Weekly Reading Insights:
Bechukotai 5779



Overview of the Weekly Reading

To be read on Shabbat Bechokotai - 20 Iyar 5779 / May 25 (Outside of Israel the Weekly Reading is Behar)

Shabbat Chazak

Leviticus 26:3-27:34;
Haftorah: Jeremiah 16:19-17:14 (parallel to main theme of Reading: consequences of disobeying G-d's will)

Pirkei Avot: Chapter 4

Bechukotai is the 9th Reading out of 10 in Leviticus and it contains 3992 letters, in 1013 words, in 78 verses

Bechukotai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34) opens with a description of the physical rewards that we reap for fulfilling G-d's commandments. This is followed by an outline of the consequences resulting from disobeying G-d, and the eventual repentance and forgiveness that will come in the future. The last sections concern endowment valuations of people, animals, real estate, and crops to G-d (consecrating their monetary value to the sanctuary). With the conclusion of B'chukotai, we also complete the book of Vayikra (Leviticus)-and so upon the close of its reading in synagogue, we proclaim, "Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek!"

An essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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The first verse of this week's portion is, “If you will make sure to advance in the knowledge of bechukosai (My rules)”, Rashi explains that this can only be a reference to the requirement of the effortful study of Torah.

What is to be gained by an effortful study of Torah?

In the 5th chapter of Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman teaches that the study of Torah unites a person with G-d more than any other commandment. When we do any commandment we surround ourselves with divine light, because we are drawing divinity to a place where it was lacking. However, when we study Torah, which is also a mitzvah, we not only have the divinity around us, we have it inside us too, in our head, as we think about it. Only with Torah can we have G-d inside us and outside of us at the same time. Total focus, total union!

Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sussov saw it from a completely different perspective. When a person comes before a king to make a request, perforce he stands before him in awe and fear. Not so when a craftsman or other professional comes into the chamber of the king, to fix or build something, he acts naturally and does what he is supposed to do. If he would have to do it in awe, he would never get the job done! So it is with a person who if totally focused on his effortful study of Torah. He is doing G-d’s work as he has been commanded and therefore within Torah guidelines can act in a free and comfortable way. This is what the Talmud says, “Who is the person who is free? The one totally involved in Torah study”. On the other hand, a person most of whose life is involved in the world, even if he does it for the sake of heaven (like eating and working to have strength and funds to do the commandments etc), still, when the time comes for him to make his personal request, he still must behave with absolute caution, always filled with awe that no part of his actions while facing the King of kings are for his own personal pleasures, just like the petitioner in front of the king. He has to work very hard to be certain all of his actions are connected to G-d, are truly kosher. This is what Rashi means, that we have to be focused on effortful study of Torah. Only then can we have true freedom when we come before the King of kings.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe suggests something else, from the classic Chassidic text, Likutei Torah. He focuses on the word, bechukosai, G-d’s rules, from the root chok. The word chok can also be from the word chakika, engraving. According to this, we can now explain what the connection is between Rashi’s explanation, focused effortful study of Torah to the word, bechukosai. Just like engraving requires many times more effort than writing, so successful Torah study has to be in the manner of chakika, engraving.

Even more, just like with engraving in a stone, it is only through great effort that you can actually make the marks in the stone, so, similarly, with great effort in our studies we can actually engrave the teachings into our hearts. Even, it says in Likutei Torah, into a “heart of stone”. With great and consistent effort the Torah will dig deeply into the most hardened character.

We see this in the story from the Talmud about Rabbi Akiva, who was 40 years old and had never learned Torah. He tried a number of times after marriage but was unsuccessful. He once came to a well and asked who had engraved the well-stone. They told him, is it not the water that is constantly falling on it every day? Rabbi Akiva reasoned, if water can wear away a stone, how much more so can Torah be engraved into my heart! Immediately, heartened, he returned to study Torah. And became one of the greatest scholars of Jewish history.

May we all receive the Torah with joy and draw it deep inside us.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


Specifically, for an overview of the recommended articles in the columns:
Holy Zohar, Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary Kabbalists, and more,
click to Bechokotai

one sample:

Chasidic Masters
Three-Day Transition

By David Sterne, based primarily on Shem miShmuel.

G-d promises us that if we learn His Torah and keep His laws, He will give us everything that we need. But our learning must not be like letters are written with ink on parchment or paper, but must be like engraving with the letters etched upon our hearts and souls. The best way to do this is by learning not only the revealed Torah but also the hidden Torah – Kabbalah

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For another taste of recommended Kabbalah articles on a variety of subjects,
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