Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Bechukotai
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

R' Yosef ben Yaakov

Parashat Bechukotai

Different Ideals for Different People


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Iyar 5766
Our second parasha begins with a section of promises of abundance "if you will go by My statutes" (Vayikra 26:3). Rain will come, followed by much produce to gather. Furthermore, the Land will be at peace, and wild animals will no longer be a problem (ibid.:4-6). This idea is very reminiscent of the second parasha of Kri’at Shema. "It will be if you listen to My commandments … I will give the rain of your Land … and you will gather your grains ... and you will be satiated" (Devarim 11: 13-15).
Our parasha contains two elements that are not in Kri’at Shema, both related to security. The Land will not see war, and animals will not ravage. Tannaim dispute the situation regarding the animals. Some say those animals will not be present in our Land at that time. R. Shimon (Bar Yochai) posits that the promise’s greatness lies in that dangerous beasts will be present but will behave peacefully. Why are these elements not found in Kri’at Shema?

To understand we need to see another related machloket, involving R. Shimon. R. Yishmael explains the blessing, ve’asafta deganecha (you will gather your grains), as it sounds, that the blessed will have much harvesting to do from his plentiful crop. R. Shimon says that this is not such a special blessing, as spending so much time in the field takes away from Torah study. Rather, he says, when Bnei Yisrael follow Hashem’s Will, the work of the righteous is done by others (Berachot 35b). Ve’asafta deganecha, says R. Shimon, refers to a time when Bnei Yisrael do not fulfill the Divine Will. Tosafot (ad loc.) ask how it is possible that the section that starts, "if you listen to My commandments," is talking about those who act improperly. They answer that there are different levels. Kri’at Shema is talking about tzaddikim, but not full tzaddikim. The Maharsha finds a hint for that contention. Whereas the first parasha of Kri’at Shema talks about those who love Hashem with all of their hearts, souls, and wherewithal, the second parasha leaves out wherewithal.

R. Meir Simcha explains that R. Shimon Bar Yochai has a consistent approach in both contexts. As his life demonstrates, he felt that entering a cave if need be and living a life cut off from a normal, physical existence is an ideal. One who reaches such a high, unnatural level does not have to worry about normal things like earning a livelihood or fearing vicious animals; he works on a different plane. However, concludes the gemara, the masses who tried to adopt R. Shimon’s approach were unsuccessful.
Every generation has unique individuals who are able to succeed in a life almost devoid of physicality and normal, prudent steps in life. Normal people do mitzvot regularly, find time for Torah study, but also find time to earn a living. As for dealing with animals, a standard society has to develop the world so that there are places set aside for human inhabitation and other areas where animals can roam wild.

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