Weekly Torah Commentary — Behar-Bechukotai May 3, 2013

Again this week, we have two portions of Torah read on Shabbat: BEHAR and BECHUKOTAI

For our purposes we will this year concentrate on the second portion, Bechukotai, which the Sages term the “seal” on the book of Vayikra/Leviticus. They speak of it thus because it expresses the sealing of the covenant of Sinai, while the following book, Bamidbar/Numbers, will recount the journeys of the children of Israel towards the Promised Land.

Leviticus is also described as the book of the “heart” because it is at the very center of the Torah and within it we are told “to GO in His statutes.”

I like what Rabbi Nachman of Breslov says about what it means “to GO in His statutes.”

The life of Torah and mitzvos should be one of constantly striving to move forward from level to level in our fulfillment of the actual commandments. In every commandment that we carry out, there is a level of meaning that we can grasp with our minds, yet at the same time, the mitzvah has profoundly deeper meaning that is now beyond our grasp. These two levels are those of NA’ASEH (“we will do”) and VENISHMA (“we shall hear”) respectively. NA’ASEH applies to that which is within our grasp now, the physical mitzvah with its plain intention — WE WILL DO. We must go ahead and do it now on the simple level even if as yet we do not have deeper understanding of its significance, even if the level of VENISHMA, WE SHALL HEAR — understanding — is still beyond us. To GO in G-d’s statutes means to strive constantly to turn that which is as yet beyond us — our VENISHMA — and make it into our NA’ASEH, something that we CAN meaningfully accomplish. This is brought about when we pray to G-d to help us in our practice and to give us deeper understanding. Deeper understanding also depends upon deeper study. (taken from Rabbi Nachman’s book, Likutey Moharan Part I, Torah 22).

The more we DO (Na’aseh) – even without understanding – the more we will understand for with doing comes understanding. We grow from level to level, constantly integrating new levels of understanding into our practice. Thus we constantly GO from level to level in spiritual growth.

Rashi in his commentary on BECHUKOTAI explains how the terrible penalties for failure to follow the path of the Torah reveal a seven-fold pattern, because the essential cause of the exile was the violation of the Sabbath and the Sabbatical years. At the very core of the sins that invoke the terrible cycle of punishment are seven basic sins, each of which drags the next behind it: (1) Neglect of study. (2) Neglect of practice. (3) Despising others who practice. (4) Hatred of the sages. (5) Preventing others from practicing. (6) Denial of the divine origin of the commandments. (7) Denial of the existence of G-d.

The infringement of the seven basic sins that caused both of our exiles has been a recurrent theme in all of Jewish history and the penalties have been terrible indeed. The rebellion of the Ten Tribes under Jereboam against the House of David under Rehav’am was the outward expression of an inner craving for greater leniency than was permitted by the House of David, whose royalty depended upon constant study of the Torah. Under the northern king, Ahab, hatred and persecution of the sages and the prophets became widespread.

After the end of the Babylonian exile, new challenges to the authority of the Torah arose. Some denied the afterlife while others denied the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Among the most notorious enemies of the Torah at that time were those who had been ‘hellenized’ in the Second Temple period, when it was “politically correct” to be Greek. The festival of Chanukah commemorates the miraculous saving of the authentic Torah pathway from the assault upon it by Greek culture.

The Greek philosophers denied the existence of God and the revelation at Sinai and accordingly provided for themselves justification for preventing Jews from observing commandments in the Torah, such as Shabbat and circumcision. Greek philosophy was a direct assault upon the Torah, leaving the Jews of the time with a choice — whether to go after the Torah or after the Greeks.

In today’s world, there are plenty of voices who deny the Torah, or attempt to repudiate it or at least marginalize it. But what is it about the real Torah that makes those who love her cling to her even in the face of adversity and/or persecution?

What is that love that makes those who strive to follow the authentic Torah of Moses continue day after day in the face of an ever more godless world? How do we keep on GOING in the Torah in this upside down world?

There is only one way – To keep GOING in the Torah is to GO ON STUDYING the Torah!

In the merit of our study of the book of Leviticus and our on-going study of all the Five Books of Moses, may we be blessed with all the blessings of our parshah: “If you will GO in My statutes.”

In Tune with Torah this week – to renew our dedication to regular study of the Torah with the accompanying commitment to put into practice that which we learn.

Shabbat Shalom!

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