Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Bechukotai
To dedicate this lesson
Hirsch At Your Table

History of the Jewish People

A brief Dvar Torah on the Parsha, based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary


Rabbi Matityahu Clark

וזכרתי את בריתי יעקב ואף את בריתי יצחק ואף את בריתי אברהם אזכור והארץ אזכור. (Lv 26:42)
After describing some of the terrible punishments that the Jewish people will suffer if they violate the Torah, God promises to remember the covenants He made with the forefathers. He adds an additional promise to remember the land.

Referring to the ברית/the covenant that God made with each of the forefathers, the Torah uses an unusual choice of words. Normally a covenant with a person is described either as ברית עם or ברית את, literally "a covenant with". Strangely, the word ברית is used here without either of these prepositions.

The word ברית is from the root ב-ר-ת "to separate out parts." In terms of a covenant it refers to the detailed provisions found in a contract. The word עם is from the root ע-מ-ם "to develop socially" without interference. The preposition עם/with, connotes being part of the development. The word את is from the root א-ת-ת "to cut" and separate. The preposition את/with refers to a connection after a separation.

When God speaks of בריתי יעקב, He is naming the ברית. The phrase ברית יעקב means the ברית named Yaakov. God is not referring to a covenant that he made with Yaakov, but rather to the entire life experience of Yaakov. The ברית named for each Patriarch encompasses the totality of his life experiences with God and man.

The word אבות is from the root א-ב-ה which means "to submit to demands." Parents, in particular fathers, are the family determiners.

Tradition says that Avraham originated שחרית, the morning prayer, Yitzhak created מנחה, the afternoon prayer, and Yaakov ערבית, the evening prayer. This tradition sheds light on the בריתות mentioned in this verse. The nature of the specific ברית named for each of the forefathers is epitomized by the time of day of the prayer he established.

The word שחרית is from the root ש-ח-ר "to seek a bright future" and refers to the earliest hours of the day. The word מנחה is from the root מ-נ-ח "to give willingly" and refers to the קרבן brought in the late afternoon. The word ערבית is from the root ע-ר-ב "to mix substances" and refers to evening when light mixes with darkness.

Avraham’s life was blessed and bright like the early hours of the day. He brought the message of God to the entire world. He was called נשיא אלוקים, a prince of God, by his neighbors, who respected and honored him. In contrast, Yitzhak’s position was less bright and faded quickly, like the waning hours of daylight. He feuded with his neighbors, who tried to confine his movements and his territorial claims. They envied his successes. Finally, Yaakov’s life resembled the night, dark and difficult, full of suffering and painful experiences. He had only brief periods of peaceful living.

God declares that I remember/זכרתי each of the אבות, meaning that the fate of the Jewish people is reflected in the life experiences of their forefathers. The Jews sometimes enjoy bright and peaceful periods, but they will also endure difficult times. However, in every period, God will be with them, just as He was with Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov.

The word זכרתי is from the root ז-כ-ר "to remember."

The unfolding of Jewish history is reflected in the lives of the אבות. The dark and painful "Yaakov" experience started after the destruction of the Temple and continued for nearly 1,800 years. Through that period, the faith of the Jews remained strong. This period ended with the Emancipation, אף את יצחק אזכור, when the nations of the world began to allow the Jews greater rights and freedom. However, anti-Semitism persisted, especially as the Jews expanded their achievements and wealth. During this period, the Jews are challenged to remain steadfast in their Torah observance and resist the enticements of Gentile society.

The word אף is from the root א-פ-ף "to greedily absorb." The word אף/even is an adverb that adds to the previous remark when used.

The final period of אף את אברהם אזכור has not yet arrived. This is when the Jews, faithful to Torah, will live in prosperity and be honored and respected by all the nations of the world. That honor and respect will be bestowed because they are Jews and not in spite of it. When that ברית אברהם occurs, God will remember the Land of Israel, והארץ אזכור, and will return His people to the land that He originally promised to their forefathers.

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.
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