Friday, May 15, 2009

Parshiot Behar and Bechukotai - פרשיות בהר ובחוקתי

"אם בחוקתי תלכו ואת מצותי תשמרו ועשיתם אתם: ונתתי גשמיכם בעתם ונתנה הארץ יבולה ועץ השדה יתן פריו: והשיג לכם דיש את בציר ובציר ישיג את זרע ואכלתם לחמכם לשבע וישבתם לבטח בארצכם: ונתתי שלום בארץ ושכבתם ואין מחריד והשבתי חיה רעה מן הארץ וחרב לא תעבר בארצכם: ורדפתם את איביכם ונפלו לחרב: ורדפו מכם חמשה מאה ומאה מכם רבבה ירדפו ונפלו איביכם לפניכם לחרב:ף ופניתי אליכם והפריתי אתכם והרביתי אתכם והקימתי את בריתי אתכם: ואכלתם ישן נושן וישן מפני חדש תוציאו: ונתתי משכני בתוככם ולא תגעל נפשי אתכם: והתהלכתי בתוככם והייתי לכם לאלהים ואתם תהיו לי לעם: אני ד'אלהיכם אשר הוצאתי אתכם מארץ מצרים מהיות להם עבדים ואשבר מוטות עלכם ואולך אתכם קוממיות"

If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them; then I will provide your rains in their time, and the land will give its produce and the tree of the field will give its fruit. Your threshing will last until the vintage, and the vintage will last until the sowing; you will eat your bread to satiety and you will dwell securely in the land. I will provide peace in the land, and a sword will not cross your land. You will pursue your enemies; and they will fall by the sword. Five of you will pursue a hundred and hundred of you will pursue ten thousand; and your enemies will fall before you by the sword. I will turn my attention to you, I will make you fruitful and increase you; and I will establish my covenant with you. You will eat very old grain and remove the old to make way for the new. I will place My sanctuary among you; and My spirit will not reject you. I will walk among you, I will be God unto you and you will be a people unto Me. I am Hashem, your God, Who took you out of Egypt from being their slaves; I broke the stave of your yoke and I led you erect.

(ויקרא, פרק כו', ג'- יג)

This week we read a double Parsha (again) and seeing as so many people I know have taken Divrei Torah on the first parsha (Behar) this week, I have decided to write something about the second Parsha, Bechukotai. Thankfully, the beginning of the Parsha is replete with things to comment on, so I have a number of small divrei torah and will use them together. They are rather rather disjointed, but there is an overall theme - that of the brachot we are promised by Hashem.

Parshat Bechukotai begins with Hashem describing what will happen if we follow his laws. The first thing that the Bnei Yisrael are promised is rain. Not just any rain, but "גשמיכם - your rains." It seems a bit odd to single out rain in this way; this phraseology needs some explanation. Rav Moshe Feinstein teaches in his sefer Drash Moshe that the possessive "you" is earned here because the rains will only come as a result of man's good deeds. The concept to be grasped, teaches Rav Moshe, is that the universe functions due to man's actions. When we perform good deed for one another, we help stake a claim to Hashem for the continued existence of the universe - it is as if we are saying, "we are doing do our bit!" As a result, Hashem graciously allows the universe to continue to exist and blesses us with the rain in it's season - rain we truly have earned!

(On a side note, it is interesting that while in English the word "rain" has negative connotations, such as a "rainy day" or why does it always rain on me?" the Hebrew word for rain actually has positive connotations. When we talk about realising one's dreams we use the words להגשים חלומות, which literally means "to cause dreams to rain," or more figuratively, "to see dreams realised.")

A few Psukim later, we come across another point of interest in the text - Bnei Yisrael are promised that "ואכלתם לחמכם לשבע - you will eat your bread to satiety." This seems fair enough - that if we follow Hashem's laws we will be well sustained and satisfied. The only problem I have with this is that this seems to be rather a small reward for following God. After all, what could stop the Master of the Universe from providing his followers with a bountiful crop and masses of fruit and drink? Why are we only promised to receive enough bread (the simplest of all foods) to our satisfaction?

The answer lies in that hint I dropped - the simplest of all foods. Rav Dessler writes in Michtav M'Eliyahu that it is better to curtail one's eating and eat only to a minimal level of satisfaction than it is to fast many times. The point being made is that it is easy to deprive oneself for the sake of God, that it is easy to go to an extreme, but that real value lies in being able to engage with the physical world and yet not allow oneself to forget the source of this world's goodness. Rav Moshe Feinstein points out that the lesson is that one must strive to minimise even those worldly pleasures that are permissible, and only take as much as we need. Now we can understand why the word לחמכם, your bread is used - Hashem will bless us with all that we need, and we should feel the need to worry about any more than what is truly ours.

The next point on this text is another blessing: "ורדפו מכם חמשה מאה ומאה מכם רבבה ירדפו ונפלו איביכם לפניכם לחרב - Five of you will pursue a hundred and hundred of you will pursue ten thousand; and your enemies will fall before you by the sword." Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of Kinloss (my shul) said something particularly interesting a month or so ago on this. He pointed out that the ratios mentioned are not the same! 5 men conquering 100 is a 1:20 ratio, and 100 slaying 10,000 is a 1:100 ratio - why the disparity?

Rabbi Mirvis explained that the lesson being taught here is of the strength of אחדות. When we follow Hashem's commands then 5 men will have the blessing of being able to defeat 20 times their number. But these are only five men acting in unison. When 100 men act as one, however, Hashem grants us an extra blessing as a reward for our unity and we find our strength hugely increased.

The last point I want to make on this passage is on the words, "והתהלכתי בתוככם והייתי לכם לאלהים ואתם תהיו לי לעם - I will walk among you, I will be God unto you and you will be a people unto Me." The greatest blessing of all is that Hashem gives us the chance to attain a level of closeness with Him. Whereas christians practically believe that they can do no good and are eternally damned, we believe that we have been created in Hashem's image and can emulate Him. And if we do follow Hashem, He won't abandon us, or even lead us from a distance, rather He will enter into our midst. I find the difference rather poignant - that Hashem "will walk among" us.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

No comments:

Post a Comment