OTS Learnathon Wide

Parshas Bechukosai - Material and Spiritual Prosperity

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May 6, 2010
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“If you walk in My laws and you guard My commandments and perform them, I will provide your rain in its proper time, and the Land will give of its bounty...and you will eat your bread with satisfaction and dwell securely in your Land. And I will grant peace in the Land, and you will lie down to sleep without fear…and  the sword will not pass through your Land…And I will turn to you and multiply you and establish My covenant with you…And I will place My dwelling in your midst…and I will walk in your midst and be your God, and you will be My nation.” (Bamidbar 26 3-12).


Why does Hashem’s promise to walk in our midst appear only after the promises for rain, bounty and security? Does the observance of the Torah, for which these promises are all made, not grant immediate favor from Hashem, such that He draws near to us forthright when we heed His word? Why is Hashem’s pledge to walk in our midst delayed until after the physical and tangible berachos are presented first?


It is obvious that God immediately draws near to one who clings to Him; this axiom is clear throughout the Torah. Why, then, do the promises of “and I will place My dwelling in your midst…and I will walk in your midst and be your God” appear only after the berachos of rain, bounty and security?


Targum Onkelos (ibid v. 12) interprets the phrase “and I will walk in your midst” as “and I will place My Shechinah (Divine Presence) in your midst”, and Rashi (ibid. v. 11, from Toras Kohanim) likewise explains that “and I will place My dwelling in your midst” refers to the Beis Ha-Mikdash. Thus, while it is true that God immediately draws near to one who observes the Torah, He causes His Shechinah to dwell among the nation, as manifest through the Beis Ha-Mikdash, only once additional requirements have been met. Hashra’as ha-Shechinah, God’s Presence residing in our midst, is something different that is merited only after a lengthy chain of events; Hashra’as ha-Shechinah does not come instantly. When we read in Parshas Bechukosai that Hashem will walk in our midst, only after the many prior berachos of rain, bounty and security, the Torah refers to the specific concept of Hashra’as ha-Shechinah, albeit that one who holds fast to the Torah will merit closeness to Hashem without delay.


What is required to merit Hashra’as ha-Shechinah? Why is this heightened level of connection to God not obtained forthright by observing the mitzvos?


The first occasions of Hashra’as ha-Shechinah occurred in the Midbar (Desert), both at Har Sinai as well as later when the Mishkan was erected. In both cases, B’nei Yisroel exhibited in unity a prolonged commitment to Hashem. Again, we read about Hashra’as ha-Shechinah when the Beis Ha-Mikdash was completed, which transpired after many hundreds of years of sanctified war and conquest, all at Hashem’s command and while heeding His word.


Hashra’as ha-Shechinah is manifest only after demonstrating sustained national and public adherence to Hashem, overcoming obstacles and passing tests that challenge steadfast and dynamic commitment to Torah.


What are the obstacles and tests that are presented at the beginning of Parshas Bechukosai so as to merit Hashra’as ha-Shechinah?  


It would seem from the context that the obstacles and tests are those of immense material success. The initial section of Parshas Bechukosai depicts almost unimaginable material blessing, from overabundance of crops to unprecedented military prowess to comfort without worry. The pitfall of such incredible success is a potential lack of incentive or drive to perform mitzvos and learn Torah, for the mundane luxuries and pleasures can dim, overtake and nullify the struggle for spiritual striving.


This point is evidenced by the famous interpretation of Chazal (in Toras Kohanim, invoked by Rashi on 26:3): “If you walk in My laws”: “Perhaps this refers to observance of the mitzvos? Observance of the mitzvos is referenced by ,’and if you guard My commandments and perform them’. What then does ‘If you walk in My laws’ mean? It means that you must toil in Torah (hevu ameilim ba-Torah).”


Merely observing the mitzvos is not enough; merely studying Torah does not suffice. Rather, one must toil and immerse oneself in Torah, exerting oneself and dynamically engaging in Torah learning. Chazal have stated how one must “kill oneself” for Torah in order to master it, and how successful Torah learning is to be experienced by deprivation of comfort. A rebbe of mine once explained that a person cannot succeed in Torah “if he reclines with a Gemara in one hand and a soda in the other hand”.


The niyason, the challenge, is to be committed and actively engaged in Torah learning – with vigor and sacrifice, fighting the Milchamtah shel Torah (“the Battle of Torah”) – regardless of the material comforts and most pleasant luxuries that one’s environment provides.


Only when Torah is the central facet of our lives, when we toil to plumb the depths of Torah at the expense of comfort and we immerse ourselves in the word of Hashem and forfeit luxury thereby, as if nothing else matters, will the Shechinah rest in our midst and attest to our underlying and sustained commitment to Hashem. Yes, we must observe mitzvos and put forth effort to succeed materially; however, the pinnacle and underlying prerequisite for achieving Hashra’as ha-Shechinah on a personal and national level is defined by a unique credo - Hevu ameilim ba-Torah.

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