejoice and be happy with You” (Shir Hashirim 1:4).

With the non-Jew’s weak recognition, his goals were also weak, and he did not desire that the Torah would impact on everything in his lifestyle. Rather, he was just interested in knowing the basics of that which he saw as lofty, holy, and divine. For that he realized that he would have to convert and was interested in doing so. He understood that deep things that are the domain of a special nation cannot be given over to someone who is unwilling to be part of the nation. Even someone of a simple level can understand that he has to rely on others for such an attainment.

Because of the low level of this conversion candidate, who came with a somewhat brazen approach, he deserved, on a certain level, the triple distancing from his desire, which Shammai did to him. He was scolded for lowering the Torah to being believable only because of the greatness of Shammai. He was sent away because he rejected the Oral Law, which could have a negative impact on others. He was shown anger because he wanted a conversion that would not go beyond the Written Law.

[In subsequent pieces, Rav Kook explains Hillel’s decision to accept the candidate.]
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