Perilous predictions for the Jewish future.
Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25-27 )
Mike was nervous. The mikveh (ritual bath) was crowded and the floor was slippery. This was Mike's first Yom Kippur since becoming religious. He now sported a black kippah and tzitzit, and even had a beard and side locks.
The only vestige of his former lifestyle was the "immodest" tattoo on his chest. In the past, while in the mikveh, Mike would cover it with his hand, but that day it was getting difficult. Suddenly, with a yell, Mike slid to the ground. The next minute he was lying on his back on the floor with his tattoo staring upwards.
As Mike's face turned all colors of the rainbow, the mikveh was totally silent. No one knew what to say. Finally Mr. Weiss, an elderly Jew, saved the situation. "I also have a tattoo," he loudly announced, pointing to the numbers on his arm from his "stay" in Auschwitz. "Let's purify ourselves in the mikveh and move on to Yom Kippur!"
The saintly Satmar Rav was asked, "Who shall we approach for a blessing in this generation with so few holy people?" He replied, "When you pray in the morning, notice the men putting on their Tefillin. If you see someone with a number tattooed on his arm, putting Tefillin on that arm, he's the one to ask for a blessing!"
The Holocaust victims went through hell. We can never judge those who lost their faith while in Auschwitz. However, we must have an even greater appreciation for those who did not lose their faith, despite all the suffering they endured.
Parshat Bechukotai predicts what will happen to the Jewish people if they forsake the Torah. In our post-Holocaust generation we know that it is no exaggeration at all.
At the conclusion of the "covenant" with God at Mount Sinai, the Torah spells out the "fine print," the details of our "special arrangement."
"If you will walk in my statutes" (Leviticus 26:3). The rabbis explain this refers to toil in Torah study. Torah study is the path that consistently leads us to the Almighty.
This Parsha is another example of the Divine Authorship of the Torah. Authors X, Y, and Z would never have predicted that future Jewish history would be based on Jewish fidelity to the Torah!
THE GOOD NEWS
If the Jewish people follow the "paved road" of Torah study and observance, they will find all their amenities provided for. On the highway you find gas, food and rest stops. If you leave the beaten path, you end up lost in the woods with no one to provide for your needs. The Torah paints in broad strokes the details of the nation reaching their physical and national goals within the limits of the Torah. They can then leave the rest to God.
By wandering on the path of Torah we become morally pure, by studying and taking the Mitzvot to heart we become intellectually clear and conscientious, and by fulfilling them we become just and benevolent people. Then God will raise our land out of the political and physical dilemmas of the rest of the world. God will set Heaven and Earth into harmonious concord to achieve His will for the world and humanity." (Rabbi Hirsch)
THE BAD NEWS
If the Jewish people reject their mission, the Torah predicts extreme pain and suffering that they'll endure until they wake up to this reality. We can see all Jewish suffering included in these dire prophesies of the Torah. Leviticus 26:14 lists 7 degrees of defection from the Torah that will lead to 7 degrees of punishment:
- "If you will not listen to Me."
- "And not perform all these commandments."
- "If you will reject My statutes."
- "And My laws will disgust your souls."
- "Not to fulfill."
- "All of My commandments."
- "To violate My covenant."
- "And not perform all these commandments."
The classical commentary Rashi quotes the sages that explain:
- Not listening means failing to toil in the understanding of the Torah.
- This leads to non-performance of the Mitzvot.
- You then disgust others who do perform them.
- This leads to hating the wise people.
- You then prevent others from fulfilling the Torah.
- You deny that these are God's commandments in the first place.
- And finally, you totally deny the existence of God.
Rabbi Hirsch, who lived in the 19th century Germany, describes the process: If you neglect to study (only a theoretical sin), it leads to practical defection. You don't understand the laws, so you throw them behind your back in your practical life. Your conscience must then justify itself, so you look down on the faithful adherents in disdain. Every loyal adherent is a reproach to the deserter.
The next stage is contempt of the Torah. Those who follow it must not be of pure conviction. You look for external reasons. "Jewish social life" and the bearers of it (the rabbis) are "the misfortune of our race," as the early reformers called them. Hate of Torah leads to intolerance and persecution, so it is not practiced by anyone. They declare war on the Torah and disturb and hinder its performance. They must succeed, but aren't against God or Torah, rather they are bringing salvation for the benefit of humanity (Jewish Communists, Secular Humanists).
In their view, Torah must cease to be the word of God. The Revelation must be a myth, Moses and the prophets are imposters, these are not the commandments of God. However, this is not enough. It does not end until he tears away the last connection with the covenant of God. If the thought of God still lingers, even with a doubt, or if the possibility of Revelation still remains, their conscience cannot rest. He must extinguish the last spark. He must deny the existence of God!
BLESSING IN DISGUISE
Nachmanides says these punishments specifically refer to the destruction of the first Holy Temple, while the verses of punishment in Deuteronomy (28:15) refer to the destruction of the second Temple.
After describing in detail all the calamities that will befall the nation, we find a blessing in disguise. "The land will be desolate and your enemies who dwell upon it will be desolate upon it" (Leviticus 26:32). None of the occupiers of Israel ever made the land blossom and bloom until the Jews returned. Had the nations succeeded in developing the land, they never would have returned it to the Jews. Only because it was a desolate wilderness was it ever returned to the Jews in the first place. (Can you imagine if Israel had oil reserves?!)
The book of Leviticus ends with the Jews doing Teshuva (repentance) and God renewing His covenant with the forefathers proclaiming that He will never break this covenant. (Christian theology contradicts these verses.) Ultimately, the fate of the Jewish people depends on the performance of Mitzvot. This was the covenant at Mount Sinai!
Chazak Chazak Venit'chazek!