Parshas Bechukosai Statutes of LimitationsBy Rabbi Pinchas Winston
If you will follow My statutes and guard My mitzvos and do them, then, I
will give your rains in their times (Vayikra 26:3-4)
Here we go again. Brace yourself Š it is time for the blessings and the
curses. However, before discussing the curses, it is worthwhile to look at
what appears to be a secondary message that emerges from these lines of
blessing, which Rashi points out:
Five of you will pursue one hundred, and one hundred will pursue ten
"According to the calculation (a ration of 1:20), it should only have said
"one hundred will pursue two thousand"! Thus, there is no comparison
between when a few perform Torah and many perform Torah!" (Rashi)
In other words, Rashi (and the Sifra) is teaching, the more people learning
and living by Torah, the greater our national leverage becomes. Our success
does not increase proportionally, but rather, exponentially. In the Torah's
example, the ration improved from 1:20 to 1:100 -- a very significant
But why should that be? If more of the nation keeps the Torah, how does
that affect our spiritual "firepower."
As the Talmud points, the Jewish nation specifically is called "Adam,"
whereas the rest of the nations of the world are referred to as "Nations of
the World" (Yevamos 61a). What does that mean? Among other things, it means
that the Jewish people, regardless of our remarkable propensity to differ
from one other, are to be viewed as a single "body," a unified whole which
suffers when parts of that whole are out-of-step with the rest.
Take an athlete, for example. Even though an athlete runs with his legs,
his performance is hampered when his finger is sore, or he has a headache.
A runner just needs to be able to place the right foot in the right place
at the right time. However, an olympic runner needs to function life a
"well-oiled," smooth-running, well-integrated collection of parts.
It is no different with the Jewish people. After years of spiring with one
another, and, in some cases, conspiring against one another, we have come
to feel so distant from one another that it would not be difficult for some
to say, "Why needs you anyway?!" And, to feel it as well.
The answer is, we all do -- we all need each other.
Now, it is true there is "Erev Rav" among us, elements that may appear to
be Jewish by birth (or even conversion) who go out of their way to limit
the influence of Torah; the Torah, the Midrash, the Zohar, and rabbis of
yesterday (such as the Vilna Gaon) predicted that this would be so.
However, they are far from being the majority of the Jewish population,
and, besides, who can know who is whom?
Thus, we have no choice but to care for one another, regardless of whether
or not we can influence one another. We may find it next to impossible to
resolve our differences at this stage of our history, but, at the very
least, we have to hold on to the understanding that we must dream of doing
so, and whenever possible, endeavor to do so. If we don't, then our
national defense system can only weaken, and then all of us will find
ourselves becoming increasingly vulnerable to even greater anti-Torah,
"But if you will not listen to Me and will not perform My commandments
then I will do the same to you I will" (Vayikra 26:14-16)
The other day, in the midst of a conversation with someone about the
present spiritual status of the Jewish people, the person complained about
how, within fifty short years, we returned back to the problems of pre-war
Europe. Assimilation, intermarriage are rampant, and, materialism seems to
affect Jews on all levels. It was certainly making it very difficult to
marry off her child, since, the family is neither fabulously wealthy nor
fabulously famous in Torah circles. However, the child is fabulously
devoted to a sincere Torah lifestyle, and is today, literally,
However, what concerned this person most was not the difficulty of finding
a worthy shidduch, because that, the person knows, is G-d's business, and
He will come through, eventually (Sotah 2a). What concerned the person was
how materialism was distracting good Jews from good service of G-d, and how
the gap between rich and poor was increasing, as was the gap between heart
and mind. "My brother calls the Holocaust 'The Great Equalizer'," the
person told me. "By 1942, most of Europe was poor and broken."
As I watched a religious CD Rom produced to portray the level of
self-sacrifice by Jews during the Holocaust to maintain a level of
Torah-observance -- indeed, just to keep from losing their beards and
"paos" -- I was amazed, again, by the extent to which Hitler (yemach shemo
v'zichro!) went to cause the Jews suffering and to exterminate them. As I
watched actual footage of the Nazi Genocide Machine systematically wrap its
noose around the Jewish neck of that time and tighten it, a little voice
inside of me kept asking questions:
"How? How did we ever let it go so far? How did we get caught? Why didn't
we leave? Why didn't we change? How were they able to become so barbaric?
How could they hate us THAT much, to even derive pleasure and a sense of
purpose from what they did to decent, upstanding (if not by Torah
standards, certainly by German standards), mature adults and so many
innocent and helpless children?"
I have, in my library at home, a book called, "Anti-Semitism: The Causes
and Effects of a Prejudice." What it is, basically, is a listing of every
KNOWN anti-Semitic event since the time of the destruction of the Second
Temple (70 CE), until the time of the book was published in recent times.
Details of the cruelness of the attacks are provided when available, and
sometimes they are more barbaric than one can stomach even from the
However, that book begins where the Talmud leaves off, and the Talmud
begins pretty much where "Tanach" leaves off. All-in-all, Jewish history,
when viewed from this perspective, makes the Jewish people appear like a
person whom, upon hitting a wall and falling down, gets up again only to
walk into the same wall all over again.
Judging from the present spiritual status of the Jewish people today, it
would appear that we have fallen, gotten up again, and are walking full
stride, right back into that wall. Brace yourself.
My Rosh HaYeshivah used to cajole us by warning, "It is either program or
pogrom." His intention was clear: If we don't at least show G-d that we are
concerned about ourselves and our brethren in terms of our Torah
connection, and, most important of all, look for ways to reunite G-d and
His children, then, G-d Himself will implement His own "program." As our
history proves over-and-over again, His is not always the most pleasant
form of spiritual wake-up call.
In the beginning, when my Rosh HaYeshivah used to use the term, "Spiritual
Holocaust," he was heavily criticized. "How can you compare," the outraged
outraged. However, that was about fifteen years ago; now I have found that
the term is used by just about everyone in the field of Torah outreach.
Just yesterday, someone told me (in the name of Berel Wein) that, some
twenty years ago, there were about 6,000,000 Jews living in America. By
even conservative estimates and projections, those 6,000,000 Jews should
have grown into 20,000,000 by Year 2000. However, how many Jews are known
to live in the United States today? About 6,000,000. And where did the
projected 14,000,000 "other Jews" go? "They went the way of total
assimilation and rampant inter-marriage," complained Rabbi Wein, "and no is
saying ANYTHING about them!"
Here comes that wall again.
Israeli secular society. I don't want to go into details, but, let us just
say that it shows very, very little concern for the warnings explicitly
expressed in this week's parshah. We're talking Ultra-Secularism. Now
there's a term I haven't seen used in the newspapers yet Š
"Wait Š Is that a wall I see coming up?"
I have always known that there are people who believe in Torah, and people
who do not. However, I did not appreciate the fact that another category of
Jew exists -- he who "believes" in Torah, but, does not in Parashas
BeChukosai. I don't mean that they have removed that section from their
Sifrei Toros, G-d forbid! They BELIEVE that G-d gave every word of this
week's parshah to Moshe Rabbeinu just as He dictated every other word of
Torah to him as well. They just don't believe, or take seriously, the
notion that what this week's parshah is warning even OUR generation.
Did someone mention a "statute of limitations" on this week's parshah? It
seems as if, at least in the minds of many Jews today, Jewish history has
entered some kind of historical "black hole," within which the "physics" of
Torah no longer apply. What can G-d expect from us inside a historical
However, the Torah has another name for that so-called spiritual black hole:
Š And I will also act toward you with indifference, and will bring you to
the land of your enemies, and perhaps then the foreskin of your heart will
be humbled, and you will atone for your sins. (Vayikra 26:41)
G-d's indifference to us and our uncircumcised heart.
In fact, the only REAL reason why so many Jews do not feel compelled to
allow Torah to guide their lives (besides ignorance and lack of
inspiration) is because they have avoided Torah for so long, and, they HAVE
BEEN GETTING AWAY WITH IT. However, they misread the signs. They are
judging today's weather by looking straight up and not at the storm brewing
on the horizon, threatening to ruin their "picnic."
The Holocaust made "Ba'alei Teshuvos" as well. Old survivors who, before
the war did NOT wear Tefillin, now do, and will continue to do so until
their dying day. When asked, "Why the change?" they often role up their
sleeves and show you that eerie number permanently tatooed into their skin,
courtesy of the Nazis.
"You know," they may say in a humbled voice, "it says in the Torah that a
Jewish male above the age of 13 must wear Tefillin. The Torah calls
Tefillin a 'sign upon your arm.' Before the war, I had no such 'sign' upon
my arm, not since I forgot my Tefillin back at my Bar Mitzvah. Now I have a
sign upon my arm Š this number here Š So, after the war, it occurred to me
to cover upon THIS sign with THAT sign (pointing at Tefillin) Š"
I have heard and read similar stories.
Where I live in Telzstone, the view of the Judean Hills is wonderfully
relaxing. From my front lawn, where I often sit and learn, I can't help but
look up and take in the scene, especially when the sun gracefully sets in
the distance. Sometimes it is so quiet and peaceful, it seems as if I am
the only one in the whole world.
It is then that my mind has to jump in and remind me that, only a few miles
away, live 150,000,000 Arabs who probably would like to see me move and
abandon my house. Many of them, very likely, given the opportunity would
probably do me terrible harm; on occasion, they have told us so. At that
point, a cold shiver often goes up and down my spine.
But then I am overtaken once again by the present peace of my immediate
physical view, and it becomes as if my Arab neighbors in all directions
have picked up and moved to another part of the world, far, far away. Out
of sight, out of mind. I quietly go back to my present way of life, as if
by doing so, all threats become imaginary, though, in reality, they remain
to exist in full force.
It's that uncircumcised heart again, blocking my view and the view of the
rest of my people. This phenomenon is symptomatic of the "End of Days," and
why the Torah has to say:
"Hashem, your G-d, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your
offspring, to love Hashem, your G-d Š" (Devarim 30:6)
In other words, the Torah is telling us that at the end of history,
spiritual barriers will exist that will prevent us from being able to take
Torah seriously -- some to become observant, and others to become more
observant. Either way, it will be -- it is -- hard for us to see reality as
it REALLY exists, as G-d sees it, to take it as seriously as it ought to be
Hard yes, but, impossible, no. The truth will not be handed to us on a
silver platter, at least not at this stage of history. We have to work for
it, and hard. However, to not work for it is to force the hand of G-d, G-d
forbid, to introduce His own "program" of reJEWvenation. Parashas
BeChukosai is here to help us gain clarity and perspective.
G-d spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and tell them
that, when a person makes a vow regarding the value of his life (Vayikra
The purpose of the vow being a commitment to bring a certain amount of
money to the Temple as an obligation.
What makes this mitzvah unusual is not so much its details as much as where
it occurs in the Torah -- right after the curses of destruction for
disobedience. It is like describing the effects of a terribly destructive
occurrence and then, in the very next breath, discussing the stock market!
It would seem somewhat insensitive.
However, we can assume that G-d is not insensitive, and that is why it is
such anomalies that often lead to insights that we would not otherwise have
noticed. And, even though the Ramban gives a very technical answer, we can
assume that there is also a philosophical reason as well for the
connection, and there is.
From the beginning of the curses until the end of the curses, it is a
discussion of effect and not cause. Each and every curse is a reaction to
our sins and our failure to turn ourselves around and wake up and smell the
Divine Providence. Human indifference leads to Divine indifference, and
Divine indifference leads to disaster. But what leads to sin in the first
It's all an issue of self-worth, of what you mean to yourself.
We know, because the Torah has told us, that we were created in the "image
of G-d." However one interprets that phrase, it will always lead to the
conclusion that man comes from noble stock, and is capable of reaching
tremendous spiritual heights, but not without effort. Life has provided
many such examples of people who have reached for the stars and who have
On the other hand, at the far left extreme, man is barely distinguishable
from the most savage animals. He is very capable of debasing others and
himself, and can even do so without conscience. History is replete with
examples of this reality. The rest of mankind scuttles around between these
two extremes, the majority of which, perhaps, are content to find their
version of a "happy medium."
The only question is, who does it make happy?
One of the most disastrous events in the history of the Jewish people was
the building of the golden calf. As a result of that sin, Moshe Rabbeinu
broke the first set of Tablets, condemning the Jewish people to go through
thousands of years of history vulnerable to the whims and outrageous plans
of the non-Jewish nations (and "enemies" from within).
But, according to the Midrash, with the exception of a few weak
individuals, the Jewish people didn't even participate in the building of
the calf; it was the Erev Rav! If so, then why are we still paying such a
high price for a mistake we barely made?
Because, we didn't stop the building of the calf, either. Intimidated, and
afraid of the consequences for standing up for truth (Chur was murdered by
the Erev Rav for doing so), we stayed home in our tents, huddled at the
back, closed our eyes, and prayed that things wouldn't get too out of hand.
They did. We can see from G-d's and then Moshe's reaction to the crisis in
the camp below just how much the "happy medium" makes G-d happy! In This
World, G-d is not interested in "fence-sitters," people who don't take a
stand and responsibility for the world around them, and do what they can --
as limited as that may be -- to make things better. G-d likes zealots for
I said zealots, not fanatics. What is the difference? A zealot is someone
who aspires to live in the image of G-d, and, as a result, is driven to
live and act godly. A zealot is someone with a strong sense of self-worth,
which allows him to put important issues ahead of his own, and often petty
concerns. He doesn't need to prove himself to anyone; he just needs to be
A fanatic, on the other hand, is someone with little self-worth. His
extremism is in order to compensate for a lack of self-worth, which, as we
well know, can be damaging to him and society as a whole. A "good cause" is
just a "good reason" to do something that will make him feel heroic.
Low self-worth and spiritual mediocrity are the ills of a person and of
society as whole. They may seem harmless on the surface, but, in fact, they
represent the slide of mankind in the direction of spiritual decay and
moral destruction. What can follow at that point if not Divine response to
Therefore, concludes the parshah after a lengthy review and warning of the
curses: maintain your godly image, and maintain the peace of the world.
Not for our sake, G-d, not for our sake, but for Your Name's sake give
glory, for Your kindness and for Your truth! Why should the nations say,
"Where is their G-d now?" (Tehillim 115:1-2)
This is the third paragraph of Hallel, and the first half (1 - 11) of it is
one of the two sections that are omitted on Rosh Chodesh and the last six
days of Pesach. The omission signifies that there is something missing from
these days to make them completely joyous days. In the case of the last six
days of Pesach, it is the fact the Egyptians -- creations of G-d -- were
destroyed at the Red Sea, and, in the case of Rosh Chodesh, it is the fact
that the light of the moon has yet to be restored to its former glory.
We have made the point before, which is found in Nefesh HaChaim, that when
Jews suffer, it is a profanation of G-d's Name. It gives the impression to
those weak in faith in G-d that He has abandoned His people in their hour
of need, and therefore, it undermines the disbeliever's belief in Divine
Providence (and doesn't help the believing Jews faith much as well). Hence,
the term "Chillul Hashem" -- Profanation of G-d['s Name] -- comes from the
word "challal," which means "void," referring to the spiritual void sin
leaves in its wake.
Therefore, says the Nefesh HaChaim, praying for another's recovery is not
for the unwell person's sake, for, who knows how much atonement the
suffering is bringing? We want Jews to remain well and successful to reveal
to the world that there is a G-d, and that He cares about His people, and
that He is actively involved in their affairs, and the affairs of all
mankind, and that history is HIS story, not some random string of events.
True, we would benefit from a world that has little if any doubt about G-d
and His Torah. How nice it would be for the world to flip-flop and, rather
than mock and condemn Torah Jewry, instead hold them in high esteem and
seek their guidance. How nice it would be for yeshivas to be able to focus
on the learning of holy books, rather than on maintaining accounting books.
Dreaming of such a reality makes one yearn for Moshiach all that much more.
However, says this psalm, the real reason for that yearning has to be:
Not for our sake, G-d, not for our sake, but for Your Name's sake give
glory, for Your kindness and for Your truth!
-- and let personal gain take a back-seat to the amplification of truth for
its own sake.
Š Our G-d is in Heaven; He does what He desires. (3)
That's funny, all kinds of people seem to be doing all kinds of things that
G-d can't POSSIBLY enjoy! Therefore, people draw the conclusion: Maybe in
Heaven G-d does want He wants, but down here on earth, it's a human's world!
Well, it certainly seems so, but that is only a projection of the curse
mentioned in this week's parshah. All that apparent freedom we seem to have
to do whatever we want whenever we want to do it is an illusion, and will
come at a cost. G-d is just playing the role, for the time being, of a
parent who is watching His children act foolishly from a vantage point that
allows Him to see us, but not for us to see Him, unless we spiritually
"squint" and look real carefully. Hester panim only means G-d is "hiding,"
Š Their idols are silver and gold, the handiwork of man. They have a mouth,
but they cannot speak; they have eyes, but cannot see Š (4 - 5)
Once upon a time, there was a boy who made a stone god. He said to it, "I
shall call you, "god of the weather," and I will bring you offerings each
day and pray to you so that the weather shall always be fair." One day,
during an intense lightning storm, the boy worried that maybe his god was
angry, and that maybe he had been a poor servant, and that this was why his
god was causing such a terrible storm. Therefore, he quickly took from his
possessions all sorts of valuable and burned them before the stone idol.
"Here Š this is for you Š" he told the stone, "perhaps you can make the
weather clear up once again for me."
But, as he spoke, the weather only became worse, and lightning ignited the
evening sky like never before. Afraid that maybe his god required an even
bigger offering, he began to turn to run for more valuables. Just then, a
bolt of lightning came hurling out of the sky and hit its mark -- the stone
idol shattered to millions of tiny pieces in all directions.
The boy just stood in his spot, completely stunned by what he had just
witnessed. He didn't even notice that the storm was passing, and that calm
was being restored.
"How Š how Š" he began to wonder, "can a god be destroyed by the very storm
And then he recalled, "I built that statue, and I imbued it with powers it
did not have, and I became afraid of those powers that I believed it had,
and, eventually, I became victimized by the very powers I gave it, but, it
never really had." This is what it says:
Š Those who make them should become like them, whoever trusts in them! (8)
And they do: they become like stone and metal, unable to speak the
objective truth, or to see it, or to hear it.
Israel, trust in G-d; He is their help and shield! House of Aharon, trust
in G-d; He is their help and shield. Those who fear G-d, trust in G-d; He
is their help and shield. (9 - 11)
And those who do, shall become like HIM, speaking, seeing, and hearing the
truth, living in the image of G-d, and rising above the mundane moments of
a godless society, into the realm of an eternal Father in Heaven.