Parshat Bechukotai, Leviticus 26:3-27:34
The primary focus of the first half of this parsha is the connection between observing the Torah and meriting peace and tranquility in Israel. Or, G-d forbid, neglecting the Torah and mitzvos, and losing this privilege. These are the natural consequences as well as the reward or the punishment. The result of appreciating the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael is meriting living there in peace. The result of failure to recognize this is exile. Furthermore, the result of recognizing that Hashem is the absolute Master of the Land, the Force that keeps it going and Who keeps everything going is reciprocal beneficence.
Nonetheless, this is not an all-or-nothing proposition. There are many levels. On one extreme, settlement in the Land with no fear of terror at all. That comes about when we observe every single detail of every mitzvah in its correct way. At the opposite extreme, exile and the most terrible bondage and suffering. In the middle, there is the situation wherein we are able to stay in the Land but face enemies and need to overcome them. There could be a situation wherein we live there under the rule of an enemy, with or without oppression. Then there is destruction. There is exile. Within the exile, there can be exile to a hostile nation, a benevolent nation or a benign nation. There could also be a combination situation. We could have relative peace in the Land or cycles of war and peace. We could be exiled to a nation that goes through cycles of cruel oppression and benevolence. There could be periods when some of Israel is in exile while the rest are in the Land, some of Israel experiences peace while others experience hostilities.
In these conditions we wonder, “What is Hashem doing to us? What does He want from us?”
He hints to us that all the bountiful good that we enjoy is pure loving kindness from Hashem. We should not attribute it to our own merit. If anything, it is in the merit of our forefathers. Whatever he does for us without pain is pure undeserved kindness. To remind us of this, there are periods when it does not come easily and painlessly. Sometimes, we are shown how harsh it could be. If we occupy ourselves in the Torah and mitzvos, we will realize this anyhow. Then, we will not need to be reminded. Moreover, if indeed we are totally preoccupied with the Torah, we will truly earn Hashem’s benevolence, His love, His bountiful blessings.
There are some such juxtapositions in the parsha: “You shall sleep without fear … the sword shall not pass through your land” is followed by “You will chase away your enemies, and they will fall before your sword.” If there is such total peace, why is there any need to chase enemies! Who wants to arise from a peaceful sleep to chase away enemies! “Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand.” So many enemies!! One hundred enemies to one Israelite! The enemies keep multiplying!
Hashem arouses us. There are enemies. Don’t think they don’t exist. Don’t even think that a friendly nation is not also an enemy, when your presence is inconvenient, or when your culture challenges its own. There are many enemies, 100-to-1. Remember this. Periodically, we will be reminded that the prosperity, peace and tranquility do not happen by chance or automatically but are dependent on our observance of the Torah.
“It was for this [indifference of theirs] that I conducted myself toward them with indifference, and I brought them into their enemies’ land — and then shall their blocked heart be humbled, and then shall their sin be forgiven. And [then] I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and even my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham shall I remember, and I shall remember the Land. The Land will be left behind by them. … But even this: when they are in the land of their enemies I shall not be revolted by them and I shall not be purged of them to destroy them and break my covenant with them.” This seems somewhat out of order. Furthermore, there is no mention of geulah, redemption, in the actual verse. Hashem is telling us that even in exile, our continued existence is due to the merit of our forefathers. Even in a benevolent exile, it is not that our hosts are righteous nations, but we are in the land of our enemies. They always possess the potential for mercy. Their mercy has been aroused for the time being.
This is the message for our times. We are exiled, sometimes, to a kindhearted nation — that is an enemy who is currently showing us kindness. We are grateful for that. We are grateful to Hashem for orchestrating that, in the merit of our forefathers. We need to remind ourselves about this continuously.
To remind us, Hashem arranges periods of a hateful spirit directed at Israel. Sometimes it is directed at all of us. Sometimes, directed at a portion of Israel. We should remember that this is not a minority of them. They outnumber us by 100-to-1. The majority might not be showing their teeth, but their teeth are there. Hashem is constantly protecting us. He loves us, and in the merit of the love of our fathers, He will never forsake us.
Rabbi Shimon Silver is the spiritual leader of Young Israel of Greater Pittsburgh. This column is provided by the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.