Parshiot Behar Bechukotai

A Student Publication of the Isaac and Mara Benmergui Torah Academy of Bergen County
Parshiot Behar Bechukotai              22 Iyar 5762              May 2, 2002              Vol.11 No.26

In This Issue:

Dr. Joel M. Berman
Danny Shulman
Binyamin Kagedan
Avi Shteingart
Rabbi Howard Jachter
-Embryonic Stem Cell Research

This week's issue of Kol Torah has been sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Ellman
in memory of all the victims of Arab terrorism in Israel.


Who will Rise to the Occasion?
by Dr. Joel M. Berman

As a young soldier in the Israeli Mechanized infantry, I once took part in a rather large training exercise involving hundreds of soldiers. My unit's task was to secure the high ground which dominated the battlefield. This high ground was already "held" by a mock enemy bunker. The safest way to assault this position was via a barely-negotiable, very steep, thorn bush-covered slope. We agonizingly inched our way up the slope, grabbing on to bushes or on to each other's belts, or anything else which would afford us some aid in or climb. About half way up the slope I observed a very curious phenomenon. Each one of us, myself included, began to jettison unnecessary baggage. While holding on to our comrades' belts, or a bush with one hand, the guys were using the other hand to open their packs and throw out cans of soda, candy bars etc., in order to lighten the load. I myself threw out a kilo of my wife's cookies. As painful as this was, I'm convinced that many of us would not have reached the top had we jettisoned this unnecessary baggage.

Rabbi Pesach Krohn provides insight into this event. King David asks in Tehillim 24; Who may ascend the mountain of Hashem? He answers "only One with clean hands and a pure heart." Who will succeed in being an Eved Hashem? Only those who jettison the unnecessary baggage. Only those and improve themselves to the extent that they are free of those things that impede their tasks. Our world offers things that both accelerate and impede our jobs as Orthodox Jews. We must listen to the good advice of our Rabbeim and our parents in order to decide what to retain and what to jettison.

Our faith in Shemittah

by Danny Shulman

"Vichi Tomeru Mah Ne'echal Bishnat Hashvi'it" (Vayikra 20:25). The Seforno writes that if someone has no doubt as to how they will get their food and survive throughout the Shemittah year, they will get the normal amount of produce during the sixth year. However, this produce will be enriched with nutrients that will allow them to survive through the seventh year. The Seforno goes on to say that people with less faith in Hashem will also be blessed with an excellent harvest. However, they will get just enough food to last through the seventh year. A third level of belief is that of the non-believer, someone who is worried about the Shemittah and does not believe that Hashem will help them. It is these people who will surely suffer during the seventh year. Rabbi Mordechai Gifter differentiates between these three levels of faith in Hashem. The first is such a high level that the person does not even wonder how he will survive, but trusts that Hashem will guide him through the year. The second group of people naturally wonder how they will survive, but still have some degree of faith in Hashem. The third level includes the people who have no faith in Hashem; the people that will be punished during the Shemittah year. We should always strive to reach the highest level of Bitachon in Hashem, and know that He will always be there to guide us thorough the Shemittah year or any other troubles that cross our path.

A Little Ditty
by Binyamin Kagedan

There is an age-old adage that was and continues to be used invariably by those bearing unpleasant reports: "Well, I've got good news and I've got bad news." The beginning of Parshat Bechukotai reflects this notion perfectly. Hashem has but two themes He wishes to express to the nation: Do good, and be rewarded; do evil, and be doomed. Verses 1-13 express the joys and benefits of following the Mitzvot, and the next 28 or so verses after that discuss the oft-gruesome ordeals that Bnai Yisrael will be subjected to if they reject the ordinances of Hashem. This negative portion is known as the Tochacha, and because of its sinister nature is read in a softer, quicker tone by the Baal Koreh.

Looking at the juxtaposition and layout of these blessings and curses, two questions jumped out at me. Going back to our analogy, usually, when presented with the choice, one would choose to hear the bad news first, so that after it takes its potentially devastating effect, the good news can provide some form of consolation. Yet here, as well as in the corresponding Tochacha/blessing set in Parshat Ki Tavo, the positive rewards are listed before the terrible punishments. What's more, in both cases the number of verses that contains the list of blessings does not even approach the number of verses that the salvo of assured destruction spans. What could be the reasoning behind these two logistical curiosities?

While the actual answers to a question of this nature are known only in the heavens, the lessons that they can teach are here for the taking. From this particular example, one can glean a little brevity about the resilience of the Jewish spirit. To display this, I take the risk of employing yet another maxim of the English language, Murphy's Law. The law goes, "If anything can go wrong, it will, and at the worst possible time." Right when things are starting to sound all right, when blessings and good times are all around, that is when troubles hit hardest. Once in the midst of hardship, pain seems interminable, and the once felt joy becomes a distant, fleeting memory, almost totally overtaken by the current plight. And yet, the very first verse after the Tochacha gives us three all important words: "Veaf Gam Zot"- "and despite all this." Despite all the pain and suffering, the eternal hope that we cherish will win the day. Despite the blood, sweat, and tears, our everlasting faith will bring peace and joy to each person and to the Jewish nation as a whole; for, as the old saying goes, "If you will it, it is no dream."

Strong Roots

by Avi Shteingart

This week's Parsha is about Hashem rebuking Bnai Yisrael and their punishment if they do not follow the Torah. Towards the conclusion of the list of laws, Hashem says, "I will remember my covenant with Yaakov and also My covenant with Yitzchak and also My covenant with Avraham I will remember, and I will remember the land" (26:43).

A few obvious questions arise from this Pasuk. First of all, why are the Avot listed in reverse order? Rashi says that when we sin, we ask Hashem to remember Yaakov's covenant with Hashem. If that is not enough, let Hashem rely on His covenant with Yitzchak, and if that is not enough, refer to Avraham's covenant. Hashem does not mention remembering in connection with Yitzchak because He sees the "ashes of Yitzchak." According to the Maharash, this refers either to the ashes of the ram burnt at Akeidat Yitzchak, or to the ashes Avraham pictured of Yitzchak before he was told not to go through with the deed.

The most obvious question is what this Pasuk has to do with the rest of the Sedra. The Magid of Dubno answers in a Mashal (parable). Two people stood in front of a judge and awaited judgment. Both were being tried for robbery. When the judge handed down the punishments, his rulings were very peculiar. One of the men, a thief's son, was given a short sentence of only a few days in prison and a minute fine. The other man, a wealthy and important man's child, was given a long prison sentence and a hefty fine.

The judge explained that the son of the thief was a natural; it was in his blood to steal. He could not do anything productive, he had to steal, and, most of all, he could not be changed. That is why the judge gave him a short prison sentence; he would forever remain a thief. On the other hand, the son of the noble man had grown up in a world of morals where his father taught him to be humble and straight. Therefore, the judge levied a huge fine.

This is similar to the case in Sefer Vayikra. Bnai Yisrael are the children of such prominent people as Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Just like the second man in the Mashal, Bnai Yisrael stem from respected personages who raise their children properly. Therefore, the punishment for sins that we do are very severe.

We also see from this Mashal that punishment is not intended as revenge for a crime; rather, it is to correct the sinner and return him to the proper path. By contrast, there is no return for a person who has committed sins all his life. The punishments are bittersweet.

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