1. Reflecting the Image of G'd Through One's Observance
The Torah states, "If you will follow My Statutes (Bechukosai) and observe
My Commandments (mitzvosai) and perform them..." The Torah refers to the
dictate of G'd as "Statutes" and as "Commandments." In addition, the verse
differentiates between "following" the Statutes, "observing" the
Commandments, and "performing" them. How do we understand this?
Sforno explains that "follow My Statutes" is referring to one who accepts
the Torah upon himself and integrates it as a way of life. It is the
unequivocal acceptance of the dictate of the King in every aspect of his
life. "...Observe My Commandments" is referring to performing the mitzvos
in a meticulous manner. Once one has accepted upon himself the dictate of
G'd in every aspect of his life, he should perform the mitzvos
meticulously in a deliberate and conscious manner. He must delve to
understand the purpose and manner of observance to perform them with the
understanding of their ultimate purpose. When an individual integrates
the Torah as a way of life and performs the mitzvos with the proper
understanding of their purpose, which is to advance spirituality, then one
reflects the "image of G'd" (Tzelem Elokim). It is only then that it
considered performing the Will of G'd. Thus, the verse concludes "...And
Baal HaTurim explains that regarding the verse "If you will follow My
Statutes and observe..." if one were to take the first letter of each of
the three words Im bechukosai teileichu (aleph, bais, tuf) it would
spell "avos" (Patriarchs). Meaning, if one accepts the Torah upon himself
as a way of life, he will reflect the posture of the Patriarchs - Avraham,
Yitzchak, and Yaakov. In addition, he comments that letters in the
word "osum" (perform them) are the same letter as the word "emmes"
(truth). Meaning, one is only engaged in emmes/truth if one fully
integrates the Torah into his life by performing the mitzvos meticulously
with an understanding of their purpose. He continues, "If one were to
count the number of verses from the beginning of the Portion (regarding
the blessings) through the verse 'I am Hashem your G'd, Who took you out
of the land of Egypt...' it is ten verses - corresponding to the Ten
Rabbeinu Sadya Gaon explains that within the Ten Command there is an
allusion to all of the 613 mitzvos of the Torah. Thus, one has relevance
to the totality of Torah when one fully prescribes to what the Torah
suggests as proper observance. There is no time in which there is a lapse
with one's commitment to Torah and its meticulous observance. It is only
through this totality that one has relevance to emmes - truth.
The verse states, "It (the Torah itself) is a living tree of life, for the
one who holds onto it." Chofetz Chaim explains that if one is being swept
down a river and he is able to reach out and grab on to a branch of a tree
adjacent to the river, he could gradually inch his way onto the tree
itself - thus making his way to safety. One must grab onto the Torah
itself by performing mitzvos in a qualitatively meticulous manner. For
example if one performs a single mitzvah meticulously and understands its
value, he has relevance to the entire Torah; thus, he is taking hold of
the Torah in its entirety.
2. Setting One's Priorities
The Torah states at the beginning of the Portion, "If you will follow My
Statutes(Bechukosai) and observe My Commandments (mitzvosai) and perform
them, then I will provide your rains in their time..." If one adheres to
the dictates of G'd, He will provide unlimited blessing. However,
regarding the curses (Tochacha) the Torah states, "But if you will not
listen to Me (lo tishmeyou Lee) and will not perform..." Rashi
explains "lo tishmeyou Lee - you will not listen to Me" does not refer to
one transgressing the Torah, rather it refers to studying Torah with a
lack of dedication/toil. If one does not dedicate and apply himself fully
to Torah study, this will initiate the curses to come upon him.
Chazal explain that the verse does not simply state "lo tishmeyou - if you
will not listen" rather it adds the word "Lee - to Me." What is the added
connotation of "Lee- to Me"? The Toras Kohanim states, "When one does not
toil sufficiently in Torah, it is the equivalent of one who recognizes G'd
but chooses to defy Him. As we find regarding Nimrod (evil king who
attempted to kill Avraham). He recognized G'd but chose to defy Him.
Similarly, we find such behavior by the people of Sodom who sinned greatly
against G'd. They also recognized their Master but chose to defy Him."
When one has the ability to toil in Torah study but chooses not to do so,
Chazal equate him with Nimrod and the people of Sodom because he also
recognizes his Maker and chooses to defy Him. How could the one who does
not apply himself sufficiently regarding Torah study be equated to these
individuals who personified evil?
The Gemara in Tractate Berachos states, "A person who has the ability and
opportunity to study Torah, and chooses not to do so, all types of
suffering will come upon him - thus causing his life to be disrupted."
The individual to which the Gemara refers is one who has the time
available to him to invest in Torah study but chooses not to engage
If one appreciates the value of Torah and truthfully means what he recites
every evening, "For they are our life and length of days and in them
(words of Torah) we will engage day and night." then it would be
incongruous for him to not toil in Torah study- since he seemingly has
such a deep appreciation for its value. However, if one chooses to invest
his life differently, it is only due to his prerogative that he chose not
to toil in Torah. It is an individual who understands what G'd wants from
him, but yet he chooses to set his own priorities. This is a defiance of
G'd. One need not violate the Torah to defy G'd in this most serious
manner. One may observe the mitzvos meticulously, but if he has the
ability to apply himself to Torah study and he does not do so, then this
is the equivalent of the defiance of Nimrod and Sodom. Just as Sodom was
obliterated for its defiant behavior, the Torah is revealing to us that if
one does not toil in Torah (and he is able to do so) a similar fate will
come upon him (the Tochacha (curses)). This does not apply to one who is
unaware of his obligation to study Torah, rather it refers to one who
recognizes his obligation and chooses not to act upon it appropriately.
Based on the principle of "Aveira goreres aveira - one sin leads to
another sin," the Torah tells us that once one chooses to defy G'd by not
toiling in Torah, ultimately he will come to reject G'd. The rejection of
G'd begins with becoming insensitive to the Will of G'd and ultimately
culminates with being oblivious to His existence.
3. The Quantification of the Jew
The Midrash states, "...G'd said to the nations of the world, "You want to
offer your children as sacrifices to Me. However, I have no interest in
your children or your sacrifices. I am only interested in My children
(the Jewish people), as I have given them the laws of offerings. Their
offerings are beloved to Me." The Midrash continues, "G'd said to the
Jewish people, "If you bring before Me your values, (eirchin), I will
value them as if you sacrificed yourself to Me. In the merit of your
valuations I will protect you from gehenom (spiritual purgatory)." The
Torah states regarding the laws of valuations, that if a male is between
the ages of 20 and 60 his valuation is 50 shekalim. A female's valuation
is 30 shekalim. Why is the giving of the 50 shekalim (in the case of the
man, which seems to be a small amount of money), the equivalent of
sacrificing oneself and why does it bring about sufficient merit to be
protected from gehenom?
The Torah tells us in the Portion of Mishpatim that if an animal kills a
Canaanite slave, the owner of the animal must pay 30 shekalim to the owner
of the slave, as a penalty - regardless of the monetary worth or financial
loss incurred because of his death. Sforno explains that the reason the
owner pays only 30 shekalim is because we find that the valuation of a
woman is 30 shekalim. What is the correlation between the penalty for
killing the Canaanite slave and the valuation of a woman?
A Canaanite slave has the identical mitzvah obligation as a woman and he
is bound by Torah law to the same a degree as a woman, regardless of
gender. Thus, the slave's value/worth is evaluated based on a spiritual
scale rather on material consideration. The Torah quantifies the
valuation of a woman to be 30. Evidently, this is definitely not the
monetary worth of a person, which is calculated
based on his/her productivity. The 30 shekalim is the Torah's
quantification of the innate spiritual worth of the woman. Since the
Canaanite slave has the same mitzvah obligation as the woman, the Torah
gives him a similar quantification of 30 shekalim.
When one articulates a vow to G'd regarding himself, "Eirkee aalie (my
valuation upon myself)" he is quantifying himself based on his spiritual
worth, rather than on his material capability. That value of money is then
given to the Bais HaMikdash (Temple). Thus, if one recognizes his
innateness and evaluates himself based on his spiritual worth, G'd will
protect him from gehenom. It is a humble acknowledgement for a Jew that
his objective in life is only to focus on his spirituality and that his
true value is not his physical capability, but rather his spiritual
capacity, as defined by Torah. Because of this, one merits protection
from gehenom. Gehenom is a consequence of one not being sensitive to his
essence- his spirituality.
The Midrash tells us that G'd only values the offerings of the Jewish
people and not that of the nations. When the nations of the world
sacrifice to Him it is only to accommodate their own interests and satisfy
their personal needs, which relate to their physicality. The Jewish people
unequivocally accepted the Torah with the declaration "Naaseh V'nishma (We
will do and we will listen)." However, when the nations of the world were
offered the Torah by G'd they asked, "What is written in it?" They wanted
to assess the relevance of the Torah to their own needs. It was rejected
because it somehow conflicted with their lifestyle. However, the Jewish
people accepted it unequivocally because it was the will of G'd.
Similarly, the Jew brings offerings only to address his own spirituality,
thus, strengthening his relationship with G'd.
4. Torah Study, the Setting for Blessing
The Torah states, "Im bechukosai teileichu (if you will follow My
decrees." Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh points out that if the word "Bechukosai
(decrees)" is specifically referring to the study of Torah and not all of
the mitzvos, it should have been written in the singular "Bechukee
(decree)." Why then does the Torah state "Bechukosai" in the plural?
Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh offers several explanations. Firstly, "Bechukosai"
is referring not only to the Written Law (Torah) but also to the Oral Law
(Talmud). He explains further that the obligation of the study of Torah
is not only to study for oneself but also to teach others (lilmode u'l'
lamaid). Thus, if one studies and disseminates Torah, only then will G'd
provide limitless blessing.
The Written Law without the oral interpretation (of G'd) has no relevance
to the Word of G'd because the Written text is open to unlimited
interpretation. It is inconceivable that G'd would present His will in
such an ambiguous context.
One could say that the obligation of teaching Torah to one's fellow is a
demonstration of the mitzvah to "love your fellow as yourself." Since the
mitzvah of the study of Torah is the equivalent of all the mitzvos
combined (Talmud Torah keneged kulum), disseminating Torah to one's fellow
is offering him the ultimate. The Torah itself is the life source of the
spirituality of the Jew.
The Gemara in Tractate Taanis states, "Rava said, "I have learned much
from my teachers, from my colleagues more than my teachers, and from my
students more than all of them." Is Rava simply saying that because of
the interaction between student and teacher, the teacher is able to
advance his level of understanding of the material at hand? Or, is Rava
saying something else? It is evident that Rava is not giving us an insight
in the value of pedagogy. If this were so, it would not be unique to
Torah study, but applicable to teaching any branch of wisdom. What then
is Rava telling us?
If one assumes the responsibility to disseminate Torah because of its
dimension of importance, he merits a level of Divine Assistance (siyata
d'shmaya), which allows him to understand the material and communicate it
to others on a more profound level. One only merits this greater level of
understanding when one assumes the responsibility of imparting the Torah
The verse "Im bechukosai teileichu (if you will follow My decrees" is
communicating that when one studies the Torah with the intent to
disseminate it, and in fact impresses it upon others, it will bring about
endless blessing and bounty.
When the Jew assumes responsibility for others, he is also fulfilling his
responsibility of "areivus" (responsibility for one's fellow) - thus,
guaranteeing the fulfillment of the Torah in its entirety.
5. The Proper Setting to Create Spirituality (From Behar)
The Torah states that during Shmitta (the seventh year - Sabbatical year)
one is not permitted to engage in agricultural activities and the fields
must be lie fallow. The Torah also tells us that the harvest of the sixth
year (before Shmitta) will be enough to sustain the Jewish people through
the seventh and eighth years until the new crop can be harvested in the
ninth. The Torah states, "The Land will give forth its fruit and you will
eat until you are sated; you will dwell securely upon it. If you will
say, what will we eat in the seventh year? - Behold! We will not sow and
not gather in our crops! I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth
year and I will yield a crop sufficient for the three-year
Chazal explain that when the Torah states, "...The Land will give forth
its fruit and you will eat until you are sated..." it means that one would
become sated after eating only a miniscule amount. We find a similar
phenomenon regarding the showbread. The Mishna in Tractate Yomah tells us
that as long as Shimon Ha'Tzaddik (who was the Kohen Gadol for 40 years)
was alive there was blessing in the showbread (lechem ha'panim). The
twelve loaves of the showbread were divided amongst the Kohanim (who
officiated that week, as well as the incoming group who would officiate
the following week). When they ate of the bread, as little as the volume
of a bean, they would be sated. However, after the passing of Shimon
Ha'Tzaddik, a curse entered into the showbread and it no longer contained
It is interesting to note that the Torah initially states that the Jew
will be sated with the fruits of the land. This means that the harvest of
the sixth year would be sufficient to sustain them for three years.
However, from the following verse it seems to indicate something
different: "If you will say: What will we eat in the seventh year? -
Behold! We will not sow and not gather in our crops! I will ordain My
blessing for you in the sixth year and I will yield a crop sufficient for
the three-year period." This seems to indicate that the blessing of
a "bumper crop" that would be sufficient to supply food for three years
would only come about if the question is asked, "What will we eat?"
The Sforno explains that the Torah is stating that the crop of the sixth
year will satiate someone even if he were to consume only a miniscule
amount. He quotes the Toras Kohanim, "If one eats even a small amount it
will bring blessing in his innards. The produce of the sixth year will be
enough to sustain the Jews through the seventh and eighth year."
However if one does not have sufficient faith and thus is not worthy of
this blessing, G'd will ordain that His blessing should manifest itself in
a quantitative manner - that there should be a multiple yield that would
be sufficient for a three-year crop. If in fact a miracle must occur in
either case, then why does G'd not initially perform the latter miracle -
providing a three-year yield?
The Gemara in Tractate Yomah tells us that before Moshe ascended to heaven
to receive the Torah he entered into a cloud for six days. This was in
order to, "cleanse the food from his innards." Since he was going to
ascend to a spiritual realm, he had to be cleansed of the material. The
Gemara in Tractate Shabbos states, "Moshe said, 'For forty days and forty
nights bread I did not eat and water I did not drink." The Gemara
explains that since Moshe was in the location of angels (spiritual realm),
just as the angels are beings who are not in need of food, so too he did
not need to partake.
The Torah tells us that when the Jewish people were in the desert they were
sustained by the Manna. This food was completely absorbed in their inner
organs and thus there was no bodily waste. The essence of the Manna was
spiritual -thus causing it to be absorbed in to their innards without
waste. It assumed whatever food item the individual who at of it wanted.
In the desert, the Jewish people were surrounded and protected by the
Clouds of Glory. The Jew had no material responsibility whatsoever because
G'd provided for all his needs. There was no illness, clothing never
became worn and they were not affected by the elements. They existed
within a spiritual setting in a material world. When one exists in such a
setting and wants to engage with holiness and have relevance to the
Shechina (Divine Presence), one must wean himself (as much as possible)
from the material.
The Torah states, "It (the Shmitta year) shall be a Shabbos for G'd
(Shabbos la'Shem)." During the Shmitta year, one was to engage in Torah
study and spiritual pursuits. All agricultural activities were halted for
the explicit purpose to focus on one's spiritual development/relationship
with G'd. The produce of the Shmitta year is inherently holy and thus
cannot have its holiness (kiddusha) removed through redemption. This is
unlike other objects that possess a kiddusha/holy status that can be
transferred onto money/redeemed. The Sabbatical year, being a spiritual
setting, causes its produce to have an advanced level of holiness. Thus,
if one has the proper level of faith, he will be sated with a miniscule
amount of food because he has greater relevance to spirituality. However
if one questions the blessing of G'd or does not have a proper level of
faith (as demonstrated by the question "What will we eat?") then G'd will
give him a greater amount (quantitatively) because this is not contrary to
his level, which is more physical.
Rambam writes in the Laws of Talmud Torah that if one wants to acquire
the "Crown of Torah" he must "Bread with salt you shall eat, water in a
measured amount you shall drink, sleep on the ground, and live a life of
deprivation." This prescription is also found in the Mishna in Pirkei
Avos. Acquiring the Crown of Torah is a spiritual dimension. Thus in
order to succeed in its pursuit, one must only partake in the physical to
a minimum. Just as Moshe had to be cleansed before ascending to engage
with the Shechina, so too one must limit his participation in the material
in order to engage with Torah at an advanced level.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky and Torah.org.
Rabbi Kalatsky is the founder of the Yad Avraham Institute, a New York-based learning center whose mission is to disseminate Torah to Jews of all backgrounds and walks of life.