In Parshat Bechukotai we are presented with a reality, which we all must eventually face. If we follow Hashem’s commandments, learn about them 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 painful and tortured existence. The truth of this formula may not be readily seen by someone in his own lifetime, but it is certainly discernable in the bigger picture. Even when we sin, Hashem is looking forward to our repentance as is indicated when the Torah says, “Then they will confess their sin and the sin of their forefathers…” 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. 26:42 tells us, “I will remember My covenant with Yaakov 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 Issac, and ending with Yaakov. Why here are they listed in reverse order?
In conjunction with this verse, the Midrash Rabbah on Vayikra (section 36) brings down a dispute regarding the order of creation. Beit Shammai holds that the heavens were created first and then the earth afterwards. This is shown by the very first verse in the Torah. Beit Hillel maintains that the earth was created first, as is shown by the second verse in chapter 2 of Bereshit, “In the day that Hashem made earth and heaven.” Rabbi Yochanan, in an attempt to understand these two opinions as one cohesive idea, says in the name of the Chachamim that regarding the creative process, the heavens were created first, but regarding completion the earth was created first. How does this dispute relate to our question about the Avot being in reverse order? Perhaps we can say the following. Even though the heavens were created first, their completion was contingent on the completion of the earth. The earth’s importance should not be minimized even when contemplating the heavens. In terms of our creation as a nation, our beginning and our roots lie with 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 Parsha, 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 in our firm adherence to Torah and the realization of the consequences that await disobedience. When we think of this commitment and of 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 Yaakov 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.
The current situation in Israel is at best precarious. We cannot sit back and think that it will fix itself. Our active participation is required. Whether through our Tefillah, learning, financial support, or through our attendance at events such as the 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.