The Value of Torah by Yehuda Mazin

(2018/5778)

In Parashat BeChukotai, there are three major themes. The first discusses the Berachot that Hashem will shower upon us if we obey the Mitzvot, including peace and rain at its proper time. The second section is the Tochacha, which enumerates the horrifying curses that Hashem will inflict Bnei Yisrael if we do not obey the Mitzvot. The third and final topic in BeChukotai defines the “Erech” of a person and his property if he wants to make a voluntary donation to the Beit HaMikdash. Although the word Erech does not have an exact English translation, it describes the process of donating the value of one's self or of another person; this exact value varies based on the age and gender of the individual. With regards to animals, he donates the animal itself, and it cannot be replaced by any other animal.

The rewards given for following the Mitzvot segues into the punishments for disobeying the word of HaShem, however, it prima facie seems as though the Tochacha does not relate to the section about Erech. Rav Hirsch explains that the Mitzvah of donating to the Beit HaMikdash is distinct from the Mitzvot to which the Tochacha applies. I would like to offer another explanation. The idea of donating voluntarily to the Beit Hamikdash and thereby to Hashem, is perhaps one of the most important Mitzvot in the Torah. A donation to Hashem does not have to be a Korban or a great sum of money offered to the Beit Hamikdash, it can even be an action. Nowadays, we can no longer give the Korbanot or money to the Beit HaMikdash, so we have alternate ways of achieving the goal of this Mitzvah, such as, learning Torah, Tefillah, giving Tzedakah on a regular basis, or simply performing acts of Chesed and other Mitzvot. These actions are our fulfillment of “Erech” in these times of Galut. If we do not set aside time for Mitzvot, then Hashem will inflict the punishments described in the Tochacha upon us. Mitzvot are simply actions of convenience; we have to make Mitzvot a part of who we are in our daily lives. That is the essence of being a Jew. The connection between the Erech and the Tochacha can be explained by the title and second word of the Parashah, BeChukotai. While the Shoresh (root) of the word BeChukotai is generally accepted as Chok (law or rule), it can also be derived from the Shoresh of Chakak, to engrave. When something is engraved, it is indelible. Similarly, we need to engrave Torah and Mitzvot into our hearts and minds. The concept of engraving Mitzvot into our hearts is evident in the Haftarah for Parashat BeChukotai, which states, “Ketuva Be’Eit Barzel BeTziporen Shamir Charusha Al Lu’ach Libam”, “it is written with a pen of iron, with a diamond tip, engraved on the tablets of their heart” (Yirmiyahu 17:1).

Parashat BeChukotai also demonstrates that a person cannot say that the Mitzvot are too difficult to perform because Hashem does want us to succeed. The first word of Parashat BeChukotai is “Im” (VaYikra 26:3). Generally translated as “if”, “Im” can also mean to please. Meaning, HaShem is pleading with us to do the Mitzvot. If He wanted the Mitzvot to be difficult for us, why would the Parashah begin with eleven Pesukim illustrating the rewards we can for observing the Mitzvot? This is comparable to a parent urging his child to behave by describing to him the rewards he will get if he listens, and the punishments he can receive for disobedience. A latter Pasuk further solidifies this theme: “VeHaNish’arim Bachem Yimaku Ba’Avonam Be’Artzot Oyeveichem, Ve’Af Ba’Avonot Avotam Itam Yimaku”, “And because of their iniquity, those of you who survive will rot away in the lands of your enemies, moreover they will rot away because the iniquities of their fathers are still with them“ (26:39). If you read the end of Pasuk without considering how it should be divided, it seems to state “Ve’Af Ba’Avonot Avotam Itam Yimaku”, “moreover they will rot away because the iniquities of their fathers are still with them”. But it can also be read as “Ve’Af Ba’Avonot, Avotam Itam Yimaku”, “moreover because of their iniquities, their father will rot away among them.” This alternate reading further demonstrates that their own sins will elicit the many punishments listed in the Tochacha, not the sins of their ancestors.

The Torah often compares Bnei Yisrael’s relationship with HaShem to a father son relationship, because Hashem threatens us with the curses in the Tochacha only so that we conduct ourselves in a more proper manner. Similarly, a proper parent punishes his child only because he wants his child to behave better. The parent does not punish his child out of hatred, rather out of love. Eventually, however, the child grows up and ceases to behave merely for their parents’ approval, but because he now knows that it is the proper way to act. Being Hashem’s child, Bnei Yisrael “grow up” and begin behaving properly on their own accord, by fulfilling the optional Mitzvah of Erech. This Mitzvah is considered to be somewhat of an optional mitzvah. One can donate money to the Beit HaMikdash for the value of his soul, but it is not required. As I mentioned earlier, we are still able to perform our own Erech, even today in Galut by setting aside time for learning Torah and doing Mitzvot. This idea is supported by the Mishna in Pirkei Avot, in which Shamai instructs us, “Asei Torat’cha Keva”, “Make your Torah permanent” (Pirkei Avot 1:16). This is widely understood as establishing a set time every day to learn Torah. In the end, the juxtaposition of the Tochacha to the passage regarding “Erech,” voluntary donations to the Beit HaMikdash, teaches us the important lesson of performing the Mitzvot of HaShem since it is the proper way to conduct ourselves, as well as the importance of engraving Torah into our daily routines.

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