Friday, May 18, 2012

Parshat Bechukotai – פרשת בחוקתי

"אם בחוקתי תלכו ואת מצותי תשמרו ועשיתם אתם: ונתתי גשמיכם בעתם ונתנה הארץ יבולה ועץ השדה יתן פריו - 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. (ויקרא, פרק כו', ג'- יג)

The beginning of this week's Parsha is replete with things to comment on, so I have a number of small divrei torah and will use them together. Although they are rather disjointed by themselves, there is an overall theme - that of the brachot we are promised by Hashem.

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 P'sukim 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 subtly dropped - bread is among the simplest of foods. Rav Dessler writes in Michtav M'Eliyahu that, as a rule, if one wants to become closer to God, it is better to curtail one's eating and eat only to a minimal level of satisfaction than 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.

Lastly, early in the Parsha, we read of 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." I once heard Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of Kinloss (my synagogue in England) said something particularly interesting 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?

The Rashi on this pasuk reads as follows: "וכי כך הוא החשבון, והלא לא היה צריך לומר אלא מאה מכם שני אלפים ירדופו, אלא אינו דומה מועטין העושין את התורה למרובין העושין את התורה - And such is the account; and it was supposed to say that one hundred of you will chase two thousand, but [we learn that] few who observe the Torah are incomparable [to the strength of] many who observe the Torah".

Rabbi Mirvis explained that the lesson being taught here is of the strength of אחדות - true unity. When we follow Hashem's commands then five 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. I think that this is a significant lesson for us. We can all find like-minded people who we agree with. We can always work in unison with few other people. But to get a large scale of people to work together to achieve somethings is the real challenge. If we can find a way to unite larger groups of people - that is real unity.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.

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