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Parshios Behar & Bechukosai

If Only

By Rabbi Label Lam

If you will go in My statutes and guard My Mitzvos and do them... (Vayikra 26:3)

From this simple conditional “if- then” statement flows a torrent of blessings that matches our best hopes and wishes for us and all Our People. So much goodness hinges upon what?

The “Torahs Cohanim” adds a spice to the mix that gives a new flavor and meaning to the verse. “The sages taught that the word “if”-“im” is always an expression of request. And similarly you find, “If only My people would listen to Me, and Israel would walk in My ways, I would immediately subdue their enemies and turn My hand against their tormentors. (Tehillim 81:14- 15)…This teaches that HASHEM desires that we should be striving in Torah and therefore it is written, “If you will go in My statutes” meaning to say, “If only”- “would that it would be so” that you strive in Torah!”

What extra information does this statement of the sages contribute? Perhaps the answer is, “none!” Then what is added here?

Men as a gender, generally speaking, have a reputation for not asking directions even when lost. Sounds familiar?! No wonder the sages tell us a counter intuitive statement. “Greater is someone who is commanded to do something and he does it than someone who is not commanded to do it and he does it!” It seems more praiseworthy if one acts voluntarily as opposed to being coerced by a command. However, when one is directed to act there is often aroused an immediate internal resistance. Nobody likes to be told what to do. The imperativeness shakes the giant ego from its slumber. “I’ll take out the garbage when I’m in the mood!” In the overcoming of that barrier the value of the action is significantly improved.

I am willing to confess here that when assembling a bicycle or a basketball court I have occasionally wrestled with that same inner stubbornness in spite of my children’s insistence, “Abba, here’s the instruction manual!” I was determined to figure it out on my own and do it my way often with unfortunate results. The problem is only first apparent when the thing is assembled and there’s an extra nut or bolt in the box. “What’s this thing for? Why does the wheel not turn properly?” It is then that I have been forced to confront the directions and the realization that I had skipped an important step. Sometimes the undoing is doable and a few times we have had to live forever after with a defective result. Now I might be more apt to heed the creed, “If you would only please follow the instruction manual then it will turn out right!”

Everything beyond the complexity of a nail clipper comes with a set of instructions for use and/or assemblage. A new computer is accompanied by a chunky pamphlet. An automobile comes with a big booklet that one better be read and obey if one doesn’t want to end up making payments on a car that no longer runs. Human life, which is infinitely more complex than any machine also comes with an instruction manual. The assumption is that the manufacturer knows the product better than the consumer and that the tuition at “The School of Hard-Knocks” is more expensive than any Yeshiva. Lord knows I wasted a few cars before figuring out that the oil needs to be changed?! Maybe it’s tolerable with a 2nd hand car but with a wife and kids who of us can afford not to consult the user’s guide?

The code of Jewish Law is actually a slim volume when obeyed in detail and sequence. However, it grows weighty and complex as stuff has to be undone. There may be remedies but we might wish we had carefully followed the instructions and not insisted on doing it our way. Like a father pleads desperately with his child, the tone of the verse is emphatic, if not urgent, “If only you would do it My way, follow My rules and keep My Miztvos… If only…

Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Label Lam and



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