In this week’s Parashah, the word “Keri” appears throughout the Tochachah (rebuke). The Tochachah found in Parashat BeChukotai is a series of blessings that will befall the Jewish people if they walk in the ways of the Torah “Im BeChukotai Teleichu,” “If you walk in my statutes” (VaYikra 26:3), or curses if they unfortunately abandon the Torah “VeIm BeChukotai Timasu,” “If you abandon my statutes” (26:15). In the context of these horrible curses the word Keri appears again and again. In one instance the Torah states “VeIm Teilchu Imi Keri VeLo Tovu LiShemoa Li VeYasafti Aleichem Makkah Sheva KeChatoteichem,” “If you walk with Me Keri and refuse to heed Me then I shall lay a further blow upon you seven ways like your sins” (23:21). Later the Torah writes, “VeIm BeEileh Lo Tivaseru Li VaHalachitem Imi Keri. VeHalachti Af Ani Imachem BeKeri VeHiKati Etchem Gam Ani Sheva Al Chatoteichem” “And if despite this you will not heed me, and you will walk with me with Keri. And even I will walk with you with Keri, and I will strike you, even I, seven ways for your sin” (26:23-24). Keri, a seemingly key ingredient of the Tochachah, is very difficult to define.
Rashi presents two different interpretations of the word Keri. First, he defines it as “Arai” (temporary); in other words, someone who walks “Keri” has no permanent commitment to Mitzvot, but rather, an erratic relationship with Hashem. Then Rashi quotes Menachem, who says that Keri is a Lashon Minayah “Shemakshim Libam Lihamneia MeiHitKarov Eilai” “They harden their hearts to prevent coming close to Hashem” (Rashi 26:21). According to Menachem a Keri personality might go through the motions of religion but never seeks to deepen a relationship with Hashem.
Rashbam, dissatisfied with Menachem’s explanation, explains that Keri is similar to the Pasuk in Parashat Balak: “VeAnochi Ikara Ko” “I will be happened upon here” (BeMidbar23:15). In that Pasuk, Bilam says to Balak that Hashem will randomly speak to him in an irregular fashion. Similarly Keri means one whose relationship with Hashem is occasional, typified by the like example of a person who sometimes chooses to walk with Hashem, but other times decides not to. According to the Rashbam, a Jew who acts with Keri lacks the consistency required of a true Eved Hashem, servant of Hashem. We must commit ourselves to always serve Hashem, not just when we feel like it or when it is convenient for us.
Ibn Ezra offers a fourth explanation. He defines Keri as “Gevurah” (strength), in other words, one who acts with Keri is someone who strengthens his heart and never fears anything or anyone, including Hashem. Because this person is not intimidated by anything, he ignores the messages Hashem sends him. So, Hashem responds by hardening his heart against that person.
It seems that as we get older and become more devoted Bnei Torah it is crucial that we rid ourselves of any Keri that would damage our Avodat Hashem (service of Hashem). To accomplish this, we must determine that our involvement in Mitzvot will not be casual, but intense (as Rashi explained). Furthermore, we cannot harden our hearts, but must seek a close relationship with Hashem (as Menachem elucidated). In addition, we must serve Hashem with regularity and not whenever we feel like it (as Rashbam taught). Finally, we must never feel invulnerable, but must always seek Hashem’s protection (as Ibn Ezra described).