Parshas Bechukosai

Throughout the divrei Torah that I have written on the Parshios, I have very often quoted thoughts and approaches I heard and absorbed from אבי מורי שליט”א. Aside from the inspiration I received from my father, my father takes an active role in my writings. Most of what I have published was edited by my father before publication.

This past Tuesday, my father had an open heart surgery. As I send you these divrei Torah, I am overcome by emotions. I cry for my father’s Refuah Shlaima. Everything I have in this world is thanks to my parents, and everything I will have in the world to come is also to their credit.

May this week’s divrei Torah, together with all the others, serve as a Zechus for the speedy recovery of Eliyahu Dovid Ben Shaindel Naomi.

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Last week’s Sedra opened with the topic of Shmita and Yovel. The Torah prefaces the topic of Shmita with instructions specific to these Mitzvos by telling us: “Hashem said unto Moshe at Mount Sinai saying,” and then goes into the details and particulars of Shmita and Yovel. It seems a bit peculiar that specifically in conjunction with the Mitzva of Shmita, the Torah mentions that it was said to Moshe at Har Sinai. Rashi and the Ramban quote the Medrash, which explains that there is no particular reason for the juxtaposition of the topic of Shmita and Har Sinai, but the Torah is emphasizing that likewise all Mitzvos were given to Moshe at Har Sinai.

In this week’s Sedra the Torah tells us of a bris—dictums that Hashem gave us at Har Sinai. At the end of the Parsha, the Torah tells us “these are the commandments that Hashem commanded Moshe at Har Sinai to instruct Bnei-Yisroel”. Thus, there seems to be a recurring theme in these two Parshios—an emphasis on the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai.

If we examine more carefully the latter of these references we will find an interesting idea. Why is it that at the end of Vayikra, a Sefer that deals primarily with korbanos, does the Torah choose to reinforce the idea of the entirety of the Torah having been given at Sinai? Even more so, why does the Torah emphasize it so many times?

Korbanos generally represent Avoda—our actual, physical worship of Hashem, which would usually be viewed as a separate entity from the practicing of laws or study of Torah. Therefore, perhaps the Torah is pointing out to us that Avoda as well is really a part of Torah and not an area of spirituality in its own right.

Bearing this in mind we now can better understand why throughout these Sedros, the Torah continues to focus on this idea that all the various aspects of Torah were given at Har Sinai. Over and over again, the Torah reiterates the fact that Mitzvos, and in general Avodas Hashem, were given at Sinai. This idea demonstrates that the Torah, like all of Yidishkeit, is one united whole, made up of various different aspects, but still one seamless entity.

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This week’s Sedra conveys a strong message in the form of the stark contrast between the Brocho (Blessing) Hashem will bestow upon Klal-Yisroel should it adhere to His Torah, and the Klolo (Curse) that will befall it should it not do so, Chalilah. The Torah then ends off with Hashem’s promise that He will never destroy us. Towards the end of the Divrei Brocho Hashem includes in the Blessing the statement that He will walk amongst us and that He won’t reject us. While it is certainly important to know that we won’t be rejected by Hashem, it is still a bit odd that such a promise should form part of the Blessing. Isn’t it obvious that if Hashem is content with our behavior and is with us, He will also not be disgusted by us and won’t reject us?

Chazal tell us (beginning of Kidushim) that while someone can betroth a wife through a Shaliach (emissary) one should still not do so without seeing the woman first. Chazal explain this is in order to make sure that after they are married and find themselves in a deep and close relationship, the husband shouldn’t be repulsed by something in the wife’s appearance. Similarly Chazal made other provisions of tznius (relating to dignity) between husband and wife in order that a husband (or wife) shouldn’t become disgusted by the other. These types of provisions are enactments that Chazal designed only in such a case as marriage and not in any other sort of relationship. Specifically, only when there is a close, personal, and deep relationship do Chazal tell us to pay extra heed not to place ourselves in a situation where we may find ourselves repulsed by someone else.

In a superficial relationship we don’t really get to know the other component of the relationship well. At a glance we don’t notice minor imperfections. Such imperfections are things that are noticed and are bothersome only in the deepest and most compassionate relationships.

The Brocho Hashem Yisborach is giving us is that even though He will walk amongst us and He will be so close and involved with us, He will not notice anything bothersome or disgusting in us. Hashem is in essence promising us the perfect relationship.

May we act righteously and be Zoche to the Brocho; may we merit having this perfect relationship with Hashem Yisborach.

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This week’s Sedra (Bechukosai) opens with Hashem telling us that if we keep His Torah He will bestow upon us all sorts of Brochos and good things. One of the things Hashem promises us is that He will not be disgusted by us. Rashi explains this to mean that Hashem will not regurgitate us. While we definitely don’t want Hashem to ‘spit us out’ it seems to be a strange expression of affection. When people want to express their love to others they will usually focus on the positive (i.e. that they want to be with them and to live in harmony with them etc.). One doesn’t say I love you so much that I won’t be revolted by you. What place does such an expression have in a message of love from Hashem to Am-Yisroel?

Immediately prior to Hashem’s saying that he will not be disgusted by us Hashem tells us that he will place His Sanctuary in our midst. Hashem is telling us that He intends to have an extremely intimate relationship with Klal-Yisroel.

In a close relationship one will often pick up on minor wrongdoings; every imperfection will likely be noticed. When someone looks at a person’s face from afar it will tend to look far more appealing than from close up when all imperfections and warts will be visible.

To be a perfect Jew may be close to impossible; to have a perfect Am-Yisroel is even more difficult. It is intimidating to know that Hashem Dwells amongst us as we feel that our imperfections are thereby magnified. Hashem is telling us that He will not be disgusted by us not as an insult, but in order to assure us that if we keep His Ratzon (even though we will most likely still err) He will be able to overlook our imperfections.

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This week’s Haftorah is a Nevuah from Yirmiyahu. Yirmiyahu imparts to Klal-Yisroel an unfortunate Nevuah of klala (curse).  It would seem that this is the reason this Haftorah is chosen as our second Parsha (Bechukosai) contains Klala in it as well. There is, however, a striking difference between the Klalos in the Haftorah and those in the Sedra. In the Haftorah the Navi tells us that cursed is a man who puts his faith in Man. The Navi contrasts this as well with the converse: praiseworthy is the man who places his Faith in Hashem… In our Sedra the Torah takes a different approach. The Klala and Brocho in our Sedra seem to depend not so much on a person’s faith but rather on his actions.

Why the discrepancy? Is our fulfillment of Torah and Mitzvos the main element here or is the philosophy behind it more important?

Rashi at the beginning of Parshas Bechukosai points out that there are seven steps a person takes until he ultimately becomes an apikores (a heretic). While Rashi bases his seven steps on the words of the Pessukim it seems as though Rashi is adding a criterion that it isn’t necessary to evoke Divine wrath. The Torah seems to be saying if Am-Yisroel doesn’t do Retzon Hashem then Hashem will plague them with klalos. What does becoming a heretic have to do with anything?

In the Haftorah the Navi focuses on our belief and trust in Hashem. The Navi seems not to be interested with our performance of each and every Mitzvah. Trust in Hashem, however, implies that one who truly has faith in Hashem will understand that he must fully cooperate and fulfill Hashem’s every command. While this is all true the Navi first said that cursed is he who places his faith and fate in hands of Man. The Navi in fact is implying that it is foolish to do so because Man is mere flesh and blood while Hashem is Omnipotent. Following the Navi’s logic, it would seem to be close to impossible to at one and the same time be rational and not fulfill Retzon Hashem.

It would seem that Rashi is therefore compelled to explain that not fulfilling Retzon Hashem must start off with a lack of learning Hashem’s Torah and therefore a lack of understanding the Torah. Rashi is then left with the simple chain reaction that leads to becoming a complete apikores. Rashi is merely illuminating the standard set of reactions that take place in order for someone to really stop keeping Torah and Mitzvos.

In essence the Haftorah is a link in our Parsha: the klala is a result of not fulfilling Retzon Hashem but the only way it is possible to do so is without having faith (Chas VeShalom) in Hashem. Reb Chaim (Brisker) is said to have declared that the Chovas HaleVavos is the Shulchan Aruch of Emuna and Bitachon. Reb Chaim felt it was extremely important to learn and to strengthen one’s faith in Hashem – because without it it is nearly impossible to have any form of Yidishkeit.