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Parshat Bechukosai: The Secret of Redemption

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May 7, 2010

Parshas Bechukosai is most well known for "The Tochachah," the section of pesukim which vividly describe the horrible calamities that will befall the Jewish people if they don't listen to Hashem. In painfully rich detail we are told of multiple punishments which will be meted out if, "lo tishmeu li" we don't listen to God, "ve'lo ta'asu es kol ha-mitzvos ha-eleh," and don't observe the commandments. (Va'Yikra 26:15).

And yet, for all of the doom and gloom, the chapter ends on a high note, as we are told that Hashem will remember us even when we are in exile and that, no matter what, we will never be rejected (26:44-45).

The transition between the chapter's initially harsh depictions and its concluding ray of hope focuses, as the Torah so often does, on Hashem's remembrance of our forefathers: "Ve'zacharti es brisi Yaakov," I will remember my covenant with Yaakov,"ve'af es brisi Yitzchak,"and also My covenant with Yitzchak,"ve'af es brisi Avraham ezkor," and also My covenant with Avraham I will remember" (26:42).

What it striking about this pasuk is something that is only noticeable if we examine the Hebrew text of the Torah. Unlike the common and conventional spelling of Yaakov - yud, ayin, kuf, beis - in this instance it is spelled with an additional letter vuv before the final letter. This highly unusual phenomenon attracts the attention of commentators who attempt to provide a rationale for this anomaly.

Rashi cites a Midrash(Toras Kohanim 8:6) which notes that while our pasuk is the only example in the Torah where Yaakov's name is spelled this way, there are in fact four other times in the Nevi'im where this spelling is used. Chazal explain that these five examples correspond to the five times that Eliyahu's name is spelled unconventionally without the vuv that we would typically expect (alef, lamed, yud, hei).

The Midrash further suggests, intriguingly, that this is not a coincidence, but rather, that Yaakov "took" the extra letters from Eliyahu as a guarantee, or collateral, that Eliyahu would one day herald the redemption for the Jewish people. Hence, the Midrash concludes, the source of the extra letter vuv in Yaakov's name is the missing letter from Eliyahu's name.

This is a fascinating - but also enigmatic - teaching. After all, what is so special about the letter vuv and what does it have to do with the hopeful redemption to be ushered in by Eliyahu?

Perhaps the explanation lies in another teaching of Chazal (Mishnah Eduyot 8:7) which describes the task of Eliyahu at the time of the redemption. Eliyahu's primary role, we are taught, won't be to settle thorny questions of halacha, but rather, "le'asos shalom be'olam," to bring peace and harmony to the world.

Some have suggested that perhaps this is the deeper message that Chazal were trying to convey in their in explanation of the anomalous spellings of Yaakov and Eliyahu.

One of the primary grammatical uses of the letter vuv is to serve as a "vuv ha-chibbur," to connect words; two otherwise independent people or places can be connected by adding this letter. On a deeper level, therefore, the letter vuv represents the power of bonding and bringing things together.

Yaakvov understood that, given Eliyahu's mission of peace, we would need the power of the letter vuv,an extra dose of "chibbur," togetherness, to be worthy of redemption. By "holding onto" the vuv Yaakov was, in effect, making the statement that he - and we, his descendents - understood that pursuing the ideal that Eliyahu exemplifies is the greatest guarantee of ge'ulah. Living our lives and creating our communities based on the value of shalom is the most certain way to make sure that Eliyahu returns for the redemption.

A short time before Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky's passing, at a time when he was particularly frail, he was forced to take a trip to Israel. During his stay Rav Yaakov insisted - despite objections from associates that it would be too taxing - on visiting a certain yeshiva. Once at the yeshiva, Rav Yaakov rose and, with tears in his eyes, delivered the following poignant message: While he was no longer sure if he would live long enough to greet the Moshiach, he was confident that the students in this yeshiva would be among those who would so merit. Why? Rav Yaakov explained that this was the rare institution that harmoniously assimilated students from both Ashkenazic and Sephardic backgrounds.

Apparently, like his namesake before him, Rav Yaakov understood the elusive truth that peace between Jews is the secret to our ge'ulah. If we want to welcome Eliyahu and Moshiach then we too must hold onto the vuv and strive for shalom with our brothers and sisters.


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