Raising Our Trust
Bechukotai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34 )
Vayikra, 26:3: If you will follow My decrees and observe my Commandments and perform them.
Vayikra, 26:12-13: I will walk among you, I will be God to you and you will be a people to me. I am HaShem, your God Who took you out of the land of Egypt from being their slaves...
Rashi, Vayikra, 26:13, sv. I am HaShem your God: "I am reliable that you should believe in Me, that I can do all these [things] for, behold, I took you out of the land of Egypt and I performed for you great miracles."
The Portion begins with an account of the great rewards that God promises the Jewish nation if they observe the Torah. This section ends with God reminding the people that He took them out of the land of Egypt. Rashi, based on the Torat Kohanim, explains that God is reassuring the people that He can be relied upon to fulfill His promises; His 'proof' is the fact that He already performed remarkable miracles, thus He can be relied upon to also do so in the future.
A number of questions can be asked on this Rashi.(1) One is that God issued these promises a very short time after the great miracles of the Exodus. Accordingly, why was it necessary for Him to remind the people of these miracles in order that they believe the promises of future miracles - surely they would not forget them so soon after they took place?! (2)
This question can be answered through understanding a different problem in the Torah narrative. On more than one occasion in the desert, the Jews complain to Moshe about their difficult situation and hearken back to the days that they were in Egypt. For example, in Parshat Behaalosecha they complain about the manna from Heaven that they were eating and reminisce about their life in Egypt: "We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge; the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic." (3) The commentaries wonder how they could have such short memories with regard to the terrible slavery that they endured. The answer given is based on the Gemara in Rosh Hashana that says that the Jews were freed from slavery for their last six months in Egypt. In this time period they seemed to live comfortable lives and were able to eat the food mentioned in their complaints. Accordingly, when they fondly remembered their time in Egypt they were thinking about their last six months, despite the facts that for many years before that they endured unbearable suffering.(4)
This demonstrates a powerful tool of the yetzer hara (negative inclination) to make a person have a short memory when it suits its purposes. In this instance, the yetzer hara made them forget how terrible their time in Egypt was, because of a mere six months of freedom. This caused them to complain so dramatically about their situation in the desert.
With this principle we can answer our initial question as to why God needed to remind the people about the great miracles as a reassurance that He would reward them in the future. The answer here too is that people have short memories; in this context it means that despite the fact that the Jewish people had recently experienced great miracles, it was very likely that when they would experience future hardships, their trust in God would falter. Consequently, they would be prone to forgetting the great kindnesses that He had done for them in the Exodus. Therefore it was necessary to remind them of God's ability to perform great miracles for them, so that they would use their memory of these events to bolster their trust in God in the future.
This explanation has important ramifications on our lives. We too experience moments of clear Divine Kindness where it is obvious that God is looking after us. Yet, on other occasions His Providence is not so evident and we can be prone to worrying about any number of possible situations, such as financial and health issues. In such situations we can easily forget the past kindnesses that God has done for us and experience feelings of despair. Yet, by actively contemplating God's past actions we can be reassured that He is also with us in our current challenge. The Chovot Levavot makes this very point in his Gate on Trusting God; he writes that one of the ways to increase our trust in God is to recall His numerous past kindnesses; this includes things that we take for granted including the gift of life itself.(5) This requires an active effort, because, as we have seen, the yetzer hara makes us quickly forget God's past kindnesses. But by spending a little time contemplating what He has done for us we can greatly increase our trust and serenity in difficult times.
1. In this essay we will only approach one of the questions. See Ayelet HaShachar, Vayikra, 26:13 for another question.
2. One could argue that these promises also applied to future generations who did not experience the miracles. This may be true, but they certainly also applied to that generation itself, thus the question needs to be answered with regards to them.
3. Bamidbar, 11:5. Also see Shemot, 16:2-3.
4. See MiShulchan Hagavoa, Bamidbar, p.75 in the name of Rav Zelig Reuven Bengis zt"l.
5. Chovot Levavot, Shaar Bitachon, Ch. 3.