Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 4 No. 34

Parshas Bechukosai

Diligence in Torah-study

The Parshah opens with the possuk "If you go in My statutes and keep My mitzvos and perform them". Rashi explains the first phrase to mean "If you exert yourselves in Torah-study". In that case, one would interpret the possuk like this: in order to earn the utopian b'rochos that follow, a triple-precondition must be met: that we
1) Study Torah diligently;
2) Await eagerly the opportunity to put our learning into practice ("tishmeru" has the some connotation as "ve'oviv shomar es ha'dovor" - see Rashi Bereishis 37:11); and
3) Practise the mitzvos when they present themselves.

Diligent Torah-study is the prerequisite to spiritual growth, and therefore to the Divine blessings that follow. And failure to study Torah diligently is the first phase in the seven-step spiritual decline that will result in the terrible ensuing "Tochochoh" (see Rashi 26:14). Evidently, casual Torah-study is neither sufficient to earn the Divine blessing, nor will it suffice to prevent the spiritual decline and avert G-d's subsequent wrath.

The Chofetz Chayim cites the Gemoro in B'rochos (28b), which many recite each evening after the conclusion of their daily learning, as well as at the Siyum of a Mesechta. "We work diligently and they (the gentiles) work diligently. We work diligently and receive reward, while they work diligently and do not receive reward." "Is that true?" asks the Chofetz Chayim. "Since when does a tailor or a cobbler make suits and shoes free of charge? Since when does an employee not receive remuneration for a hard day's work?"

"What Chazal mean," he replies, "is that it is not for the hard work that one pays, but for the finished article. Nobody will pay for a pair of shoes that has fallen apart, no matter how long and hard the cobbler worked at it. And if you call a plumber to repair a leaking pipe and discover, when he packs away his tools, that the pipe is still leaking, you won't pay him a cent, whether he spent minutes or hours or even days at the job! Not so with Hashem. He pays for the work, whatever the results. He promises reward, in this world and in the next, for every moment that one studies Torah diligently. Even if one spends many hours working hard on a "sugya", and gets up from one's Gemoro without understanding it at all, he will nevertheless be amply rewarded for his efforts. The reward is commensurate with the effort, not with the result. (To be sure, Chazal have taught us that someone who claims "I worked hard but did not succeed" - don't believe him!. Nevertheless, under certain circumstances, one's successful understanding of an inyan may be marred, despite the effort.)

There is however, another approach. The Chofetz Chayim compared Torah-study to an employer-employee situation - hence his original question. Considering however, that one initially studies Torah for one's own spiritual growth, one could explain the words of Chazal like this: a builder may well build himself a house, from which he will derive much pleasure in the forthcoming years. However, considering that he is the recipient of the finished article, it is hardly feasible that he should expect anyone else to pay for the house. Firstly, there is no-one to pay him for his efforts, and secondly, the money, the work and the time that he put into the building are seen by him as an investment of which he is the ultimate beneficiary. It is also obvious that the house is worth more to him than the sum total of his costs, otherwise he would not have built it in the first place. So why should he get paid, when he has the house?

And this is what Chazal mean when they say "they work diligently and do not receive reward" - efforts expended in any area of human endeavour will not be remunerated. A gentile (or a Jew for that matter) may spend years in school and then at a university or at a trade-school, from which he eventually emerges a capable professional who is now able to lead a successful life.

Nevertheless, he will not receive - nor does he expect to - any Divine reward for all of that huge effort, simply because the effort was an investment, expended on no-one's behalf but his own.

However, there is one exception: "We work diligently and receive reward". We study Torah with deep concentration, and we view that hard work as a unique investment. It enables us to fulfill the mitzvos, correctly and meaningfully; it purifies us, cleanses us, and refines our characters; it helps to achieve the goal for which we were placed on this earth, namely, to transform us from animals into human beings and to serve G-d and even to attach ourselves to Him. All of these form the everlasting palace that we ultimately build for ourselves. Surely, we do not even remotely expect to receive remuneration for the investment as well? Yet Hashem has promised us that He will pay us not only for the finished product, but also for the effort.

And that is what Chazal mean when they say, "We are day employees". It is an incredible chessed on the part of G-d that, even though we are working for ourselves, He treats us as if we were employed by Him, paying us not only for the finished product, but also for the investment, i.e. the effort.


At the end of Parshas Be'har, the Ba'al Ha'turim explains why the Torah places Shabbos next to Avodoh-zoroh. It is because the mitzvah of Shabbos is placed on a par with Avodoh-zoroh in its severity.

This comparison has two ramifications: 1) Both are sentenced to stoning; 2) Both are compared to the entire Torah, so that someone who transgresses wilfully is considered an absolute apostate (i.e. it is forbidden to eat bread baked by him or drink wine that he has touched - he cannot be included in a minyan, etc.).

It is concerning the latter that the Torah writes, "And you shall go in My "chukim" i.e. mitzvos, immediately after the mitzvos of Avodoh-zoroh and Shabbos, as if to say, if you keep these two mitzvos, it is as if you had kept all the mitzvos.

(This explanation is extremely difficult however, since the Torah also adds the mitzvah of "respect for the Beis Ha'mikdosh" next to that of Shabbos. In fact, the Torah ends Parshas Be'har with that mitzvah. )

In the Parshah of "Ve'hoyo im shomo'a", the Torah writes, "And I will bring the rain in its right time". There are two nights in the week that are considered to be "the right time", and one of those is Friday night. That explains why the Torah places Shabbos (at the end of Be'har) next to that of "your rain in its right time" mentioned in the opening pesukim of Bechukosai.

Bechukosai begins with the possuk "If you go in My statutes and keep My mitzvos and do them".

The Torah, it would appear, is dividing the categories of mitzvos into two: Chukos and Mitzvos. One could of course, interpret "chukos" (as opposed to chukim" which means "statutes" - laws whose meaning was not divulged to us) to mean "ways of life" (customs, traditions etc, as in the possuk in Acharei-Mos 18:3), and not laws at all. However,"chukos" could well be understood to mean specific sets of laws, depending upon the particular context in which the word is contained (see for example, the last chapters of Acharei-mos and Kedoshim).

In that case, it is feasible to say that the Torah places our possuk next to Shabbos and Mikdosh at the end of Be'har, because the "chukos" mentioned here, refers to mitzvos of time (Shabbos) and place (Mikdosh) (both of which have been dealt with extensively in earlier Parshiyos in Sefer Vayikro), whereas "mitzvos" refers to all the other mitzvos.

Perhaps the word "you will go" is used here because it is particularly pertinent to time and place. Time continually, relentlessly passes us by, and the Torah is warning us to be aware of its passing and to act with zrizus in utilising it beneficially and appropriately. Place on the other hand, remains where it is, so the Torah exhorts us not to be lazy, but to get up and go to the required places to serve G-d there, and, when we arrive at our destination, to treat those places with the deepest respect.

R. Bachye writes simply that the "chukos" in this possuk refers to the dinim of Shmittah and Yovel, which is the topic that, directly or indirectly, covers the whole Parshah of Be'har.

What the Torah is therefore saying is, if you keep the pivotal mitzvos of Shmittah and Yovel, together with the other mitzvos, then you will be zocheh to the b'rochos. This goes beautifully with Chazal, who connect the sequence of sevens in Bechukosai to the Shmittah, and go on to explain that the main cause of Golus Bovel and the subsequent seventy years that they spent there, were due to Yisroel's failure to observe the Shmittah.


The final Parshah of Bechukosai deals with treating Kodshei Shomayim with due respect, and the Haftorah too, refers to the name of Hashem (see also first Ba'al Ha'turim Parshas Be'har).

A talmid of the early Tanno and Nossi, Reb Yehoshua ben P'rachya, Yeshu was a man of not very good morals. On one occasion, he angered his Rebbe, and went to request his forgiveness. He asked him three times, as stated in the halochoh. Receiving no reply, he decided to leave his Rebbe and to go his own way. The story bears a certain resemblance to that of Tzodok, the founder of the Tzedokim, whose misinterpretation of the words of his Rebbe (Antignos Ish Socho), caused him to leave his Rebbe and form his own sect of apikorsim.

R. Yehoshua ben P'rachya did not acknowledge his talmid's request, simply because he was busy reciting the Shema and such an interruption was prohibited. But in any event, Yeshu erred in the halochoh. True, one is obliged to ask for forgiveness, but that only applies to other people. From one's Rebbe, one must beg forgiveness - even a hundred times.

Yeshu went on to do his own thing, discarding those portions of Torah that he considered redundant, concentrating mainly on mitzvos between man and man. To that end, he performed many miracles. How did he succeed in doing this?

Anyone with access to G-d's Holy Name, irrespective of his madreigah, can perform miracles, and stories are even told of Rishonim and Acharonim who were capable of doing this, though they were absolutely loathe to making use of G-d's Name except in the most dire circumstances.

In the times of which we are speaking, it was difficult to gain access to G-d's Holy Name. True, the Cohanim would pronounce the Name when "duchening" in the Beis Ha'mikdosh (at a later stage they would deliberately slur the end of that Name, so that nobody could learn it and abuse it, as Yeshu had done). Somehow, however, the moment anyone who was present at the duchening left the Azoroh, he would automatically forget it. Nor was it possible to transcribe it, because guards (presumably Levi'im) at the gates of the Azoroh would examine all those who entered, and confiscate any writing materials that they found. These were perhaps, returned upon departure. So what did Yeshu do? He made a deep incision in his skin, and there he hid writing materials. In this way, he was able to pass the scrutiny with the Name of G-d transcribed, as well as his writing materials, intact.

Now there were many Tanno'im who knew the Holy Name, if not all of them. However, unlike Yeshu, they, in deference to G-d's Holiness, would never have dreamt of using it to further their own ambitions, much in the same way as even the Amoro'im were capable of reviving the dead, but declined to abuse this knowledge.

(Bechukosai) (Yirmiyoh 16:1-17)

The Novi Yirmiyoh speaks of Yisroel's addiction to idolatry, a theme which figures prominently in the Parshah, and he also speaks of curses and blessings, though he makes no more than a brief reference to them, and he also reverses the order that they appear in the Torah, i.e. first the curses and then the blessings.

And finally, he refers directly to their failure to observe the Shmittah properly. This failure to observe the Shmittah was one of the main causes of Golus Bovel, which lasted seventy years, to give the land the seventy years rest of which it was deprived whilst Yisroel lived in it.

"Cursed be the man" the Novi quotes G-d, "who places his trust in man, and who turns his heart away from G-d". The Redak explains this literally, as a rebuke directed at the people who placed their trust in foreign powers - in Egypt and Assyria, and not in G-d. But Rashi prefers to connect the possuk to the Shmittah referred to in the previous possuk. It refers, he writes, to those people who place their trust in the work of their own hands, ploughing, reaping and sowing in the Shmittah year, and who betray their faith in their G-d, who promised to bless the sixth year with an abundant harvest, should they decide to observe the Shmittah.

The person so weak in faith is then compared to "a solitary tree in the plains. That tree will not see the good rains that G-d sends. Eventually it will dry up from the heat", etc. But blessed be the man who does place his trust in G-d, and who turns G-d into his fortress. He is likened to a tree that is planted beside water, and whose roots are thrust deep into pools of water. It will not even see when the heat-wave comes for its leaves will be moist, it will not worry in times of drought and it will not cease to produce fruits." That is how a person who has faith and who keeps the Shmittah year will look. Just like the tree, whose roots are invisible, and by looking at them alone, one would not know that the tree is in fact nurturing from the pools of water, so too is faith in G-d based on what is invisible. It is not something that is logical by physical standards. In fact, faith only begins where logic ends.

Another interpretation of the Novi's words "Blessed be the man" etc. is "Blessed be the man who places his trust in G-d, because G-d will indeed become his fortress", in stark contrast to the man who betrays his trust in Hashem (to whom he owes so much). Hashem will never betray those who trust in Him (although He owes them nothing). Interestingly enough, the Mishnah in Pirkei Ovos (end of Chap. 3) refers to these pesukim when it describes someone whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, or whose deeds exceed his wisdom, respectively. The former, who fails to put his knowledge into practice, i.e. he does not behave in keeping with his knowledge, will not benefit fully from G-d's beautiful blessing, whilst the latter, who excels in good deeds, will forever enjoy G-d's benevolence.

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