The Power of Ameilus BaTorah

Im bechukosai teileichu (Vayikra 26:3)

Parashas Bechukosai begins by promising tremendous blessings for those who obey Hashem’s commandments (26:3-12). What must one do to warrant these rewards? Rashi explains that the words “im bechukosai teileichu” — if you will walk in My laws — cannot be referring to observing the mitzvos, as this is explicitly mentioned elsewhere in the verse — “v’es mitzvosai tishme’ru.” Rather, it refers to diligently studying the Torah.

Harav Yitzchok Zilberstein recounts a powerful story about diligence in limud haTorah and the impact it can have. A young married man who lives in the Ramat Elchanan section of Bnei Brak — where Rav Zilberstein is the Rav — once had to travel with his wife to take their young baby to the emergency room in Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikva. Nearby was another young child who was in critical condition, and whose secular parents were not coping well with his life-threatening illness.

Desperate for hope and encouragement, the secular couple turned to the religious couple and a lengthy conversation ensued, in which the observant couple attempted to strengthen and soothe the worried parents with messages of belief and trust in Hashem, Who would ultimately determine the fate of their son.

After several hours of discussion that lasted late into the night, the secular man expressed an interest in repenting his previous actions and adopting a religious lifestyle. The discussion turned to the subject of Torah study; and the observant man, whose name was Shmuel, endeavored to describe the value and beauty of the in-depth Torah study in which yeshivah students engage at all hours of the day and night.

The secular man suddenly became silent, immersed in thought. After a few minutes, he turned and asked Shmuel if he knew of a yeshivah where he could witness bachurim engaged in Torah study at that very moment. He added that if Shmuel could locate a yeshivah where there were 10 students learning Gemara in the middle of the night, he would immediately be chozer b’teshuvah.

Shmuel checked his watch and saw that it was two o’clock in the morning. He hesitated, unsure how to respond to the offer, and fearful that perhaps he would be unable to fulfill the request, and that all of his efforts would be for naught. Upon further reflection, he decided that he would do as much as he was capable of doing, and leave the rest up to Hashem. The two men left the hospital and began to drive. Their destination was the illustrious Ponevez yeshivah in Bnei Brak, where they arrived at 2:10 a.m.

Shmuel, who had studied in Ponevez in his younger years, ascended the steps slowly, as his heart palpitated in anxiety about the scene that awaited them on the other side of the door to the beis medrash. Would there indeed be a minyan of bachurim still learning at this hour? When they reached the door and swung it open, both men were astonished to see more than 50 dedicated bachurim enthusiastically engaged in their Talmudic studies, completely oblivious of the clock.

The secular man stood in dumbfounded disbelief for several minutes, as he watched the students passionately arguing with their chavrusos, as they worked to properly understand the Talmudic passages and commentaries in which they were engrossed. Eventually he pulled himself together and uttered three words: “Ani chozer b’teshuvah.”

The two men returned to the hospital to tend to their children, but the once-secular man was a changed individual, due to the sight he had witnessed that night. He kept his promise and began to observe the mitzvos at once. A short while later the doctors came to check on his child, and they were astounded to see that the boy, whose initial prognosis was that he would live no more than a day, showed remarkable improvement. He continued to progress and get better until, a mere 48 hours after his father’s visit to the Ponevez yeshivah, was deemed fully recovered and sent home with his loving and appreciative parents.

Q: The Gemara in Bava Metzia (62a) discusses a case in which two people are lost in the desert with only one flask of water. If they split the water, both will die before they are able to reach the nearest settlement, but if one of them drinks it, he will be able to survive. Rabi Akiva derives from a verse in our parashah (25:36) that chayecha kodmin — the one with the water should drink it all, as his life takes precedence over that of his friend.

If three people are lost in the desert and one of them has sufficient water for himself and one other person, it is clear that he should drink one supply of water, but what should he do with the second?

A: The Chiddushei Harim points out that in this case, the arguments of Rabi Akiva and Ben Petura, who disagrees with him, don’t apply. Rabi Akiva’s focus on the individual’s life is irrelevant, for he has enough water to drink. Ben Petura argues that where there are only two people, they should split it so that nobody has to witness the death of his friend, but in this case the person with the water will have to witness someone’s death regardless. He therefore suggests that he should simply put the water down and allow the other two to sort it out. However, in a case where the other two are each locked in separate rooms and it must be given to one of them, he is at a loss as to what one should do.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email