The Ten Commandments are introduced by the verse, "And the L-rd spoke
all of these words, saying (leimor)_." According to the
Midrash, leimor denotes a verbal acceptance by the Children of
Israel, a source of debate between two amora'im.
Yishmael was of the opinion that the Jewish people answered yes to
each of the proactive commandments and no to each of the prohibitive
commandments. Rabbi Akiva disagreed. The Jews answered yes to both.
What is the source of their argument and what are its
The Rav, zt"l, explained that Rabbi
Yishmael's view indicates an agreement on the part of the Jewish
people. Yes, we accept the divinity of G-d, the sanctity of Shabbat,
the honor of our parents. And no, we reject murder, robbery, adultery.
Rabbi Akiva's view interprets the Jewish people's feeling as,
yes, we accept whatever G-d says, regardless of any doubts or
questions. Even without rational explanation, we surrender our will to
G-d's will and fulfill His laws. In fulfilling this type of
mitzvah, called a chok, we do what He demands of us under
A rasha, an evil person, the Rav
taught, is defined by his unwillingness to surrender to G-d. In the
prayer, "Aleinu," we proclaim that evil will no longer have a
place in this world when, in the words of Yeshayah, "All the
world's inhabitants will recognize and know that to you every knee
The average Torah Jew struggles every day to
develop that level of emunah which completely surrenders to G-d
and His will. The ultimate goal of every Torah Jew is to become a
"chok Jew," a person whose knee is bent in submission to G-d
and the Torah of Sinai; to respond as the Jew's did, in Rabbi Akiva's
fashion, to the Commandments at Sinai.
We must be able to
give a resounding Yes to all the mitzvot, whether they are
rational and accepted in the world or questioned because their meaning
May we struggle mightily and successfully each
day to bend our knees and become chukim Jews.
Rabbi Bertram Leff
Rabbi Leff is the editor of Torah Insights.