Parshat Behukotai

Parshat Behukotai closes the book of Vayikra dramatically promising us good times if we walk in the ways of the Torah and a frightening set of curses if we go astray. The opening verse tells us “If you walk with my statutes (im behukotai telechu), and keep my commandments and do them” and then gives a list of the blessings that Hashem will provide, timely rain, abundant crops, peace in the land and more. Rashi explains that the structure of the opening verse which seem to repeat itself is to emphasize the importance of spending time and effort learning and understanding the Torah so that one is able to keep the commandments properly.

The use of the concept of walking with my statutes is interesting particularly as we use the term “halacha” – the same word to describe the framework of Jewish law that has to move forward with the times to deal with new issues that arise. Several of our sages note the importance of appreciating that our religion is not static, even though it seems so to some, but must walk with the times, an issue of much contention, as it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between moving forward to trying to move the goalposts of the religion.

However, the walking concept does return a few sentences further on when in verse 11 Hashem says “and I will set my dwelling amongst you” and then in verse 12 “and I will walk among you.” This expresses a fascinating duality that if we walk with Hashem he will walk with us. Rashi elaborates on this as Hashem saying “I will walk with you in the Garden of Eden as though I were one of yourselves and you will not be afraid of me.” Perhaps what Rashi is trying to express is not so much the Garden of Eden, but a state of purity of making the right choices as was meant to exist before man sinned and hid in fright and was banished from the Garden of Eden.

Ovadia Sforno (1475 -1550) in an usually lengthy explanation notes that the expression used here is much stronger that just walk among you (halachti) but more I will walk amidst you (vehithalachti). Whereas Hashem had commanded Moshe to build a tabernacle and he would dwell amongst us, here Hashem expresses that he will walk with us wherever we may be. The Tabernacle like our synagogues are places set aside for holiness, but the Torah can reach everywhere in the world and wherever there are righteous and wise Hashem says I am with you. This reflects the life and times and character of the Sforno who lived in Italy commanding great respect from both the Jewish and Christian community in his ability to explain and present the Torah to all.

R Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (1843 – 1926) suggests a wider approach viewing the world we live in and what we see as nature is a daily miracle and we must respect it and not to try to change it. He is perhaps warning of the dangers of what we seem to be currently experiencing in climate change through our lack of respect for nature. An amazing story is told by Isser Harel who was head of the Mossad that as a boy of nine he witnessed what he saw as a miracle in the town of Dvinsk. The winter snow had melted and the River Dvina carrying the ice was destroying everything in its path and closing on the town of Dvinsk. On Shabbat morning, people came running into shool shouting that the dam was about to burst. R Meir Simcha rose from his seat and still wrapped in his tallit, walked to the dam, followed by his congregation. He climbed up on the dam, stood there and prayed. As he was praying, the blocks of ice began to move apart and give way and split creating a path for the waters to gush downstream leaving the dam intact. Jews and gentiles alike witnessed how the city was miraculously saved from disaster and the power of nature through R’ Meir Simcha’s prayer.

 

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