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Parashat Bechoukotai

Parashat Bechoukotai

In this week’s parsha we read about the rebukes and punishments which will strike if the Torah is not fulfilled.  In the midst of this account we read, “I will remember My covenant with Yaakov, and even My covenant with Yitzchak, and even My covenant with Avraham I will remember, and I will remember the Land” (Leviticus 26:42).  The obvious question concerning this verse is what is its purpose in the midst of the parsha of rebukes?

The Dubno Maggid answered this question with one of his famous parables.  Two people were caught stealing and they were tried in court.  The first was the son of a thief. The judge gave him a light sentence.  The second was from a good family and the son of an important person.  The judge gave him a heavy and extended sentence.  Everyone was amazed by the sentence.  The judge explained that the thief who was the son of a thief could not be blamed too much.  However, the second thief who was raised by an honest and straight father definitely deserved a stricter punishment.

In other words, according to the Maggid, the mentioning of our patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov in this parsha increases the punishment and penalties upon the children who have strayed from the ways of their forefathers.
Furthermore, it is possible to expand upon the lesson of the parable.  Firstly, punishment is not intended as revenge for crime, but in order to be a corrective to impel the criminal to change and return to a good way.  According to the parable, there is little hope to heal the one who came from a family already steeped in crime.  Robbery and violence are imprinted in his blood.  A long jail term will neither benefit nor deter him.  On the other hand, the one who came from a good family was led astray by his evil inclination.  There is hope for him, and the possibility that a strict punishment will be a corrective for him.  Therefore, the judge was severe with him, in order to save him from a future of crime.

It is the same with us. Since we are descended from Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, the punishment is severe.  Perhaps this will save us from falling lower.

Secondly, although the rebukes and punishments recorded in this parsha, (and especially what is intimated by this verse), are terrible, we can also discern here some ‘sweetening’ of the bitterness.  The punishments are not senseless.  They expurgate the sin, and bring closer the final Redemption.

However, in order to understand the entire amplitude of the message, it is necessary to examine what precedes the section of rebukes and warnings in this week’s reading.  Our parsha begins with the words, “If you will walk in My statutes...” (Leviticus 26:3).

The Judaic concepts of hashgachah protis (individual Providence) and middah k’negged middah (measure for measure) describe how the Creator influences the health, tranquility and livelihood of His children.  Simply, if we will do good, exerting our efforts to fulfil the Torah and observe its mitzvot, then G-d repays us with good, as it is written throughout the continuation of the first section of the parsha, “I will give the rain in its time...,” and etc.  This is the key to all blessings.  “If you will walk in My statutes,” then you will be blessed.

“But a person is born to toil...” (Job 5:7).  This is a reality which no one can avoid.  But if we go in the way of G-d’s statutes and exert ourselves in the Torah, then the expurgations and purifications will come through our striving, work and toil in the Torah, and they will be accompanied by blessings.  This is preferable to the alternative where suffering and toil come as consequences to unfortunate and unpleasant situations in this world.  Accordingly, Chazal have said that anyone who accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah will be exempted from the yoke of earning a livelihood through great toil or the yoke of interference and oppression from governments and the like.

On the other hand, if, G-d forbid, we set the conditions for the opposite, then the way of expurgation and purification will come through punishments and sufferings.  Those who cut away from the yoke of Torah are burdened with the matters and troubles of this world such as earning a livelihood under great stress.

Similarly, it is written, “Behold, I have placed before you this day a blessing and a curse” (Deuteronomy 11:26).  The choice which is given to us is which work and toil we choose to take upon ourselves: toil in Torah and mitzvot which yields blessing, or turning away from the Torah and mitzvot which brings in its wake the toil of this world, its troubles and complications, its penalties and punishments.

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“And a man who will dedicate his house to be holy unto G-d...” (Leviticus 27:14).

It happened many times that as soon as Rabbi Chaim Churi zt”l received his salary someone would come to him who was in urgent need of a loan.  The Rabbi would immediately, and without reservation, provide all the money that was in his possession.  This happened on the very eve of when he was scheduled to ascend to the Holy Land, and even then he did not have all the money that he needed to make the trip.  A tailor who needed a loan to buy food for Shabbat came to him.  Rabbi Chaim did not hesitate, and gave the man all the money that was in his possession.  He did not leave himself a penny to spend, and his wife, the Rabbanit was amazed.

Every year, with the coming of winter, he would make a list of all the poor and needy.  From his own money he would buy for them new blankets to use during the cold winters.  With the coming of summer these poor people would return the used blankets to him.  He would sell them, and before the next winter he would buy new blankets for them again.  He did this every year.

A widow near the synagogue in Gebas (Tunisia) sold pitot (bread) for her livelihood.  Rabbi Churi was always scrupulous to buy all her pitot.  He would distribute these to his disciples.  He said that this act of chesed had a double benefit.  It enabled the widow to go home to take care of her children; and the students ate, and were satiated, and were able to study Torah happily and with clear minds.


The mashgiach of Yeshivat Mir, Rabbi Yerucham zt”l, told the students about a time he visited the big city of Vilna.  He stayed as a guest in someone’s house.  Once he looked through the window there, and he saw situated across the street a “gymnasia” - a public school which was attended by gentiles and non-religious Jewish teenagers, boys and girls together.  He saw that when they came to school in the morning they displayed immodesty, acted foolishly and light-headed, and used unclean speech.

When they entered the building Rabbi Yerucham sat down to think.  He told himself that these youth were attending an institution of education.  They were learning something.  They heard lectures, asked questions, received explanations.  They reviewed the material, passed tests, completed the course of study and acquired diplomas.  When they finished they knew the subjects they had studied.

He then asked himself what would be the result if one young woman entered into the midst of 400 students studying Torah in the Bet Midrash of Yeshivat Mir?  Would it have been possible to continue studying?  Would something like that not harm everyone and make continued study entirely impossible?

Therefore, how was it possible that these young men and women sit together in the “gymnasia,” males and females intermixed, yet learning and knowing the subjects they were studying?  How is it possible that the situation of mixed classes does not bother them?

Rabbi Yerucham concluded that this proves the kedushah of the holy Torah.  Kedushah (holiness) cannot bear tuma (spiritual defilement).  One single impurity can upset an entire yeshivah!

Within the secular studies of the “gymnasia” there is much tuma.  Tuma gets along with tuma; it loves defilement, whether it is a category of light tuma or heavy tuma.  One assists the other.  Therefore, impurity does not bother them.  They are wallowing in impurity all day long.  Why should it bother them?

In contrast, we are bothered and stopped by even one impure thought.  This is a proof of the kedushah of the Torah, that we are studying a HOLY Torah!

(An excerpt from a lecture by Rabbi Shlomoh Bravda)
 

SHABBAT SHALOM

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