Parshios Behar & Bechukosai
Torah is Integrity
The book of Vayikra concludes with a description of Jewish destiny and a
foretelling of dire events that that will befall the Jewish people. The
clear message in this parsha, and as repeated later in the book of Dvarim
and in the words of the prophets of Israel over the next millennium, is that
the Jewish people and its behavior and society are held to a high standard
of loyalty and piety.
The consequences of backsliding from these Torah standards are major and
painful. God’s relationship with the Jewish people is serious business and
the unbreakable covenant between the Jewish people and the Creator is
eternally present and binding.
Ramban and others ascribe the events portrayed in Vayikra to the times and
destruction of the First Temple. The descriptions in Dvarim – which are
longer and more intense – refer to the times and destruction of the Second
Temple and its millennia long aftermath in the exile of the Jewish people.
Also present and implicit in the difficult message communicated in this
parsha, and in Dvarim as well, is the ultimate promise of God to preserve us
and not completely forsake us. All of Jewish history, even until our very
day, has lived up to these forecasts and events as recorded for us in the
The Ramban counts as one of the proofs of Torah’s divinity the fact that
words written and taught so many centuries earlier than the actual event
would eventually take place are accurate, detailed and cogent.
The book of Vayikra is replete with laws, ritual commandments, sacrificial
service, purity and impurity and the technical details of being a Jew. It
has very little narrative to it and it is the most scholarly difficult of
all of the books of the Torah. If the Torah’s objective was to induce people
to a so-called user friendly faith, then this is not the book that should
have been presented.
But the Torah is integrity itself. Therefore, in Jewish tradition the law
demands that those who apply for conversion to Judaism should initially be
discouraged and not enticed into thinking that somehow becoming Jewish
guarantees paradise in this world or even the next. The rewards of Judaism
are great but there are costs, responsibilities and sacrifices that
accompany those rewards.
And, an awareness of those costs is necessary for true Jewish commitment.
Jewish history is not to be seen as a random occurrence of events. It is
rather part of the actual results of the covenant entered into between
Israel and the Creator at Sinai. Everything that was foretold in such detail
and exactness in the Torah, as to what would befall Israel in its long
journey through history and civilization, has in effect occurred and happened.
It is at once sobering to see how this has unfolded in Jewish life. But it
is also encouraging, for it guarantees the fulfillment of the blessings of
the Torah upon Israel as formulated in this week’s parsha. The covenant in
all of its parts reigns forever.
Rabbi Berel Wein