In Parashat BeChukotai, we are presented with a reality with which we must eventually accept for a successful life. If we follow Hashem's commandments, learn about and practice them, then our existence in this world will be pleasant and productive; however, failure to comply with these commandments will lead to a more difficult existence. This truth may not be readily seen by someone in his own lifetime, but it is certainly recognizable in the bigger picture. Even when we sin, Hashem is looking forward to our repentance, as is indicated in the Pasuk, “VeHitvadu Et Avonam VeEt Avon Avotam…,” "Then they will confess their sin and the sin of their forefathers…" (VaYikra 26:40). Our confession is expected and anticipated. After we are dispersed in the land of our enemies and thereby humbled, we will be remembered by Hashem. A later Pasuk (26:42) tells us, “VeZacharti Et Beriti Ya’akov VeAf Et Beriti Yitzchak VeAf Et Beriti Avraham Ezkor VeHaAretz Ezkor,” "I will remember My covenant with Ya'akov and also My covenant with Yitzchak, and also My covenant with Avraham will I remember, and I will remember the land." Normally, the Avot are listed with Avraham first, followed by Yitzchak, and ending with Ya'akov. Why, here, are they listed in reverse order?
In conjunction with this verse, the Midrash Rabbah on Vayikra (Parashah 36) cites a dispute regarding the order of creation. Beit Shammai asserts that the heavens were created first, followed by the earth. This is evidenced by the very first verse in the Torah, where the creation of the heavens precedes the mention of the earth’s creation. Beit Hillel maintains that the earth was created first, as is shown by the Pasuk in BeReishit (2:4), “BeYom Asot Hashem Eretz VeShamayim,” "In the day that Hashem made earth and heaven." Rabi Yochanan, in an attempt to understand these two opinions as one cohesive idea, offers an explanation in the name of the Chachamim. Regarding the creative process, the heavens came first, while regarding completion, the earth was first.
Even though the heavens were created first, their completion was contingent upon the completion of the earth. The earth's importance should not be minimized, even when contemplating the heavens. The Gemara (Chullin 7b) teaches that someone does not even stub their toe without it being decreed from above. Heaven and earth are interwoven. In terms of our creation as a nation, our beginning and our roots lie within Avraham. Avraham is at the core of our inner commitment to our monotheistic beliefs. Due to his prominence in this role, he is normally listed first. However, in our Parashah, we are not talking about our creation as a people. Our topic at hand is our finishing touches, our completion as a people. This completion is contingent upon our firm adherence to Torah and the realization of the consequences that await disobedience. When we contemplate this commitment and the repentance needed from time to time, we must mention the last of the Avot first. This represents our desire to earn our own salvation, if possible. If Avraham were listed first, we would be admitting that we, essentially are not worthy of consideration and the only way we can be saved is by remembering our beginning through Avraham. By listing Ya'akov first, we are attempting to alert Hashem's attention to our latest accomplishments. The merits of the Avot will certainly stand for us, but we should not let them stand instead of us. We must take the initiative regarding our own improvement. The Avot started something wonderful, and we are the completion of their efforts.
As always, our pulse is in tune with that which happens in Eretz Yisrael. The current situation constantly presents challenges. We, surely, cannot take a back seat in the theater of our own unfolding history. Our active participation is required. The avenues are many; whether through our Tefillah, Torah learning, Aliyah, service in Tzahal, financial support, or through our attendance at events such as the upcoming NORPAC mission to Washington and Israeli Day Parade, we must try to earn the fulfillment of the promises made to the Avot so long ago. Just as the heavens could not be completed until the earth was completed, so too, that which the Avot started cannot be completed until we do our share.