Halacha for Friday 23 Iyar 5784 May 31 2024

Parashat Bechukotai

From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

Why the Verb “Going” is Used in Reference to Keeping the Mitzvot and How to Fulfil the Mitzvot With Greater Ease and Enjoyment

This Shabbat we shall read, “If you follow My laws and are careful to keep My commandments, I will provide you with rain at the right time, so that the land will bear its crops and the trees of the field will provide fruit. [You will have so much that] your threshing season will last until your grape harvest, and your grape harvest will last until the time you plant. You will have your fill of food, and [you will] live securely in the land” (Vayikra 26:3-5).

The Torah assures us that if we fulfil the mitzvot and study Torah then we will merit a good crop, peace in the land, economic and social security.

However, HaGaon Rabbeinu Yosef Chaim ztz”l asks about the passuk, “If you will follow (lit. go [with]) my statues”, why does the Torah use the verb “you will go”, what relevance does “going” have to fulfilling the mitzvot? Surely the Torah should have used a verb such as “observing”, “listening” or “fulfilling”, what therefore is the meaning of the expression “going” that the Torah wrote?

In order to understand this, the rav relates a story about a large city of scholars and scribes. At the foot of the city was a large wide river. In this city was an arrogant tyrannical ruler, who was also tall and very portly and was known as Tuvya the Judge. Anyone who was summoned before him would shake from fear, knowing that this judge was strict and very harsh. The punishments he met out on the guilty were very severe, unless they paid money to him personally, then he would be lenient with his punishments, to the extent that his name was one of abhorrence in the city. The inhabitants of the city increased their hatred of him daily. The complaints mounted against those that appointed him and his poor judgement, his taking of bribes increased daily until a covert investigation begun against him. Eventually those who appointed him decided that the complaints were legitimate and that he must stand trial. Tuvya the Judge heard that he was to be toppled and to stand trial. He decided in his great arrogance to flee from the city and not to wait to be arrested and to brought to trial. He awoke early, packed a few things and went to cross the river to flee from the city before he was arrested. However, when he arrived at the riverbank he froze, because he didn’t know how to swim and he was portly. He knew that the moment he enters the water, he will sink like lead in the strong currents.

Whilst he was standing at the riverbank, one of the city’s inhabitants who was strong, saw that the judge was standing and wondering what to do. He asked him, “Does his honourable judge wish to cross the river?” “Yes”, answered the judge, “But I don’t know how to swim.” The citizen quickly suggested to the judge that he is prepared to take him on his shoulders and carry him across the river. Tuvya the judge was happy with the generous offer and immediately sat on the shoulders of the citizen. He entered the river, swimming quickly whilst carrying the portly judge. Whilst swimming, the citizen asked the judge, why the honourable judge was leaving the city and not in his court as he normally is on a daily basis? The judge who was depressed by his predicament began to relate the charges against him and that they are going to demote him in shame. Therefore he has decided to pre-empt the situation and flee from the city. The simple citizen heard this and asked in a moment of astonishment, “Is his honour no longer a judge in the city?” “Correct”, answered Tuvya, “I am no longer a judge in the city.” The citizen heard this and immediately threw Tuvya the Judge into the waters of the flowing river and left him screaming, whilst Tuvya fought to avoid drowning. With all his might he managed to reach the riverbank on the other side, dishevelled, exhausted and tired.

Many citizens who witnessed this, turned to the simple citizen and asked him, “You succeeded in taking him across the majority of the river, so why when you were so close to the end did you throw him into the river?” The citizen looked serious and replied, “I will tell you the truth. You know that the judge is portly and he is very heavy to carry, however, as long as I knew that he was my judge, I had a motive to invest in him. Therefore I agreed to carry him despite the difficulty, as I felt that it is worth it, and I succeeded in lifting him. But the moment he told me that he is no longer a judge, he became so heavy for me, until to be honest, I couldn’t leave him a moment longer on me, and I had no choice but to throw him in the water.”

This story teaches us a crucial principle in the life of a person. Every act that they do which has a purpose and an importance, they are able to do it with ease and they don’t experience how difficult it is. In contrast to this, a person who has to exert themselves to achieve something without a sense of necessity and importance, it is much harder for them to do it. Therefore when performing mitzvot, a person must appreciate the importance of fulfilling Hashem’s will and that this is their purpose in this world to give a nachat ruach to our Creator and to fulfil His will. Then they will find it easy to fulfil the mitzvot.

Therefore the Torah wrote, “If you will follow (lit. go [with]) my statues”, using a verb which denotes “going”, to indicate that the person should feel that they are going with the mitzvot hand in hand with ease and not feel crushed with a burden in order to fulfil them. Because they realise and appreciate the importance of observing the 613 mitzvot and feel the Torah and mitzvot go with them in synchronisation. It is good for them and they sense that the Book of Statutes that Hashem gave us is only for their wellbeing, as the passuk says “And you shall choose life”. Then may we merit to the blessing which is stated in this week’s parasha. Amen.

Shabbat Shalom!

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