The Other Torah by Rabbi Darren Blackstein


Upon completion of the laws of Shemitta and Yovel, which are external expressions of Shabbat, the Torah directs our attention to the issues of reward and punishment.  The beginning of Parshat Bechukotai states אם בחקותי תלכו... -If we follow the חוקים and guard the Mitzvot we will reap the many rewards to be showered upon us by Hashem.  This one simple condition seems to guarantee us timely weather, abundant produce, material prosperity, victory over enemies, peace amongst ourselves, and honorable offspring.  

Upon examining the punishments, however, we notice a difference in presentation.  In כו:יד we are told that our lack of observance and respect for Hashem's Mitzvot will result in disease, hunger, and subjugation to others' will.  Then, in Pasuk יח we read a further qualification, ואם עד אלה לא תשמעו לו - And if you do not listen to me, the torment will increase.  There will be drought and the land will refuse to produce.  Assuming we ignore this warning, we are cautioned further in Pasuk כא - ואם תלכו עמי קרי - If you behave casually with me, the torment will increase.  Similar warnings are stated in Pasuk כג and כז culminating with the prediction of our destruction if we fail to heed Hashem's warnings.  Why must the Torah describe the punishments as developing in stages, while the rewards are described in one fell swoop?  

Perhaps the answer to this lies within an innocent

Pasuk found at the end of Perek כו.  After Hashem says that He will remember the Brit with the Shevatim, the Torah states in Pasuk מו - אלה החוקים והמשפטים והתורות - These are the statutes, laws, and Torahs that Hashem gave between Himself and Bnai Yisrael at Har Sinai by Moshe's hand.  Since when are there two Torahs?  Rashi, apparently bothered by this question, quotes the Torat Kohanim (8:21) saying this refers to תורה שבכתב and תורה שבעל פה.  Both the written law and oral law were given to Moshe on Har Sinai.  What does Rashi accomplish by calling this to our attention?  

We see that our responsibility to Hashem and to ourselves is not limited to adherence to the written law but includes the oral law as well.  In essence, the words of the Rabanan were given to Moshe.  Obedience to a limited set of written rules would have been easy.  Rashi, however, expands our commitment to encompass the oral law, making it that much more difficult to be truly loyal.  This reverence for the oral law is echoed in the Rashi at the beginning of our Parsha.  Rashi (כו:ג) explains אם בחקותי תלכו as שתהיו עמלים בתורה - That you should labor in Torah.  This points to a deep involvement in Torah as would be necessary in its transmission from generation to generation.  This transmission is, in effect, the essence of the oral tradition.  In this regard, human effort is considered to be precious and is cherished by Hashem.  

Keeping this in mind, we can now answer our original question.  The condition for reward is clean and simple because the agenda for development is laid out by the vast contents of our two Torahs.  In this case, the Torah does not need to state the rewards in multiple stages as a function of increased observance.  However, since there is no set schedule to follow for rebellion the Torah must describe the punishments in stages.  The severity of the punishments seem to be in proportion with the degree of separation from Hashem.  Increased human effort, when chanelled towards serving Hashem, will result in increased reward.  On the other hand, when this effort is increased towards evil, it results in increased suffering.  Our respect for a דרבנן and a דאורייתא should be similiar.  By equating them, the מדרש is telling us that failure to adhere to the oral law is equally as reprehensible as failure to adhere to the written law.  

Indeed, The Chasam Sofer stresses this point by quoting a general question on our Parsha.  How can the Torah be promising us reward when we know that the Gemara in Kedushin (לט:) states שכר מצוה בהאי עלמא ליכא - That reward for a Mitzvah is not given in this world?  He answers that the reward spoken of in our Parsha is not for the Mitzvah itself, but for the effort expended in the attempt to accomplish it.  We cannot guarantee results but we can guarantee a honest effort.  The rewards promised to us by Hashem are therefore in our control.  If we make the effort to cling to Torah, both written and oral, we may be considered laborious in our pursuit.  We are then עמלים בתורה.  May we all continue to devote ourselves to that which we hold dear to our heart - the written and oral Torahs.     

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