This week we read a double Torah portion, the readings of Behar and Bechukotai (Leviticus 25:1-27:34). While the first makes for some routine reading as it deals primarily with agricultural and real estate law, the second is moving and awakening.
The Torah portion of Bechukotai is all about reward and punishment. Extreme punishment, actually. God promises that if the Jewish people observe the Torah, they will be blessed and dwell securely in the Land of Israel. But if they do not follow the Torah, all types of punishments, including exile, await. Nevertheless, God reassures us that no matter how bad things may seem, He will never abandon the Jewish people, as it says, “I will not cast them away; nor will I ever…destroy them and to break My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God.”
Another example God’s promise never to abandon the Jewish people is in the verse, “And I will remember My Covenant with Yaakov (Jacob) and even my Covenant with Yitzchak (Isaac), and even My Covenant with Avraham (Abraham) will I remember, and the Land I will remember” [Leviticus 26:42]. The commentators note, however, that this verse lists the patriarchs in reverse order! Avraham was the first patriarch, Yitzchak the second and Yaakov the third! Why the reverse order?
A number of thoughts are offered.
One answer, given by the great commentator Rashi, explains that the merit of Yaakov is enough for the Jewish people to be remembered and redeemed. Even if one would suggest that Yaakov’s merit is insufficient, then we have Yitzchak’s merit, and if that is not enough, we always have Avraham’s merit.
Another approach is deeper.
It is explained that each of the three patriarchs symbolizes a unique character trait. Avraham represents kindness, Yitzchak represents service to God and Yaakov represents Torah study. The reason that Yaakov is mentioned first is that although all three attributes of the three patriarchs must be emulated, the attribute of Yaakov has a unique distinction. This is because it is only through Torah study that Jewish continuity can be assured. Throughout the exiles, persecutions, inquisitions and Holocaust, it is only Torah study that has kept the Jewish people, well, Jewish. As such, the Jewish people are worth being saved because they remained Jewish – through Torah study.
Yet God recognizes that not everyone is cut out for Torah study. Most people cannot sit and study the holy books all day long, not to mention that the majority must go out and earn a living! Who has time for advanced Torah study? Most people are content to have time once a week, on Shabbat, to study Torah.
Nevertheless, the Torah is telling us that such people should not be discouraged! Serving God is also important! Remembering to pray three times a day, going to synagogue, performing the mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah…these also have tremendous merit!
And finally, some people excel in acts of kindness, just like Avraham. This, too, on its own makes one worthy of redemption.
We see here that there is room for everyone in Judaism! No matter what one’s spiritual talents, preferences and leanings may be, everyone makes up an integral component of the Jewish people, of God’s people. If you don’t know very much in terms of Torah and Judaism or if you don’t find the opportunity to study Torah as much as you’d like to learn, don’t be discouraged! Work on other ways of serving God. Everything is important, and all forms of service, observance and good deeds are needed to keep the Jewish people going. It is in the merit of all Jews – who symbolize the different patriarchs – that we will be redeemed.
For more insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah portions, click on the links below: