Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Behar-Bechukosai

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Im bechukosai teileichu (26:3)

Parshas Bechukosai begins by promising tremendous blessings for those who obey its commandments (26:3-12). What must one do to warrant these rewards? Rashi explains that the expression Im bechukosai teileichu – if you will walk in My laws – cannot refer to observing the mitzvos, as this is explicitly mentioned elsewhere in the verse – v’es mitzvosai tishm’ru. Rather, it refers to diligently studying the Torah.

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein recounts a powerful and inspiring story about diligence in Torah study and the impact it can have. A young married man who lives in the Ramat Elchanan section of B’nei B’rak, where Rav Zilberstein is the Rav, once had to travel with his wife to take their young baby to the emergency room in Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikva. Nearby was another young child, who was in critical condition and whose secular parents were not coping well with his life-threatening condition.

Desperate for hope and encouragement, the secular couple turned to the religious couple and a lengthy conversation ensued, in which the observant couple attempted to strengthen and soothe the other couple with messages of belief and trust in Hashem, Who would ultimately determine the fate of their son. After several hours of discussion that lasted late into the night, the secular man expressed an interest in being chozeir b’teshuvah – repenting for his previous actions and adopting a religious lifestyle. The discussion had turned to the subject of Torah study, and the observant man, whose name was Shmuel, attempted to describe the value and beauty of the in-depth Torah study in which yeshiva students engage at all hours of the day and night.

Suddenly, the secular man became silent, deep in pensive thought. After a few minutes, he turned and asked Shmuel whether there was a yeshiva where he could witness bochurim (young students) engaged in Torah study at that time. He added that if Shmuel could locate a yeshiva where there were ten students learning Gemora in the middle of the night, he would immediately be chozeir b’teshuvah.

Shmuel checked his watch and saw that it was two o’clock in the morning. He hesitated and was unsure how to respond to the offer, fearful that perhaps he would be unable to fulfill the request and all of his efforts would have been for naught. Upon further reflection, he decided that he would do as much as he was capable of doing, and he would leave the rest up to Hashem. The two men left the hospital and began to drive. Their destination was the illustrious Ponovezh yeshiva in B’nei B’rak, at which they arrived at 2:10 am.

Shmuel, who had studied in the Ponovezh yeshiva in his younger years, ascended the steps slowly, as his heart palpitated in anxiety about the scene that awaited them on the other side of the door to the beis medrash (study hall). When they reached the door and swung it open, both men were astonished to see more than 50 dedicated bochurim enthusiastically engaged in their Talmudic studies, completely oblivious to the time. The secular man stood in dumbfounded disbelief for several minutes as he watched the students passionately arguing with their chavrusos (study partners) as they attempted to properly understand the Talmudic passage and commentaries in which they were engrossed. Eventually, he pulled himself together and uttered three words: Ani chozeir b’teshuvah.

The two men returned to the hospital to tend to their children, but the once-secular man was a changed individual due to the sight that he had witnessed that night. He kept his promise and began to observe the mitzvos at once. A short while later the doctors came to check on his child, and they were astounded to see that the boy, whose initial prognosis was that he was unlikely to live more than a day, had shown a remarkable improvement. He continued to progress and get better until, a mere 48 hours after his father’s visit to the Ponovezh yeshiva, he was deemed fully recovered and sent home with his loving and appreciative parents.

V’hifkadti aleichem behala (26:16)

This week we conclude the book of Vayikra with Parshas Bechukosai, which is commonly referred to as the parsha of “tochacha” – rebuke. After discussing the numerous blessings that we will merit if we study Torah diligently and observe the mitzvos, the Torah continues to say that if we reject the commandments and fail to observe them, Hashem will punish us with numerous curses, the first of which is behala – feelings of panic and pressure.

Rav Shmuel Dovid Walkin writes that if one looks around at the state of the world today, the fulfillment of this curse is evident, as we have lost the attribute of patience, and the need for immediate gratification grows by the day. For example, when it comes to traveling, nobody today would be willing to take an intercity trip by wagon, and even lengthy journeys by car and train are considered burdensome and uncomfortable. Eventually, the time will come that people will be unable to endure a lengthy flight, as it will run counter to the need for instant fulfillment to which we have become accustomed. This impatience is not limited to traveling; it extends to all areas of our lives.

Conventional wisdom maintains that each invention or technological advance that shaves off minutes, seconds, or even nanoseconds from the time required to complete an activity is considered progress and should be encouraged and built upon. The Torah, on the other hand, has a different perspective, as it clearly states that if we fail to properly observe the mitzvos, the first curse that will be meted out, which serves as the introduction to all of the other curses, is behala, which from Hashem’s vantage-point is not considered a blessing.

The Torah goes further and reveals to us that the true source for these feelings of pressure that permeate every aspect of our lives are not technological breakthroughs designed to save us time, but rather punishments for the lack of patience that we demonstrated in serving Hashem without the proper joy and concentration, thereby transforming the mitzvos into heavy burdens to be fulfilled and dispensed with as quickly as possible. The Torah promises that Hashem will punish such an impatient attitude toward Torah study and mitzvah observance by removing our patience in all areas of our lives.

We are witnessing the fulfillment of this curse before our very eyes, as people spend every waking moment constantly running from one place to the next and rushing from the completion of one task to the next item on the “to do” list, and even when we are supposedly at rest in our beds, our minds are still unable to relax, as they dart from thought to thought remembering all of the chores and activities that we have yet to accomplish, thereby depriving us of the ability to sleep soundly and peacefully. Although Rav Walkin’s insights seem to perfectly describe the busy lives that we lead in 2013, it is recorded by his uncle, Rav Zalman Sorotzkin, in his work Oznayim L’Torah. Rav Sorotzkin died in 1966, and Rav Walkin passed away in 1979; if these were their impressions of their contemporaries, one can only imagine what they would say if they were alive today.

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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The Gemora in Shabbos (69b) records a dispute regarding the law for somebody who finds himself lost in the desert, and because he doesn’t know what day it is, is unsure when to observe Shabbos. One opinion maintains that the person should observe the next day as Shabbos and then count an additional six days before again observing Shabbos, while the other opines that he should first count six days and only then observe the first Shabbos. In the event that one is lost in Israel and doesn’t know when the Shemittah year is, would the same dispute apply as to how to proceed, and if not, what should one do if he finds himself in such a situation? (Mishmeres Ariel)

2) In Parshas Behar, Hashem promises (25:19), “You will eat and be full.” In Parshas Bechukosai (26:5), one word is added – “You will eat your bread and be full.” What is the reason for this change? (Imrei Deah)

3) Rashi explains (26:3) that the expression Im bechukosai teileichu – if you will walk in my ways – refers to diligently studying the Torah. Why is Torah study considered an illogical chok when it seems quite straightforward that must study the Torah in order to know and understand the mitzvos? (Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, Ayeles HaShachar)

4) In the middle of the rebuke, Hashem mentions (26:42) that He will remember His covenant with our forefathers. What is the intention of this verse and its placement? (Shelah HaKadosh, Chiddushei Beis Yosef, Dubno Maggid, Darkei Mussar)

© 2013 by Oizer Alport.