The posuk describes the pursuit of Torah study as being, “Yikara hi mipninim – More precious than pearls.” Homiletically, the Gemara interprets this posuk to mean, “M’kohein godol hanichnas lifnei u’lifnim, that the study of Torah is more precious than the High Priest who enters the Holy of Holies. This is an extraordinary statement. We must understand that the Kodesh Kodoshim, the Holy of Holies, is the holiest place on earth. It is entered only on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, and only by the Kohein Gadol, who is arguably the holiest person on earth. And yet, the Gemara categorically tells us that when one sits down to study Torah, it is a greater activity than the Kohein Gadol entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement.
We should not be surprised, however, when hearing such grandiose descriptions about Torah study for the Gemara in Megillah also teaches us, “Gedolah Talmud Torah yoseir mei’hatzolos nefoshos – Greater is Torah study even more than saving a life.” Now, don’t misunderstand this Talmudic dictum. If you are sitting and learning Gemara and you see someone drowning and you say to yourself, “I can’t be bothered to save that person – It’s bitul Torah, it’s taking time away from Torah study,” you are a chosid shoteh, a pious fool, and you’re guilty of felonious behavior. What it does mean is that in raw merit, time spent in learning Torah has more Eternal value than saving a life.
This is why Mordechai was demoted in the ‘pecking order’ of the leadership of the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah from the rank of four to the rank of five when he got involved in the political intrigue to save Klal Yisrael during the days of Purim. For, although he saved the Jewish people, he would have had even more merit if he had been able to learn instead. Think how incredible that is. You have two people who spent their Sunday night from 8 to 9 p.m. One administered the Heimlich maneuver and saved a person from choking and another person attended the Daf Yomi. In the scales of merit, it is the latter person who comes out on top.
That should give us a whole new perspective on how to prioritize our time. Or, as the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, zy”a, put it, if you saw somebody having a massive heart attack and you didn’t react on time to call Hatzalah and he died before your very eyes, you would rue that day for the rest of your life. So that’s the way you should feel, and more, when you have a whole Sunday ahead of you without anything pressing to do and you don’t spend any of that precious time on the study of Torah. If you would rue the inability to save the life, then your inability to spend time learning Torah, which is even more precious than saving a life, should certainly distress you to no end.
As we count sefira, and declare nightly our longing and our appreciation of the national treasure of Torah which has been given only to us, may we concretize our sefira declaration by making more use of our daily time for the greatest of all occupations, and the very purpose of the creation of the world, which is Torah study. In that merit, may Hashem bless us all with long life, good health, and all Torah blessings.