Parshat אחרי מות Leviticus 18:5 – A Non-Jew Who Learns Torah

Leviticus 18:5 – You shall observe My statutes and My ordinances, which a man shall do and live by them.

Gemora Baba Kama 38a: Rabbi Meir used to say “From where do we know that even a non-Jew who occupies himself with Torah can be compared to a Cohen Gadol [High Priest]? From our posuk that says ‘which a man shall do’. It does not say ‘priests’ or ‘levites’ or ‘israelites’. Rather it says ‘man’. From here we know that a non-Jew who occupies himself with Torah is like a Cohen Gadol”

 Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #9:  

This teaching is being specific on the phrase “a man” and stating that this implies all people, anyone who is not an animal. The reason for making the comparison to the Cohen Gadol is according to that which it says in Gemora Sotah 4b and in other places [quoting Proverbs 3:15: it is more precious than pearls, and all your desirable things cannot be compared to it.] Torah is compared to pearls. The word for pearls is: מִפְּנִינִים which also means “in the innermost”, this is taken as alluding the Cohen Gadol who enters the Holy of Holies once a year. This being the case, we see that the high estimation of the Cohen Gadol is greater than the estimation of any other level amongst Jews except for the level of Torah [scholarship].

In one of the letters of the Rambam (to Rabbi Chisdai HaLevi) we find his explanation of this Aggada. He says as follows: “There is no doubt that everyone who fixes himself and his soul in improving his personality characteristics as well as in improving his knowledge and thoughts in the belief in G-d, is among those who will inherit the world to come. This is why the sages of truth have said that a non-Jew who occupies himself in Torah is comparable to a Cohen Gadol. The essense of Torah and the purpose of Moshe’s Torah is the fixing of the body and the soul towards the holy Creator. In fact, Moshe was only praised on account of the fact that he was the humblest of men.”

However, note that our sages in Gemora Sanhedrin 59a limit the applicability of this Aggadah to the non-Jews only learning about the seven mitzvoth that are specifically for them. However, according to this approach, the rest of the Torah would be forbidden for them to occupy themselves with it. This would be in accordance with the posuk in Parshat Zot HaBracha, “Moshe taught us the Torah, it is the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob.” Meaning it is our inheritance and not theirs. Please see my comments at length in that Parsha and also see Rambam’s comments at the end of the laws of Shemitah.

Also, note that in Midrash Rabba on Parshat Naso, Chapter 13, it also mentions this Aggadah using the following phraseology, “…this teaches that even a non-Jew who converts (in the places where this is allowed by the law of the land) and who occupies himself with Torah is comparable to the Cohen Gadol” Apparently, the Midrash Rabbah disagrees with the Gemora on this topic, as the Gemora states that this teaching includes all non-Jews. Further, note that it is impossible to state that there is a scribal error in the Gemorah and that it wrote “goy” [non-Jew] instead of “ger”[convert]. This would not be appropriate according to the content of all the different Gemoras on this topic. Also, it is impossible to say that there is a scribal error in the Midrash Rabba in the word “mitgayer” [converted] as that also would not fit into the flow of the topic there. Note also the Midrash Socher Tov, Chapter One. This issue requires further investigation to arrive at the true textual language.

Editor’s note: It is interesting to note that the Torah Temimah points out the apparent argument between the Gemora and the Midrash Rabbah. In my opinion their difference in opinion makes it difficult to say that the Aggadah use of the word “Torah” only refers to the Seven Laws of the Bnei Noach. How would that make sense in the language of the Midrash Rabbah that says that a non-Jew who converts and learns Torah is comparable to a Cohen Gadol?

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