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Bechukotai 5766

Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25-27 )

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING! This week I received by DHL a package from Turkey - a Siddur. What is so special about this Siddur? For the first time ever, a Siddur with a Turkish translation and transliteration of the Hebrew has been published! Why is this so special to me? One of the readers of the Shabbat Shalom Fax/Email, Sami Bilmen, from Istanbul, was so inspired in his Judaism from the Shabbat Shalom to grow in Torah that he decided to do what was necessary to create and publish this Siddur! I am inspired by him! If you know someone would like a Turkish translation Siddur, write

If in some way you have been inspired or impacted by the Shabbat Shalom Fax/Email, I would love to know. Perhaps the stories might make an interesting book. (One fellow thanked me for the edition on the 3 qualities to look for in a spouse before getting married. He told me that after he read it he decided that his wife had none of them and concluded that there was no hope for saving his marriage and it was time to get divorced...) Please send your story to Subject: Impact on My Life.

In last week's edition, Rabbi Avigdor Miller gave the first step to greatness: Spend at least 30 seconds each day thinking about the WORLD TO COME - Olam Haba - and that we are in this world only as a preparation for the World to Come. This is the purpose of life." Many people wrote or called wanting to know if Heaven and Hell - the World to Come - is a Jewish concept and why it makes such a big difference in how one lives his life.

Moshe Maimonides, the Rambam, set forth 13 Essential Beliefs of Judaism. The Tenth and Eleventh Principles state that God is aware of our actions and that He rewards and punishes us according to our actions. Since we do not see evil always being punished or goodness always being rewarded, it is logical - that if there is a good and just God - that there is a World of Souls, an afterlife which is the great equalizer. There evil which has not been punished in this world is punished and good deeds which have not been rewarded are rewarded.

There are allusions to an afterlife in the Torah, though it is not explicitly stated or described (the Talmud, Sanhedrin, Chapter 10 called Chelek, does discuss the afterlife). When the patriarch Jacob died, the Torah relates, "... he died and was gathered to his people" (Genesis 49:33).

The Torah then informs us of the 40 day embalming period and the 70 days Egypt mourned Jacob before Joseph received permission to bury his father in the Maarat HaMachpela, the burial cave in Hebron. What does the Torah then mean that "he was gathered to his people"? It is a reference that his soul was gathered to the afterlife.

Later in the book of Numbers we have the story of Bilaam, the evil non-Jewish prophet, who hires himself out to the King Balak to curse the Jews. Instead of cursing the Jews, his prophecy blesses the Jews. He proclaims, "Let me die the death of the righteous and let my end be like his (the righteous Jews)" (Numbers 23:10). Do the righteous die any better than the wicked? Bilaam was saying, "Let me live my life on my terms and according to my desires, but when it comes to the afterlife, let my soul be rewarded as the righteous are rewarded."

I think that these two allusions are valid, but not emotionally compelling.

If the afterlife is such an essential part of Jewish belief, why does the Torah only reference it obliquely? The Torah could have described the next world in detail, yet it refrained from painting a picture. Why?

There are two reasons: (1) The Torah is a guidebook for THIS life. It sets forth instructions on how to live a meaningful, holy life and how to improve yourself and the world. The Almighty wants us to focus on our obligations in this life; the afterlife will take care of itself. (2) Even if the Torah described in detail an afterlife - how would one verify its existence? No one has ever returned from the next world to confirm or deny that vision.

Other religions paint a picture of the afterlife one will receive. The Talmud teaches, "He who wishes to lie says his witnesses are far away." For example, "I paid back the money I owed you, but my witnesses happen to be visiting Europe" - or "Have faith in our religion and you will get Heaven."

There is no way of validating the claim.

While Judaism believes in an Afterlife, a World to Come, the Torah makes no promises that are "far away." The Torah tells you about rewards and punishments in THIS world - in response to your actions. You need go no further than this week's Torah portion which states:

"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 your land. I will provide peace in the land, and you will lie down with none to frighten you ... I will make you fruitful and increase you..." (Lev. 26:3-9)

Why is reward and punishment so important for us? As Rabbi Yakov Weinberg teaches:

"A world without reward and punishment is a world of utter indifference, and indifference is the ultimate rejection. One cannot serve indifference. In order for there to be a relationship between God and man, God must react to man's actions. Our awareness of this reaction, reward or punishment, informs us that the Almighty cares, that our actions make a difference. Without reward and punishment life has no meaning - for what man would or would not do would make no difference." (Rabbi Yakov Weinberg, Fundamentals and Faith).

For more on "The World To Come" go to!

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Torah Portion of the Week

Behar begins with the laws of Shemitah, the Sabbatical year, where the Jewish people are commanded not to plant their fields or tend to them in the seventh year. Every 50th year is the Yovel, the Jubilee year, where agricultural activity is also proscribed.

These two commandments fall into one of the seven categories of evidence that God gave the Torah. If the idea is to give the land a rest, then do not plant one-seventh of the land each year. To command an agrarian society to completely stop cultivating every 7th year one has to be either God or a meshugenah (crazy).

Also included in this portion: redeeming land which was sold, to strengthen your fellow Jew when his economic means are faltering, not to lend to your fellow Jew with interest, the laws of indentured servants. The portion ends with the admonition to not make idols, to observe the Shabbat and to revere the Sanctuary.

The second portion for this week, Bechukotai, begins with the multitude of blessings you will receive for keeping the commandments of the Torah. (Truly worth reading!) It also contains the Tochachah, words of admonition, "If you will not listen to Me and will not perform all of these commandments..." There are seven series of seven punishments each. Understand that God does not punish for punishment's sake; He wants to get our attention so that we will introspect, recognize our errors and correct our ways. God does not wish to destroy us or annul His covenant with us. He wants us to know that there are consequences for our every action; He also wants to get our attention so that we do not stray so far away that we assimilate and disappear as a nation. I highly recommend reading Lev. 26:14 - 45 and Deut. 28.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah tells us the consequences of our actions:

"And if you shall reject My statutes..." (Leviticus 26:15)

It is interesting than in many synagogues this portion is read in a low voice and often very fast.

The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, gave an analogy of someone who had to travel on a dangerous path. It was on a very high and extremely narrow mountain and he could easily trip and harm himself. So, he decided he would wear a blindfold because it was too scary to watch! Anyone with intelligence will realize that the person is in greater danger being unaware of the true situation. Likewise, regarding not behaving properly. By realizing the consequences of transgressions and failing to do good, you will watch your behavior more closely and will gain immensely.

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Jerusalem 6:57
Guatemala 6:06 Hong Kong 6:39 Honolulu 6:46
J'Burg 5:09 London 8:33 Los Angeles 7:32
Melbourne 4:59 Mexico City 6:48 Miami 7:44

New York 7:51 Singapore 6:49 Toronto 8:21


If you're headed in the wrong direction,
God allows U-turns.

In Memory of My Uncle
Avraham ben Betzalel
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
with love, Samuel Messinger


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