Much of Parashat BeChukotai is taken up by the Tochachah, the section of how Hashem will punish Bnei Yisrael if they do not follow the Mitzvot. Another Tochachah section with a similar idea is found in Parashat Ki Tavo. The Gemara (Megillah 31b) states that Ezra HaSofer established that the Tochachah in Parashat BeChukotai should be read before Shavuot, while the Tochachah in Parashat Ki Tavo should be read before Rosh HaShanah. The purpose of these placements is that the year should end, at Rosh HaShanah, along with its curses and the new year begin, at Shavuot, along with its blessings. The Gemara agrees that this reasoning applies to reading Parashat Ki Tavo before Rosh HaShanah, but why would Shavuot be considered the beginning of a new year? The Gemara answers that the Mishnah (Rosh HaShannah 16a) states that on Shavuot the world is judged on fruits for the upcoming year.
The Peri Tzaddik poses a question on this Gemara. Why did Ezra link the Tochachah of BeChukotai with Shavuot and the Tochachah of Ki Tavo with Rosh HaShanah and not vice versa? While the Gemara partially answers this question, the same Mishnah also teaches that Pesach is a day of judgment for grain, and Sukkot is a day of judgment for rain. If one of these is to be chosen as a second to Rosh HaShanah, the Day of Judgment for man, it should be Pesach, since grain is much more essential to man than fruit. Why then is Shavuot chosen?
In order to answer this question, we must first briefly examine the purpose of the Tochachot. The idea Hashem wishes to convey to us is not the ultimate reward and punishment, since this would be in Olam HaBa (the next world), and the Tochachot discuss only Olam HaZeh (this world). Instead, they convey the idea that when Bnei Yisrael are improving, Hashem will be kind towards us in Olam HaZeh to enable us to continue observing the Torah. When Bnei Yisrael are not following the Torah, however, Hashem must remind them through the punishments listed in the Tochachot to do Teshuvah and improve. The Ramban (VaYikra 26:15) teaches that the first Tochachah is specifically directed at Teshuvah during the exile after the destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash, while the second Tochachah is directed at Teshuvah during the exile after the destruction of the second Beit HaMikdash. This is hinted to by the fact that the first Tochachah is written in plural and the second in singular. After the redemption from the first exile and the building of the second Beit HaMikdash, Bnei Yisrael were still split between Bavel and Eretz Yisrael and should therefore be referred to in the plural. After the redemption from our current exile, however, Bnei Yisrael will once again be united “KeIsh Echad BeLeiv Echad,” “as one man with one heart,” and are therefore referred to in the singular. As a result, the first Tochachah is a reminder for Teshuvah from the sins which caused the destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash, while the second Tochachah is a reminder for Teshuvah from the sins which caused the destruction of the second BeitHaMikdash. One question remains: which sins caused the destructions?
The Gemara (Yuma 9b) answers that the second Beit HaMikdash was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred. The Tochachah for hate is therefore appropriate for the period before the Yamim Noraim because forgiveness for sins Bein Adam LaMakom occurs on Yom Kippur, but we ourselves must attain forgiveness for sins Bein Adam LaChaveiro.
Yirmiyahu explains the specific sins which caused the destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash. “Al Mah Avdah HaAretz…Al Azvam Et Torati,” “For what reason did the land perish?…Because of their forsaking my Torah” (Yirmiyahu 9:11-12). The Tochachah for ignoring Torah is therefore appropriate before Shavuot, the holiday which commemorates the giving of the Torah.
One problem with this explanation is that the Gemara (Yuma 9b) states that different sins caused the destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash: Avodah Zarah, Gilui Arayot, and Shefichut Damim. This issue can be reconciled by answering that the fact that Bnei Yisrael were not refraining even from the Issurim of Avodah Zarah, Gilui Arayot, and ShefichutDamim demonstrates how disconnected they were from the Torah. On the other hand, during Bayit Sheini the Gemara specifically states that Bnei Yisrael were learning Torah, but the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam, illustrating that it is equal to the “Big Three” sins. This is reminiscent of the story of the students of Rabi Akiva who died during Sefirat HaOmer because of lack of Derech Eretz. As we are about to transition between Sefirat HaOmer and Shavuot, let us remember to keep both Tochachot in mind and improve our behavior Bein Adam LaChaveiro as well as our Torah and behavior Bein Adam LaMakom.