Dedicated for the Refuah Shelemah of Moshe ben Rachel
Parashat Bechukotai Follow, Observe, and Perform The first passuk in Bechukotai begins, “If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them… (26:3)” This passuk seems a little redundant because it repeats itself three times with, “follow,” “observe,” and “perform.” Rashi explains that the passuk is talking about toiling in Torah study. We must know that the study of the Torah is the essence of a Jew and it’s what separates us from all the other nations of the world. This passuk is a hint to learn Torah and review our learning repeatedly. Toiling in Torah study is an incredible achievement. The next passuk goes on to discuss the blessings Hashem will bestow upon us if we follow His commandments. “I will give rain in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit (26:4).” Follow Hashem’s decrees, commandments, and ordinances, and you will have a livelihood, beracha within your family, and you’ll be protected from your enemies. This is everything a person could want! “But if you will not listen to Me and will not perform all of these commandments, and if you consider My decrees loathsome and reject My ordinances in order to annul My covenant, then I too, will do the same to you (26:14-16).” If we don’t follow the Torah, Hashem says He will turn His back against us. We will work and be unsuccessful. We will watch our enemies prosper. From reading this parasha, we have greater respect and appreciation for all the rabbis and talmidei chachamim because they decided to devote their lives to learning and teaching Torah to all of us. We can see from the words in this parasha that Torah will truly make us happy, healthy, content, and satiated with everything. Torah is the essence of what a Jew is, and it will help us earn the highest levels of Olam Habah! Many years ago, our synagogues were used primarily for prayer, and the doors of our Shuls were all shut at night. Since we settled on the shores of America over 100 years ago, our community has changed drastically for the better. Our Shuls are opened from very early in the morning and again until late at night, overflowing with men and women learning Torah. This has brought, and continues to bring, tremendous beracha to our community. Rabbi Biderman published the following story about Hashem’s blessings. When Reb Avraham Moshe Pachter shlita, Rosh Kollel of several kollelim in Israel, first started his fundraising, he didn’t know much English. At one address, a wealthy patron wanted to write out a check for a thousand dollars. Due to the language barrier, Reb Pachter thought he said that he would give one hundred dollars. Reb Pachter explained to him in Hebrew that he has many students, and that amount wasn't enough. The wealthy man agreed to give two thousand dollars. Reb Pachter thought he said two hundred dollars, so he explained to him once again that this is still not enough money. The wealthy man raised the bar again and again until he agreed to give five thousand dollars. When he got back home, Reb Pachter said to his partner that he was still upset that he only received five hundred dollars from this wealthy man. His partner told him, “Look at the check. It says five thousand dollars…” As it turned out, the rabbi’s weakness in language became his best asset. He thought that because he didn’t know English, he wouldn't be able to fundraise well, but as it turned out, his ignorance helped him earn much more money. This story once again reminds us that it isn't wisdom and talents that make one successful, only Hashem’s blessing. Whomever Hashem chooses to give wealth to, is the one who will get it. If we follow Hashem’s decrees, success will follow!! Heed the Warnings Rabbi Twerski ZT’L explained why the warning of “if you will not listen to Me … and reject My ordinances… then I, too, will do the same to you,” is so essential. In many synagogues, the reader lowers his voice when he recites the dire consequences that the Torah predicts will occur if the Jewish Nation disobeys the Divine Word. Although this practice is quite common, the Chafetz Chaim was most critical of it. “Suppose,” the Chafetz Chaim said, “you were headed toward a path that was full of hidden pits and dangerous obstacles, and someone called to you to caution you against choosing that path and thereby exposing yourself to great danger. How foolish you would be to close your ears to avoid hearing the warning, thereby increasing the likelihood of your being injured. The harsh words of the Torah are a warning given out of Divine care and love for us, to protect us from the destructive consequences of sin. Why should we try to avoid hearing them?” The Chafetz Chaim correctly identified a common human trait, one which has repeatedly plagued us. There is a tendency to bury one’s head in the sand and make oneself oblivious to reality. The Torah is replete with prophetic warnings of expulsion from Eretz Yisrael and the destruction of Jerusalem, to which many people turned a deaf ear, preferring instead the soothing reassurances of the false prophets that all would be well. This phenomenon applies to the individual as well as to the whole nation. We are often cautioned against certain actions we wish to take, but if we strongly desire to do something, we may render ourselves oblivious to all warnings. Young people are especially prone to ignore the warnings of their elders who recognize some types of youthful behavior as dangerous. The Chafetz Chaim’s criticism applies to all instances where one refuses to listen to warnings that would deter a person from actions that have harmful consequences. How wise we would all be to keep our ears open to warnings. The Missing Vav The Torah says, “And I will remember my covenant with Yaakov, and even my covenant with Yitzchak, and even my covenant with Avraham will I remember, and the Land I will remember (26:42).” This passuk contains the rather unusual spelling of the name Yaakov with five letters—yud, ayin, kuf, vav, and vet—rather than the usual four letters—yud, ayin, kuf, and vet. Rabbi Frand cites Rashi, who quotes the midrash, which says that the spelling of the name Yaakov with a vav occurs in five places in Tanach. And that the spelling of the name Eliyahu without the normal vav at the end also occurs five times. The midrash explains that in those five places, Yaakov our Patriarch figuratively took a letter from the name of Eliyahu as a pledge to guarantee that Eliyahu Hanavi would announce the arrival of Mashiach. “Eliyahu will only come to make peace in the world as it is written ‘Behold I send to you Eliya the prophet (Malachi 3:23).’” If the Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred, then the only way it will be rebuilt is if there is peace in the world. As a community and as a nation, we must find a way to come together and make peace between ourselves. Yaakov Avinu chose the letter vav as collateral that Eliayhu would finally come and make peace amongst us. The letter vav always joins two words, two phrases, or two thoughts together. The meaning of the word vav itself is “hook”. Clearly, if there is any letter in the Hebrew alphabet that symbolizes connection and togetherness, it is the letter vav. Yaakov knew prophetically that there would be disputes before the coming of Mashiach. The only way for Mashiach to eventually come will be when peace is restored to the world. Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Lazeh—All Jews Are Responsible for One Another It was February of 2011 when Rabbi Yotav Eliach led a trip to Israel for a group of 50 American high school students. The last stop of the trip before they went to the airport was the cemetery in Har Herzl. As you can imagine, walking through the cemetery and looking at the graves of the young soldiers who gave up their lives and hearing their heroic stories can be a very emotional and moving experience. “The most difficult place to visit,” said Rabbi Eliach, “is Har Herzl. And that is because instead of the young burying the old, the old is burying the young.” As Rabbi Eliach explained to the students the sacrifice that these young soldiers and their families had made, he suddenly noticed an elderly couple standing just a few feet away crying over a grave. Rabbi Eliach noted, “Everything I had been saying about what it means to parents and families was right there. It was very clear that this was a mother and father visiting their child’s grave.” The tombstone included a picture of a young Israeli soldier named Erez Deri. One of the students leaned over and gently asked the mother, “Could you tell us a little bit about your son?” Mrs. Deri began relating how Erez was a paratrooper in the Israeli army and was tragically killed in 2006. But then Mrs. Deri told the group of students something which left them speechless. “Last night I had a dream. Erez came to me and said, ‘You didn’t merit to lead me to my chupah. Instead, I would like you to dedicate a Sefer Torah in my name. If a Torah is written in my memory, it will be as if you are sending me to my chupah.’” But that was not all Erez relayed to his mother. He had something even more surprising to say. “Go to Har Herzl. There you will find good people who will help you write a Sefer Torah.” Those ‘good people’ who Mrs. Deri would meet the next day were this group of students. One student remarked, “Something about this woman just sparked a connection with us, and we decided to take on this project to fundraise for a Sefer Torah and dedicate it in memory of Erez. We told Mrs. Deri we would be back next year with a Sefer Torah to fulfill her dream.” This group was a mix of secular kids and religious kids, kids from both yeshivot and public schools. They all felt so passionate about taking on this momentous project. Exactly one year later, the same group of students returned with a brand-new Torah and headed to Ma’ale Adumim to write the final letters. They gathered in Erez’s room, noticing his uniform hanging pressed against the wall. On his desk, the Sefer Torah was laid down as the last few letters were written. “I was in tears,” Erez’s mother later said. “I was so emotionally moved. I felt as if all of Am Yisrael was with us.” Everyone felt the excitement as they concluded adding the last letters and began parading down the street. All types of Jews from all walks of life were there, dancing and singing in unison. Am Yisrael was there. A story like this ought to make us feel proud to be a part of the Jewish people. Jews can meet anywhere in the world, whether it be in a cemetery in Israel, or in an airport in Beijing. It makes no difference where, but there is an immediate feeling of connection, regardless of how different we look on the outside. Even if our homes are thousands of miles away, our hearts are so close. In order for Mashiach to come, the Jewish people will have to use the “vav” and become interconnected and inextricably bound to one another. May we always follow Hashem’s laws and keep them sacred. May we continue to learn Torah and make it a priority of our days and nights. May we also have the greatest respect for our Rabbis who devote themselves to studying and teaching Torah selflessly to our community for our benefit. May we truly connect as a nation and witness the coming of Mashiach in our days! Amen! Shabbat Shalom! Rabbi Amram Sananes, Written by Jack Rahmey Discussion Points:
Do we ignore warnings, whether they’re from our own conscience or from the advice of our rabbis?
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