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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Bechukotai

Hirsch At Your Table

The Slippery Slope of Rejection

A brief Dvar Torah on the Parsha, based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary
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ואם בחוקותי תמאסו ואם את משפטי תגעל נפשכם לבלתי עשות את כל מצוותי להפרכם את בריתי. (Lv 26:15)
After detailing the rewards for obeying God’s laws, the Torah warns against the consequences of their violation. If the Jews despise the law and ignore the commandments, their actions will lead to the severing of the covenant between God and the Jewish people.

The process of defecting from God’s society involves a series of escalating acts of deviance. The first stage is not listening, לא תשמעו, which refers to not studying the Torah. Without the foundational knowledge gained through learning, observance has no meaning. The second stage is תמאסו/despising, which begins with rejecting observance and leads to contempt for the law and the need to rationalize one’s non-observance. This is especially common in relation to the חוקים, which limit the pursuit of pleasure. These laws may be rejected as anti-progressive and restricting man’s freedom and independence.

The word תשמעו is from the root ש-מ-ע "to listen and pay attention." The word תמאסו is from the root מ-א-ס "to despise."


The next act of defiance is being totally repulsed, תגעל נפשכם, by the social norms, the משפטים. Then as now, many Jews, feeling the animosity of the non-Jewish world, blame their condition on Jewish institutions and leaders, particularly Torah scholars. Because these laws set them apart from non-Jews, they choose to redefine the מצוות and the entire Torah. They decide that the Torah is not divine, but a myth; that Moshe never existed; and so on.

The word תגעל is from the root ג-ע-ל "to release from protective cover." The root connotes exposure to derision. The word נפשכם is from the root נ-פ-ש "to return to spiritual repose." The noun is used for "soul."


The משפטים are the laws that regulate society. They govern the community as the חוקים guide the individual. The cardinal tenet of משפט is צדק/justice, the ultimate aim of the governance of society. When a community embodies צדק, all people receive their due in accordance with their conduct. צדק sets the Torah standard for the Jewish nation. It is the highest value a community can achieve.

The word משפטים is from the root ש-פ-ט "to create order and harmony." A phonetic cognate is ש-ב-ט "to control". The word צדק is from the root צ-ד-ק "to satisfy objective justice."


The final stage is להפרכם את בריתי, breaching the covenant with God. The rebels’ final act is rejecting God’s existence. The step-by-step distancing from Jewish knowledge and observance leads to a total secularization of life in which there is no place for God and His laws.

The word להפרכם is from the root פ-ו-ר "to invalidate and undermine." The word בריתי is from the root ב-ר-ת "to separate parts" as in a detailed agreement.


The Torah sets forth a clear choice between rejecting God’s laws and following them. The happiness and prosperity that results from observing the Torah sharply contrasts with the disastrous events that will befall the nation if they do not observe Torah.


Copyright © 2014, Matityahu Clark. All Rights Reserved. This is an excerpt from the forthcoming Hirsch At Your Table, a collection of brief divrei torah based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary.
Rabbi Matityahu Clark
Served in principal/director positions throughout North America. One of the founders of the Educator's Council of America, and former president of the Council for Jewish Education. Former Director of the Board of Jewish Education of Greater Washington.
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