Behar-Bechukotai - The Power of Mediocrity


by Rebbetzin Malkah

Most of us have seen pictures of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, touted as a marvelous architectural wonder for many ages.  But I can't help but snicker when I see it.  Yes, indeed it has interesting architectural features and form.  But why give it such a heightened status when all of us can see that it is leaning. I know, the name says it all.  But I know I would be far more impressed if it didn't lean.  To me, it is a glaring reminder that the engineers did not survey the ground and become familiar with the territory, or seek to utilize their engineering skills to erect a structure that would represent their talents.  Not only is it an accident waiting to happen, but it has been the source of a great amount of effort and money to right the structure and keep the public safe.  This glorification of a botched attempt can be lethal not only in the physical realm but in the spiritual realm. If we deceive ourselves in the ways of keeping Torah, we risk building in vain and put others in jeopardy.  In this week's parasha, we are given the guarantee that if we follow in the ways of our Creator, the Divine Engineer, then that which we will build will be upright and everlasting and blessings of the land and fruitfulness will be with us.

Mysterious Decrees

Bechukotai literally means "my statutes" or "my decrees", which is different from mitzvot.  In the beginning of this portion, we are given the promise that if we walk - halku, observe and perform Hashem's statutes, or chukot, then He will bless us in all ways from land to children.  He also will keep us safe and provide strength against our enemies.

"If you will follow [walk] My decrees and observe My Commandments and perform them, then I will provide your rains in their time, and the land will give its produce and the tree of the field will give its fruit...."  Vayikra 26:3 - 4

But herein lies the key:  if we walk - halku. Out of all the ways in which He says we should adhere to them, we are to first walk with them.  What does this mean?  How does one walk with them?  The Ohr HaChaim lists out forty-two ways in which halku is to be understood.  Without going into all forty-two, they all have one thing in common - in order for one to walk in the ways of Torah, or follow Hashem's chukot, we must first know of them.   While mitzvot generally have a common sense reason behind why we are to adhere to them, the very nature of chukot do not appeal our understanding.  Therefore, we must study and become aware of them, walk with them and live with them.  Why the ashes of a red heifer in order to purify us after contact with the dead?  Why not something else?  These kinds of questions, while valuable, don't provide an answer and might sway us to brush off the significance if we were not in study or walking with the Torah daily.  Herein the very nature of walking - or striving with the Torah - helps us to observe and perform the chukot. As creatures of a finite nature, we are not intended to understand the mysteries of the Divine.  However, that does not absolve us from observing them or performing them.  Nowhere does it say "if you understand go ahead and do them."  Observance and performance only become easier when we are imbued with Torah and continually build within ourselves the ability to trust Hashem and His decrees - even when we don't understand.  This continuous walk with the Torah is imperative.

Walk This Way, Please

Mashiach Yeshua speaks metaphorically all through chapter seven in Mattityahu regarding walking in the Torah.  He challenges each one of us to seek the truth, to knock for the door to be opened, to believe that we will receive the truth if we toil for it.

"Keep asking, and it will be given to you; keep seeking and you will find; keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who keeps seeking finds; and to him who keeps knocking, the door will be opened.  Is there anyone who, if his son asks him for a loaf of bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?....how much more will your Father in heaven keep giving good things to those who keep asking him." Mattityahu 7:7-11

Mashiach Yeshua also continues to speak of how we are to nourish ourselves with Torah in order to make ourselves healthy and fruitful - thus bringing about blessings not only for ourselves but for others as well.

"Can people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise, every healthy tree produces good fruit, but a poor tree produces bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, or a poor tree good fruit."  Mattityahu 7:16-18

So the very immersion of Torah is like the water for our souls, nourishing us and allowing us to bring forth fruit for our families and for those around us.  We can only give if we have an abundance within ourselves; what better abundance than from the wellsprings of Torah.  Mashiach Yeshua commands us to walk in the Torah so we will have a proper foundational diet.  Not only will this embolden us so we may be strong trees but we can in turn nourish and inspire others.  But the command to be healthy, or have knowledge of Torah, is followed by the same type of admonition, or tochachah, that is found in Bechukotai if we fail to keep the Torah (shortened, albeit).

"Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, only those who do what my Father in heaven wants....Then I will tell them to their faces, ‘I never knew you!  Get away from me you workers of lawlessness!'"  Mattityahu 7:21-23

Walking in Torah is actively studying and seeking to do things within the proper framework.  Performing a mitzvah without proper education will lead to an ignorant person trying to fulfill Torah in dysfunctional manner. Not only that, s/he will teach others to follow in the same manner.  In Pirkei Avot 2:6, Hillel states that an unlearned man cannot be pious.  Why?  Because of his lack of knowledge of Torah, he actually performs the mitzvot and chukot in a way which goes against Torah.  To know Torah is to know the law or the order prescribed for our own well-being.  Any deviation is a step towards lawlessness.  Anything short of following the Torah the right way can be compared to building a tower without a proper foundation.  We are just looking for disaster.

Engineering 101

So how do we walk, or manifest our lives in such a way that we are striving to follow the Torah?  In such a diverse movement, undoubtedly many feel that such adherence to more traditional ways of following the mitzvot and chukot are threatening.  However, in the spirit of fairness to those who lived before us, who were closer to the proverbial tree of transmission, why should we feel threatened?  Instead, we should feel privileged that this information has been transmitted through the ages for our benefit so that we may continue the transmission and to bring blessing to our families and communities.  Our Messiah supports following the Torah and in no way invalidates its merit.

 

"So the very immersion of Torah is like the water for our souls, nourishing us and allowing us to bring forth fruit for our families and for those around us."

Returning to our Tower of Pisa example, how many engineers did it take to construct such a structure?  From where or whom did they obtain their knowledge?  Most likely, they learned from those who came before them.  Or did they?  Didn't they know not to build on sand or silty alluvial soil from a former estuary?  One can't help but think that they shortchanged the process for having a building up more quickly - for whatever reason.  How many Towers of Pisa have we constructed because we haven't familiarized ourselves by walking the Torah daily and trusting that the code does work and saves lives?  Do we have to invest extra time or money trying to fix mishaps that could have been avoided by merely knowing what the Torah requires of us, or by following it more closely?  A weak foundation is always a culprit in the collapse of a building - so too our own chances for demise increase when we don't build our lives on a base of scrupulous Torah observance.  Mashiach Yeshua wasn't lax in his observance - he not only observed, performed but walked the Torah continually.  The house which he was building was one to last through the ages.  And the code?  Torah: through and through.  His admonition is clear on this.

"So, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on bedrock.  The rain fell, the rivers flooded, the winds blew and beat against the house, but it didn't collapse because its foundation was on rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand." Mattityahu 7:24-26

If we have any doubts about the cost of not following Torah, we have an example of a structure that twice over was lost due to our "sandy soil" - our Temple.  The cost of our mediocrity, the price to pay for our apathy and passivity was our Temple.  The loss of our Temple and the exile from our land was the antithesis of the blessing that Hashem promised us if we walked in His ways.

May we walk towards Sinai during the counting of the omer with more resolve to truly receive the Torah again in our lives.  May the words of our Mashiach Yeshua resonate in our minds and hearts that we do need to build our homes, our batim, on true bedrock.  May we not be tempted to praise and exalt our efforts if they are only partially based on Torah. Only then will our homes be able to withstand the earthquakes, the wind, and the rain and remain upright - not leaning in mediocrity.

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