This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Behar-Bechukotai (5761)
In our day and age there are a lot of Jews that still do not observe Torah and its commandments.
The beginnings of both of this weeks two sections give several reasons why.
"B'har" means "at The Mountain" referring to Mt. Sinai where the Torah was FORCED on us: "G-d held Mount Sinai over the Jewish Nation saying, "either accept the Torah or....."" (Talmud Shabbat 88a. People don’t like to feel forced.
B'har is connected to ANTI-SEMITISM: "Why was the mountain called Sinai? Because from the moment the Torah was given, people began to 'hate' (Sina) us" (Brachot 89b). Why be hated by everyone?
B’chukosai implies "BLIND" obedience. "Chuk" are the type of Torah laws that make no sense at all, (like not eating Milk with meat). Who needs to be a robot?
The Torah totally avoids mentioning heaven and only promises material rewards: "If you walk in my statutes I will give rain, plenty" etc. So we aren’t promised heaven, and anyone can see that doing the commandments does not, unfortunately, bring riches. Who wants to work for no reason?
To answer all these difficulties here is a story:
When I first arrived in Israel over 25 years ago, before I got married, I learned in the Yeshiva in Kfar Chabad for a year.
Now, everyone knows that Chabad encourages outreach.
So early every Sunday morning I would catch a long passenger train filled with Israeli soldiers that stopped in Kfar Chabad, and put Tefillin on as many passengers as possible, and then get off at the last stop to catch the train back.
It so happened that early one Sunday morning Rabbi Mendel Futerfass, theHead of the Yeshiva, saw me rushing out the door and asked me where I was going.
Rav Mendel was over sixty years old, very impressive looking and had recently been released from over five years of hard labor in one of Stalin’s Siberian prison camps.
When I told him I was going to put Tefillin on soldiers in a train, without hesitating he said, "I want to go too."
I figured he was just being nice so I said, "Fine, Reb Mendel, G-d willing we’ll go together some time, but now I’m in a hurry."
"Good!" he answered, "Let's go!"
I was already late and it was a ten minute run, but he just said (and kept yelling at me all the way there) "You just run and don’t look back, I’ll make it, just don’t look back!!"
So I half-heartedly ran and miraculously I made it in time. But I figured that Rav Mendel didn’t have a chance (he also had troubles with his legs so it was hard for him to run).
The next thing I knew, he was pulling himself up the steep steps after me into the coach, and the train pulled out!
How he did it I never really figured out, but needless to say he was really out of breath, and as the train began moving he just motioned to me to give him some Tefillin and begin without him. So I gave him one of my four pairs, entered the first car and went to work.
The way it usually worked was that at first a few people would politely refuse until someone broke the ice and agreed, and then there would be a flood of takers.
But this time I was in for a surprise.
As expected the first man said no, as did the one sitting next to him.
But the third man, in a short, stocky, middle-aged, balding, beady eyed, bull necked, mean-looking fellow got angry...really angry.
In Israel there are a lot of people that really hate Judaism and religious Jews...and he was one of them.
His face became red like an apple, and the veins stood out on his neck. He squinted his eyes in hatred, leaned toward me to the edge of his seat, like any instant he would spring, and began hissing a string of menacing Israeli threats such as:
"T’oof MiKan Oh Ashbor l’chaw et HaPartzuf!" (lit. Bug off or I’ll break your face!) with appropriate Israeli gestures and motions.
I took the hint, forced a smile, and moved on.
Then someone in the middle of the car wanted to put on Tefillin, then another, and before I knew it all three pairs were in use.
Suddenly I remembered...Reb Mendel!
I had completely forgotten about him. Certainly he had caught his breath by now and would enter any minute. I had to save him from that bull-necked monster! Who knows what he might say (or do!!).
I whipped around in time to see that (Gevalt!) the worst was happening!
The first two men had refused him also, and Reb Mendel was beginning to lean over to speak to....Him!
I tried to catch Reb Mendel’s attention but to no avail.
"Our friend", reading a newspaper, saw Rav Mendel from the corner of his eye and began to twitch with rage.
Then one of the soldiers behind me called out, "Nu, Rabbi, how do I take off the Tefillin!" Then another, "Hallo! My turn, I want to put on!"
I quickly turned to them, removed the Tefillin from one and put it on the other, when suddenly the unmistakable high-pitched voice of Reb Mendel pierced through the noise of the crowd:
"I love you! You are my brother! Come, put on Tefillin! I love you!"
I shot a look over my shoulder and saw that Reb Mendel was reaching over the first two men, grabbing the arm of the amazed "beast" and was preparing to slide Tefillin on it.
Again the soldiers called me back, so I had to stop watching, and take care of the next set of customers.
I finished as fast as I could, and when I looked back toward where Reb Mendel was, I beheld one of the most amazing sights I'd ever seen in my life:
The same fearsome "wild man" that wanted to destroy me moments earlier was now rocking slightly back and forth, reading the SHEMA from a small page, with Tefillin on his arm and head. Reb Mendel was looking lovingly at him with the most angelic look on his face, like a mother hen at one of her chicks.
He had literally conquered him with love.
Now we can begin to answer all the problems we raised earlier.
True, we were forced at Mt. Sinai...but we were forced with LOVE.
The Baal Shem Tov explained that the word for "mountain" also implies LOVE. So when it says that G-d held a Mountain over them, it really means that He did something like what Reb Mendel did to our passenger.
It’s also true, that with the Torah came hatred toward the Jews. But that is because the Torah is so GOOD. (And that is what our bull-necked friend suddenly felt).
The hatred by non-Jews comes either from jealousy (no one but the Jews can even CLAIM that G-d Himself gave them their Bible) or from pure evil (they hate the Torah because it is GOOD; the source of blessing and meaning in the world).
But that shouldn’t obscure the good of the Torah.
Thirdly, it’s true that the word "Chuk" implies blind obedience. But that's because it also means "Carved" and CONNECTED.
At Mt. Sinai G-d "Carved" the commandments into the heart of every Jew. It doesn’t make sense, but its true. It is a feeling of true "blind" identity above understanding. And that is why our friend on the train actually put on the Tefillin.
And finally, when a Jew finally feels all these (love, goodness and connection) he DOESN’T CARE ABOUT REWARDS, he wants only to do HaShem’s will, and purify the world.
But really the Torah is hinting here at the greatest reward possible...and it will be in this material world; The arrival of Moshiach and the revelation of the Oneness of G-d (in miniature that is what happened to that fellow on the train) as we say thrice daily in Alenu: "All the people on the earth, even the evil ones, will recognize and know YOU."
And it all depends on us.
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.