In Parashat BeChukotai we are presented with a reality that we all 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. Someone may not readily see the truth of this formula in his own lifetime, but it is certainly discernable in the bigger picture. Even when we sin, Hashem looks forward to our repentance, as the Torah indicates, “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, Hashem will remember us as the Torah relates: “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” (26:42). Normally the Avot are listed with Avraham first, followed by Yitzchak, and ending with Yaakov. Why here are they listed in reverse order?
In conjunction with this verse, the Midrash Rabbah (VaYikra section 36) cites a dispute regarding the order of creation. Beit Shammai asserts that the heavens were created first and then the earth afterwards. Evidenced by the very first verse in the Torah. Beit Hillel maintains that the earth was created first, as is shown by the fourth pasuk in Perek Bet of Bereishit, “In the day that Hashem made earth and heaven.” Rabi Yochanan, attempts to reconcile these two opinions, presents, in the name of the Chachamim, the following regarding the creation process: the heavens were started first, while the Earth was completed first. How does this dispute relate to our question about the Avot being presented in reverse order? Perhaps we can say as follows. 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 commitment to our belief in Hashem as the one God. Due to his prominence in this role, he is normally listed first. However our Parashah is not addressing our creation as a people. Our focus 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 must complete their efforts.
The current situation in Israel is at best precarious. We should not 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.