Bechukosai 5772 – The Blessings of Wholesome Dedication

Chukim, Mishpatim and Toros

“Those are the chukim, mishpatim and toros” which Hashem gave at Sinai. Everything which follows is outside of the framework of chukim, mishpatim and toros. The dedications are reshus, only as an addendum of the chukim mishpatim and toros.

  • Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch says that Vayikra does not assign special value to voluntary donations given from the emotions. Certainly then they do not attone for a sinful life. The sanctification of morality and the enlightenment of the mind are the sole means of attaining God’s grace.
  • Bechukosai has a three main points: ameilus in Torah and the brachos and klalos are often quoted, but less attention is paid to the second half of the parshah, after the klalos. often this second half is completely forgotten. Now that we are without the Mishkan, the massechtos which deal with these laws are less learned in yeshivos.
  • But this section is crucial to our service of God. Hirsch and Rashi teach that this section deals with a specific, common situation in our relationship with God.
  • A person may feel an innate need to maintain space for myself, but he still does not want to give up his connection to God. He might decide to voluntarily dedicate his time or money to the religious establishment thinking that will make up for his lack of deep relationship with the Creator, and that will make up for the way he’s hiding from God. Hirsch sharply disagrees.
  • This conclusion provides us the context to reconsider the first half of the parshah.
  • Elsewhere, Hirsch defines erech as the value of one thing relative to another. Erech nefashos laShem expresses the value and significance of people to the sanctuary. Different members of society do have different value in the scheme of national service.
  • This notion is at odds with notions prevalent in the broader world today, but the purpose of the Torah is not to attain mass appeal among the gentiles, it’s a formula for bringing God’s presence down into the world.

Rabbi Shimon Ben Elazar taught1)Megilla 31b that Ezra established the regular reading of the Torah in the synagogue. In addition to the regular weekly reading, he also set that we read the brachos and klalos in Vayikra before Shavuos, and those in Devarim before Rosh Hashannah. Why? Shavuos is Rosh Hashannah for the fruits of the tree, and man is compared to a tree2)Deuteronomy 20:19. What are a man’s fruits? Chiddushei Torah or according to another opinion, mitzvos and maasim tovim. On Shavuos we sit in judgement as to what our access to chiddushei torah and mitzvos will be.

Rosh Hashannah of Tishrei is not specific to the Jews, it’s the judgement day of the entire universe. The three regalim have to do with the Jews’ specific role in the cosmic plan. On Pesach on the produce, in Shavuos Torah and mitzvos and on Sukkos on rain. Reading the brachos and klalos of this parshah is a preparation for Shavuos, which is why it falls out now.

Im Bechukosai Teileichu

Rashi explains3)Levitivus 26:14 that there are= seven steps of yerida from relationship with God that lead to the klalos:

  1. First he stops learning.
  2. Then, since he’s not learning, he stops doing.
  3. He becomes spiteful of those who do God’s will.
  4. Then he hates the sages of Israel who guide the process of living and learning Torah
  5. But it’s not enough to allow the Torah to exist without taking part, he begins to fight against the establishment of Torah. (This is the prevalent state of being today.)
  6. Then he denies the validity of the MItzvos
  7. And finally, since the possibility of God means he has wasted his life fighting against Him, he denies the existence of God, uprooting the wholesome core of his soul.

Reward and Punishment

Many people misunderstand this point. Chazal and the Rishonim ask why the Torah does not explicitly mention the World to Come, instead speaking only about the rewards and punishments in this world. there are many answers offered, which we won’t get into here. But however you view the concept of reward in the next world, the Torah still communicates with us about this world.

The Netziv brings4)Netziv to Leviticus 26:3 two ways of seeing the mitzvos. God could be like a king who makes seemingly arbitrary decrees and metes out reward and punishment based on fulfuilment of his will. Or He is like a doctor who prevents his patient from eating certain foods. The doctor is objective, he merely informs the patient what the consequences of his actions will be. So how does Torah see it? Bechukosai shows us that Hashem is not a king, he’s a doctor, it’s even a passuk “Ani Hashem rofecha5)Exodus 15:26.” The Torah is a gift, providing us the formula to attain the purpose of both our spiritual and physical existence.

Im Teilchu Imi Keri

Unkelos translates keri as bekashiu, meaning “in difficulty”. The indication from teilchu imi is someone who is keeping mitzvos, but it’s bekoshi – without simcha, as we discussed last year. If we would appreciate that, we’d keep Torah from a deep simcha. It would be a smooth process of growth. There would be nothing holding us back inside, and so God would arrange the whole world to provide us what we need to continue growing, That is the foundation of the brachos and klalos.

Rav Gedaliah Shor writes that from Hashem’s point of view, the world was meant to to be a place of nothing but brachos. Before the cheit, Adam and Chava bore children with ease. There was no difficulty in making food. When Moshiach comes, our tradition teaches that all the barren trees will produce fruit. But we’re the ones holding it back. Like we discussed last year, the world is set up to give us everything, but humanity prevents it from doing so with their internal spiritual blockages. Chazal say that the word “im” as in “if you walk in my statues” is really Hashem begging us to live a perfect life: “If only you would walk in my ways, then you would have it all!”

The missing ingredient is attitude. What our attitude is towards the difficulty of learning, the need to sweat over mitzvos will determine how much brachah we have in our lives.

References   [ + ]

1. Megilla 31b
2. Deuteronomy 20:19
3. Levitivus 26:14
4. Netziv to Leviticus 26:3
5. Exodus 15:26