Weekly Torah Commentary — Bechukotai May 18, 2012

In this week’s Torah portion we read these words: “If you walk in My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them; then I will provide rains in their time, and the Land will give its produce and the trees of the field will give their fruit.” (Vayikra/Lev. 26:3-4)

This portion is named “Bechukotai” which comes from the Hebrew root word, chok. Chok simply translated means a decree or a law, but like most Hebrew roots, it has multiple meanings which serve to enhance our ability to draw insights from the text which go deeper than the obvious.

Classical Torah scholars segment the commandments of the Torah into three categories: laws applicable in any civilized society, laws that make sense practically and spiritually, and the final category which are the commandments that seem to defy human logic and for which we have no conclusive explanation as to “why”. This third category of mitzvot is called chukim (the plural of chok). Therefore, the term chok is applied to a mitzvah that we observe just because God said so whether or not we understand it.

It therefore is very interesting that this parsha opens with the words “If you walk…” The word “IF” basically means “maybe you’ll do it” and “maybe you won’t” – it’s your choice!

God has never desired robot-like observance of His Torah. Our observance of Torah is to be our individual expression of how we fulfill the words of the Shema: you shall love Hashem your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources. Each time we choose to obey the Torah, we do so first and foremost because we want to demonstrate to Hashem our love for Him.

Rabbi Trugman points out that Judaism is founded on three paradoxes. 1) We are free to choose whether to observe the Torah or not but once we choose positively, we are commandment to obey even the chukim whether we understand them or not; 2) we are free to choose but the choice not to follow Torah brings clear and disastrous results; 3) we are free to choose but Hashem tells us exactly what the consequences of our choices will be.

The exercise of free choice matures as we do. Very young children choose according to the nature. As they grow they follow their parents’ and teachers’ examples and instructions. As teenagers and adults, we are more aware of the many options available to us and the process of making choices greatly broadens. At this stage each person must develop the values, principles and belief system which will guide his own decisions.

The ideal for which we strive is that our choices to follow the Torah’s mitzvot become so much a part of us that after some years, we don’t have to consciously make individual choices because our very lifestyle has become a living, breathing continual choice to serve Hashem. That is one of the marks of spiritual maturity and is described in Pirkei Avot 2:4 this way: Make His will as your will so that He will make your will as if it were His will.

It is no accident that Bechukotai falls just before Shavuot each year. Before the giving of the Torah, our people declared in the greatest expression of free will, “We will do and we will hear.”
(Shemot 24:7) The generation that had been freed from Egypt and that arrived at Mt. Sinai expressed their profound faith in Hashem by committing themselves to observe the Torah EVEN BEFORE they had heard or understood its content.

In Tune with Torah = reviewing our own pattern of choices as regards our service to Hashem and making whatever corrections or adjustments we need to make to more closely emulate the faith of our ancestors.

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