Parshat Bechukotai 3

“And the produce of your threshing season will last until the grape harvest. And the produce of the grape harvest will last until the planting. And you have your fill of food. And you will live securely in your land.” (VaYikra 26:5)

Hashem promises Bnai Yisrael that observance of the Torah will be rewarded with a blessing of abundant crops. The pasuk also assures security and peace.

The Midrash Torat Kohanim observes that the pasuk contains an additional message. The people are promised that observance of the Torah will be rewarded with security in their land. This is a reference to the land of Israel. The implication of the pasuk is that the promise of security can only be fulfilled in the land of Israel. The assurance does not extend to life in exile, outside of Israel.[1]

This is an amazing assertion. The midrash is telling us the observance of the Torah is rewarded with security in the land of Israel. However, Jews in exile are not assured of shelter. Observance of the Torah cannot procure salvation outside of Israel.

A poignant comment ascribed to Rav Yisrael Meir HaKohen – the Chafetz Chayyim – is relevant to this message. The Chafetz Chayyim often discussed the advent of the Messianic era. Towards the end of his life he delivered an informal discourse on this issue. He explained that the Messianic era is inevitable. We do not know when the Messiah will arrive. Nonetheless, we are certain that the Almighty’s plan for humanity will only be fulfilled in the Messianic era.

He explained that we are not passive participants in the unfolding of history. Our actions and attitudes can hasten or delay coming of Meshiach. What can we do to expedite the Messiah’s arrival? The Chafetz Chayyim explained that we must truly desire his accession. We must recognize exile as banishment. We must sincerely long for deliverance.

Conversely, apathy delays the coming of the Messiah. If we are complacent and comfortable in exile, we fail to recognize our banishment.

The Chafetz Chayyim offered a proof of his assertion. The Chumash, in Sefer Shemot discusses our redemption from Egypt. The Chafetz Chayyim argues that this event is a model for future redemptions. In order to understand the conditions required for the arrival of the Messiah, we must study this previous redemption.

The Torah explains that Bnai Yisrael cried out to Hashem, in their suffering. Immediately after this appeal, the redemption began.[2] Our delivery from bondage was not initiated by repentance. It was set in motion by a much simpler event. The people turned to Hashem and asked for salvation. This provides a model for future redemptions. In order for the Almighty to act, we must recognize that we need His salvation.

The Chafetz Chayyim concluded by asserting that many Jews of his time were complacent. They had come to accept exile. They did not regard exile as banishment. They uttered the prayers beseeching the Almighty for redemption. But they were not completely sincere. He felt that it was crucially important to change this attitude. Bnai Yisrael must acknowledge exile as a severe punishment. The people must earnestly turn to the Almighty and pray for salvation.[3]

The Chafetz Chayyim’s comments are reflected in the midrash from Torat Kohanim. We can never achieve security in exile. Why? We must always recognize that exile, by definition, is a punishment. In order to assure that banishment never becomes too comfortable, the Almighty denies us security in exile. Throughout history this lesson has been repeated. Many times the Jewish people became apathetic and began to feel secure and comfortable in exile. On each occasion the Almighty provided a terrible reminder of the instability and terror of exile.

The Chafetz Chayyim made these comments at the end of his life. He passed away in 1933.

“These are the commandments that Hashem commanded Moshe on behalf of Bnai Yisrael, at Mount Sinai.” (VaYikra 27:34)

The Midrash Torat Kohanim derives from this pasuk a fundamental principle of the Torah. “These are the commandments”, teaches that a future prophet may not add any mitzvot or nullify any of the commandments.[4]

Maimonides explains that the six hundred and thirteen mitzvot enumerated in the Torah are a permanent system. Any prophet claiming that Hashem revealed to him a new mitzvah is a false prophet. The same conclusion applies to a prophet claiming that Hashem has removed a mitzvah from Taryag – the six hundred and thirteen mitzvot. The consequence for false prophecy is death.[5]

Maimonides continues with an interesting comment. A prophet does have the authority to temporarily suspend a mitzvah. If a prophet commands us to disobey a commandment for a specific period, we are obligated to obey this command. This is not a theoretical principal. In practice, prophets did suspend mitzvot on a temporary basis. The most famous example involves Eliyahu the Prophet. Eliyahu challenged the priest of Baal to a test. This test involved the priests and Eliyahu each offering separate sacrifices on Mount Carmel. The Torah forbids offering sacrifices outside of the Beit HaMikdash. Eliyahu suspended this law, in order to participate in the demonstration he designed. However, this suspension of the law was temporary. Therefore it was permitted.[6]

Why can a prophet suspend a mitzvah on a temporary basis? It seems that the Torah does not forbid a prophet from issuing a command that contradicts the Torah. He has the authority to adjure us to ignore a mitzvah. The limitation upon the prophet is that he may not tamper with Taryag. This means he may not add to or subtract from the system of Taryag. The temporary suspension of a mitzvah does not represent a subtraction from the system. The mitzvah remains a component of Taryag. It is merely temporarily suspended. In contrast, if a prophet tells us that we no longer are required to observe a mitzvah, he has subtracted a component from Taryag. This is beyond the authority of the prophet.

[1] Midrash Torat Kohanim, Parshat BeChukotai, Chapter 1.

[2] Sefer Shemot, 2:23-24.

[3] Rav Ahron Sorasky, Rabban Shel Yisrael (Netzach, 1979), pp 99-100.

[4] Midrash Torat Kohanim, Parshat BeChukotai, Chapter 13.

[5] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Yesodai HaTorah 9:1.

[6] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Yesodai HaTorah 9:3.