Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Behar
To dedicate this lesson

B’har- B’chukotal


Rabbi Berel Wein

The double parsha of this week has, so to speak, bookends to it. It begins with the statement that the Torah was given to us at Sinai and that all of its commandments and not only the commandment of shemitta - the sabbatical year - are of Divine origin as given to Moshe on Mount Sinai. The book of Vayikra concludes with the tochacha - the uncanny forecast of the troubles that will befall Israel as it strays away from its godly mission and the values and standards of behavior of the Torah. The ways of the Lord are hidden from us and often we are unable to see the causes of our difficulties, troubles and persecutions. The severity of the tochacha shocks and bewilders us. Any explanation, let alone justification, of such hideous events always fall short of the mark. And therefore we are left with the thought expressed at the beginning of the parsha that the decrees of Sinai somehow bind all of us throughout our existence. The ongoing mystery of Jewish survival and existence is part and parcel of the entire package of the Torah that was delivered to us at Sinai. Both the microcosm and the macrocosm of Jewish life are derived from Sinai and from the Torah. There is no other logical way to view the story of the Jews and of Israel except through the prism of Torah and Sinai. We find ourselves unable to comprehend the causes of Jewish suffering but we can certainly testify to the fact that the Torah predicted all of this with minute detail and that it came to pass in our history.

The entire thrust of the debate and the difference between traditional Judaism and other groups of non-conforming Jews is regarding the divinity of the Torah from Sinai. This is the principle that all of traditional Judaism rests upon. Without it the entire jumble of laws, commandments, customs and traditions becomes almost meaningless. All of the Sinai deniers have eventually caused assimilation, conversion, intermarriage and terrible difficulties for themselves and other Jews. A man-made Judaism will never be able to stand the challenges and overcome the vicissitudes of time and place that always arise. I recall the famous quip that Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch used in replying to the Bishop of Frankfurt as to why Hirsch’s Jews would not join so many other Jews in the nineteenth century in converting to Christianity. Hirsch stated to the Bishop that the difference between us (Christianity and Judaism) was that Christianity was a man made religion used to describe God while Judaism was a Godly given religion used to describe humans. In its most simplistic form, this statement really sums up the essence of Judaism, its commandments and goals. The revelation to Israel on Sinai, the granting of the Torah, the observance of its values and laws are the keys to Jewish survival. They enable us to overcome the dire tochacha and continue forward bearing the message and hope of Sinai to all of humanity at all times and in all places and situations.
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