BECHUKOSAI 5757 & 5762
ALSO: BECHUKOSAI II
A. Blessings/Admonitions. The Book of Vayikrah concludes with Moshe contrasting the different responses that will follow the Jews' obedience or defiance of Hashem's commandments. Obedience will lead to peace and prosperity; abundant crops; and protection from our enemies. Defiance will lead to (among other things, and in stages of increasing severity): plagues; enemy sieges; and national exile. However, if the Jews repent, Hashem promises to once again remember His covenant with the Patriarchs and accept us once again as His people.
B. Contributions to the Sanctuary. The following provisions are discussed for one who made a vow to contribute towards the upkeep of the Sanctuary:
1. If one dedicates his/his family member's worth, the amount to be paid varies depending on the person's age and sex.
2. If one dedicates a kosher animal which can be used for a sacrifice, he can't substitute another animal for it. However, he can redeem a blemished animal (i.e., unfit for sacrifice) by paying its monetary value plus an additional 20% to the Kohein.
3. The redemption of land that was dedicated is based upon its value (which, as noted above, is determined by calculating the number of years remaining until the Yovel).
4. A firstling (B'chor) can't be dedicated a voluntary offering, since it is already Hashem's property.
5. A Ma'aser (tithes of produce -- the first of which was set aside for the Levites; the second of which was set aside and taken to Jerusalem to be eaten) can be redeemed by paying its value plus 20%, but a tithe of new-born animals (which were set aside for sacrifice) can't be redeemed.
II. Divrei Torah
A. LilMode U'lilamed (Rabbi Mordechai Katz)
Achdus: United we stand, divided we fall. The admonitions suggests that if the Jews defy Hashem's word, they will be smitten before their enemies. The text suggests that the "enemies" include enemies from "within" the Jewish people. History has shown that some of the worst enemies of the Jewish people have been Jews (e.g., the first person killed in the Maccabean uprising was a Hellenist Jew killed by Matisyohu when he slaughtered a pig on the Altar). History has, however, also shown the unlimited potential when Jews have united (e.g., when the Jews were united behind David and Shlomo, their prosperity was at a peak and the Holy Temple was built). We must heed the lesson of the value of achdus (unity of the entire Jewish people), not only during times of national crisis, but at all times.
B. Growth Through Torah (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
1. Be happy for others' good fortune. "And I will place peace in the land". Rashi states "if there is no peace there is nothing". Many people would feel satisfied with their lot, but for the fact that they're envious that others have more. When one feels sincere love for others, he isn't envious of their success and possessions -- this leads to true peace.
2. Be aware of the dangers in rejecting the Torah. The Chofetz Chaim noted that there are those who are afraid to read the admonitions in this week's Parsha. However, he gives the analogy of someone who was traveling on a dangerous path and, fearful of the narrow road, the wild animals and the other pitfalls on the route, blindfolds himself. Clearly, we can see that this is no solution. Similarly, says the Chofetz Chaim, we must be aware of the dangers of not behaving properly and failing to do good; while the main focus should be on the benefits of behaving properly and doing good, it is important that we also realize the harmful consequences of failing to do so.
3. Act in an elevated manner at home. "A person who sanctifies his home . . . " The Kotzker Rebbe notes that true holiness is not shown when one is involved in spiritual matters such as study or prayer, but when a person sanctifies his seemingly mundane daily household activities, taking advantage of the many opportunities for acts of kindness towards others in the home.
C. Majesty of Man (Rabbi A. Henach Leibowitz)
Finding time for Torah study. "If you walk in My laws . . . " The Midrash tells that King David explained a verse in Tehillim (Psalms): "I contemplated my path and my feet returned me to Your testimony," by noting that each day he decided where he had to go and what he had to do, but instead his feet carried him to learn Torah. Clearly, David didn't disregard necessary tasks; however, he possessed the wisdom to discern which tasks were truly "necessary". While we must not shirk our responsibilities to our jobs, families, etc, we should follow David's footsteps and inculcate within ourselves and our children a strong yearning to learn Torah; by so doing, we will find that we do have some time in our busy schedules for Torah study.
D. Project Genesis (Rabbi Mordecai Kamenetzky)
A history lesson. This Parsha contains stern admonitions and treacherous warnings of what will happen to the Jewish people lest they not observe the Torah. Of course the prescient predictions of misfortune are preceded with a bounty of blessing if we keep the Torah. Unfortunately, however, the good comes with the bad, and the unfavorable penalties are not omitted. They are hauntingly clear and undiluted. The Torah details calamity with Divine accuracy. It predicts enemies with foreign tongues will come from foreign lands to capture us. The Torah forewarns that these conquerors will not act like most, to leave the subjugated in their own land. They will, says the Torah, disperse the Jews throughout the entire world. Frightfully, the Parsha foreshadows the horrors of the inquisition and Holocaust with descriptions of barbarism, Jews betraying Jews, and mass starvation. The predictions are amazing in their accuracy; and more depressing, we were the victims. It's a very difficult Parsha, but the Torah must apprise us about the pain and suffering we will eventually endure. This essay is in no way attempting to answer why those bad things happened to good people. But two thousand years before the events, the Torah accurately predicts events that are unprecedented in the annals of conquerors and the vanquished. Yet the Torah doesn't end it's tochacha only with notes of despair. The strong admonitions close with a promise that, though we will be spread throughout the world we will always yearn for our homeland, feel connected to it, and that an enduring spirit and love for Judaism and our Father in Heaven will never cease. Three thousand years and countless massacres, crusades, inquisitions later it still works. Pretty powerful. That would have been a great way to end off quite a depressing portion. It would have even been a wonderful way to end the Book of Vayikrah. But the Torah ends the portion with quite an anticlimactic group of laws respecting a person's right to donate his own value or the value of any of his possessions to the Temple. He can declare his home, his animals, even himself as subject to evaluation. Moreover, the Torah assesses a value to any living soul. And that value, whether 30 silver shekels or 50 shekels, is to be donated to the Temple. What connection is the last part of the Parsha to the stern and ominous portion that precedes it? After the Nazis invaded the small village of Klausenberg, they began to celebrate in their usual sadistic fashion. They gathered the Jews into a circle in the center of town, and then paraded their Rebbe, Rabbi Yekusial Yehuda Halberstam, into the center. They began taunting and teasing him, pulling his beard and pushing him around. The vile soldiers trained their guns on him as the commander began to speak. "Tell us Rabbi," sneered the officer, "do you really believe that you are the Chosen People?" The soldiers guarding the crowd howled in laughter. But the Rebbe did not. In a serene voice, he answered loud and clear, "Most certainly." The officer became enraged. He lifted his rifle above his head and sent it crashing on the head of the Rebbe. The Rebbe fell to the ground. There was rage in the officer's voice. "Do you still think you are the Chosen People?" he yelled. Once again, the Rebbe nodded his head and said, "yes, we are." The officer became infuriated. He kicked the Rebbe in the shin and repeated. "You stupid Jew, you lie here on the ground, beaten and humiliated. What makes you think that you are the Chosen People?" From the depths of humiliation clouded in dust, the Rebbe replied. "As long as we are not the ones kicking and beating innocent people, we can call ourselves chosen." The Kotzker Rebbe explains that the Torah follows the portion of tochacha, the story of Jews kicked and beaten from their homeland, with an even more powerful message. No matter what happens, we have great value as individuals, and as a nation, now and for eternity. Hashem understands that each and every one of us is a great commodity. Lying on the ground, beaten and degraded, a Jewish man, woman, or child can declare his value to the Temple, for no matter how low any nation considers him, G-d values his great worth. And he is considered cherished for eternity.
E. Living Each Day (Rabbi Abraham Twerski)
The deception of underestimation. In this Parsha, we read the very serious consequences that will follow abandonment of the Torah. The, G-d says, "I shall remember My covenant with Jacob . . . and with Isaac . . . and with Abraham." What is the relevance of this statement in the context of the admonishment? Shelah explains that a person is held accountable commensurate with his capacities. Our actions are judged against a very high standard since we are the descendants of the Patriarchs. We had forebears who were saintly people, thoroughly spiritual, and completely committed to Hashem's will. The yeitzer hara (evil inclination), however, never relents. If it cannot undermine our spirituality by one technique, it will try another. It is apt to delude us with misguided humility in order to gain its ends. "Why makes you think that your study of Torah is of any value?" "You act as though you are a tzaddik (righteous person), when in fact you are a degenerate." These negative thoughts are aided by our natural inclination to laziness and comfort. To combat the yeitzer hara, we must be aware of our enormous capacities. Every person has potential that approaches that of the angels (Psalms 8:6). We must maximize that potential, and not allow ourselves to be deluded that we are incapable of reaching the heights of spiritual achievement.
F. Parsha Parables (Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky)
It's the effort. In this Parsha, the Torah promises its bounty of blessing -- rain in its proper time, secure borders, peace and tranquillity. All these promises are prefaced, however, by the opening words, "if you follow My commandments and observe my mitzvos." Rashi, amazingly enough, explains this verse in a different light. As a prerequisite to its great blessing, the Torah sets forth the following condition: "if you shall toil in the Torah in order to do the mitzvos." There is obviously a great difference between the literal translation and Rashi's: the Torah seems to say that you must fulfill the mitzvah, whereas Rashi explains that you must strive for its fulfillment. Rashi teaches us that we must "Go in the path of Torah," meaning toil in Torah and work on improving our knowledge, level of commitment and observance. In Torah, it's the effort that counts. (As the Chofetz Chaim said, "In Torah, the very effort invested in study of Torah constitutes a mitzvah, even if there is no product'. If one does not arrive at a conclusion, the study of Torah is no less meritorious." A Yeshiva dean was once approached by the parent of one his students. "I'd like to remove my child from the Yeshiva," the man said. "After all, he's only an average student; a Vilna Gaon (a Sage) he'll never be." The dean asked the father how he earned a living. He answered that he owned a business. "I think you should quit your business," the dean said. "By why?" stammered the parent. "Listen," said the dean with a smile, "you may be earning a living, but will you ever become a Rothschild?" The father understood the message. There is no mitzvah to become the Vilna Gaon. The mitzvah is to try to become one.
G. Peninim on the Torah (Rabbi A.L. Scheinbaum)
1. Walking the path of Hashem. "If in My statutes, you shall walk." What does it mean to "walk" in Hashem's way? One must retain his/her spiritual connection to Hashem both in and out of the synagogue or study hall -- in one's home, business, when interacting with others, etc. If you "walk" in Hashem's statutes and affirm your ability to carry yourself n the path of Torah at all times, despite any opposition you may encounter, you will be blessed with great reward.
2. Everyone is valuable. Why does the Book of Vayikrah end with laws relating to (among other things) vows that a person may make to donate to the Temple the monetary value which the Torah assigns to a person his age? The significance is this change of topic lies in the concern that a person might become demoralized after the frightening punishments revealed in this chapter, feeling that he/she has no self-worth. The Torah's message is that he/she always has worth as an individual. In fact, the Torah suggests that in moments of distress a person should make a vow to Hashem, as Yaakov did when he left his father's home. This sign of solidarity with Hashem serves as a source of encouragement and reassurance.
H. Living Each Week (Rabbi Abraham Twerski)
Pride with humility. "And I have made you walk upright." Rashi's comment on this verse is "with an upright posture." This is somewhat surprising, since the Talmud considers walking with an upright posture to be a sign of a lack of humility, and indeed frank arrogance. There is, however, a difference whether one assumes an attitude of pride because one is boasting about oneself or seeking popular acclaim in order to appease one's ego, or whether one taking pride in one's own achievement or prominence as being a testimony to Hashem's glory. For the person who knows that any greatness he possesses was bestowed upon him by Hashem and is not of his own doing, being the recipient of honor can be a most humbling experience. This kind of "walking upright" is not only permissible but is desirable.
I. Tell It From The Torah
Strength In Numbers. "Five of you will chase 100 and 100 of you will chase 10,000". G-d tells the Jews that they will destroy their enemies. But, the math doesn't make sense. If 5 chase 100, then 100 should only be able to chase 2,000. This reminds us how we can strength from each other. 100 people working together give each other substantially more strength from merely 5 people doing so.
J. Windows To The Soul
Fitting Cadence. The Book of Vayikra begins with G-d's call to Moshe to initiate the Divine service and comes to a disturbing climax with the dire warnings of Divine retribution should the people go astray. The Torah continues, in Bamidbar, with a few laws respecting animals sanctified for the Divine service. Why do these laws follow on the heels of the dire warnings? The very last passage of Vayikra discusses the laws of temurah, among the laws of other holy items. An animal sanctified for an offering cannot be exchanged for another. If the exchanges is attempted, both animals remain in the holy domain. The Torah repeatedly stresses that no distinction be made between "good and bad". The laws of this section thus teach us that once an object attains holiness it must remain so unless properly redeemed. Upon further consideration, this law provides a fitting metaphor for the consolation that concludes the dire warning, when G-d declares "even in the land of their enemies I will not cast them away, nor will I loathe them to destroy them and void My convenient with them." We see this promise etched in the structure of halacha (Jewish law) in the laws of temurah and other holy items. G-d has invested the Jewish people with holiness by choosing us. Whether "good or bad," we cannot lose our designation. We, too, will have redemption.
K. Something To Say (R' Dovid Goldwasser)
In Its Proper Time. "I will provide your rains in the proper time." The Maggid of Mezritch explains that the real meaning of this blessing is that the physical and material benefits we receive in this world should help, rather than hamper, us in our service of G-d. These blessings, however, should only come in their "proper time" - we ask that we not be preoccupied with mundane affairs when we need to be single-mindedly involved in spiritual matters.
L. Soul of the Torah (Victor Cohen)
1. Striving Upward. "If you will go in My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them." "If you will go,' commented R' Bunim, means that we constantly go higher and higher (and not stay on one level).
2. Always Here. "And I will turn to you." The Chiddushei Harim commented that this means that G-d always has time for His servants.
NEXT: BECHUKOSAI II