Back to Parsha homepage Peninim on the Torah Previous issues
Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Behukkotai

If you will walk in My laws. (26:3)

Rashi cites Chazal who maintain that "halichah b'mitzvos," walking in Hashem's mitzvos, refers to intensive Torah study. One who diligently applies himself to studying Torah merits the blessings detailed in the parsha. Horav Chaim Shmulevitz, zl, cites Chazal in the Talmud Yoma 35b who suggest a possible scenario of the dialogue that ensues in the Heavenly Court on the Day of Judgment when each human being stands before Hashem. If a poor man is questioned regarding his lack of Torah study and he replies, "I was poor and too busy earning a living," he is admonished for not following the example of Hillel who studied Torah amidst abject poverty. To the rich man who excuses his lack of Torah study due to his overwhelming preoccupation with his business affairs, the rejoinder is, "Were you wealthier than R' Elazar ben Charsam who rejected his awesome wealth so that he could study Torah?" Finally, to the wicked man who justifies his lack of Torah Study and his nefarious behavior, saying, "I was handsome and preoccupied with my evil inclination," the court says, "You were not more handsome that Yosef ha'tzaddik who triumphed over his yetzer hora." Thus, these three groups of people, the poor, the rich and the wicked are all accountable for their lack of Torah study.

We learn a lesson from Chazal's words. While we recognize each group's circumstances and position in life, each must still respond to the question, "Why did you not study Torah?" Three great tzaddikim, each in his own way, stand as the standard by which we measure all people. Is this appropriate? Should we not make some concession to the fact that we are only ordinary people, while they are giants. Their exemplary behavior may have been natural for them, but it is not for us. Why should their level of commitment obligate us all? Rav Chaim explains that Torah study is different. It represents the very essence of one's eternal existence. In the area of mitzvos, we may make concessions and justify our actions. We cannot do this when we are dealing with eternity. Since Torah is the source of one's nitzchiyus, eternal life, we are all equal in this regard. When it comes to living, no distinction exists between the great tzaddik and the simple Jew; they both need life!

When one is seeking a luxury item, it makes sense that each pursue it according to his own refined taste. If an individual lacks bread or water, regardless of his station in life, he will pursue it with resourcefulness and vigor. This is Torah! It is indispensable; it is basic; it is an essential prerequisite for life. Every man must realize his individual potential.

Rav Chaim adds one more point. We see from Chazal that one is not merely judged for the amount of time he has expended studying Torah. He is judged according to how close he has come to realizing his potential. One can study all day and become a profound Torah scholar. If, however, he has not achieved the profound level of erudition of which he is capable, then he must answer for his failure to do so. It only makes sense that when we are dealing with an individual's life, anything short of the total goal is not acceptable.

And yet for all this, when they shall be in the land of their enemies, I shall not reject them. (26:44)

This pasuk declares that regardless of where we are or the nature of our circumstances, Hashem will never reject His people. What is the meaning of "not rejecting"? Chovas Halevovos encourages us to look truthfully at our situation among the nations who govern us during our tenure in exile. We will apparently note that while we do not see eye to eye with the governing nations theologically and morally, it is obvious that our circumstances are similar to theirs in the areas of livelihood and sustenance.

Their middle-class labors, however, more strenuously than does ours; their poor and homeless are in a much dire situation than ours. Yet, we are in exile, while they are not. To what do we attribute this "luck"? It is because Hashem has promised not to reject us. Horav Simcha Zisel Ziv, zl, comments that after having read the entire Tochechah, curses of the Torah, one would anticipate that hardly a remnant of Klal Yisrael would survive. And yet, after all that, we are here, thriving and growing. Furthermore, the entire Torah Shebaal Peh, oral law, was permanently arranged after the galus began. The Mishnah, Talmud and works of the Rishonim and Achronim all came into being after the destruction, All of this is attributable to the fact that Hashem did not reject us.

Thus, Horav Avigdor Miller, Shlita, suggests the remarkable insight inherent in the seemingly innocuous statement, "I will not reject them," has a profound meaning - much more than meets the eye. Indeed, this statement includes the last two thousand years of galus. These years have been filled with the history of the Jewish communities in Bavel, including their mesivtos and countless talmidei chachamim. This glorious period of Torah learning produced the halachic literature of the Rishonim, followed by the many Torah scholars and Yeshivos and Jewish communities, each with its own distinct personality. "I will not reject them" is more than a statement of fact; it is a testament that Torah will be sustained throughout our history. This modest promise contains within it the major part of Am Yisrael's history. Imagine, if our glorious past is the product of Hashem's continued acceptance of us, how much more would he have achieved had we not sinned at all?

And I shall set my face against you and you shall be smitten before your enemies. They that hate you shall rule over you. (26:17)

Toras Kohanim delineates between chut and tbua in that the soneih is an enemy from within, while the oyeiv is an external enemy. We will fall prey to the bitter hatred of our internal enemies, those who despise the Torah way of life, who blame our nation's sorry state of affairs upon those faithful to the Torah, rather than upon those who have totally defected from the Torah way of life. The schism created by these misguided Jews grows to the point that our external enemies use it as an opportunity for increased antagonism. It is hard to accept the fact that one's affliction has been internally catalyzed. What greater persecution can there be than one which is the product of a brother's hatred?

From the beginning of our history, the enmity of brother to brother, of Jew to fellow Jew, has been our most serious problem. The Torah Shelimah cites a striking Yalkut which addresses the dialogue that ensued when Yosef took Shimon prisoner. When Yosef was about to arrest Shimon, the other brothers wanted to intervene. Shimon told them to retreat; he would be able to handle the problem alone. Yosef dispatched seventy Egyptian soldiers to take Shimon into custody. Shimon gave forth a loud scream which overpowered the soldiers and knocked out their teeth. Yosef thereupon sent his son Menashe with instructions to place a steel chain around Shimon's neck. Menashe struck Shimon once, afterwards placing the chain on Shimon. Menashe's action seemed effective. As Shimon submitted to his incarceration, he exclaimed, "This blow is from my father's home." Simply, Shimon was attributing his punishment to his father's home, a reference to his lack of respect for his father. Horav Chaim Pardes, Shlita, suggests that Shimon was intimating that Menashe's blow was greater and more penetrating because it came from his "father's" home - a member of his own family. The pain incurred by a brother is more devastating than that brought on by seventy Egyptians. The pain inflicted by a Jew, a brother, is harder to swallow than the blows of gentiles.

In Sefer Shemos (2:11), Moshe saw an Egyptian striking a Jew. The Torah says, aht trhu

uhjtn hrcg aht vfn hrmn "And he (Moshe) saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man, of his brethren." The word uhjtn of his brethren, seems redundant. Would it not have sufficed to say "a Hebrew man;" obviously he was one of his brethren. The Mahril Diskin, zl, offers a penetrating response. Moshe was concerned not as much by the single Egyptian striking the Jew, as much as the fact that Jew was among his brethren. He was surrounded by Jews all around, and no one seemed to notice that an Egyptian was beating him! This is what hurt Moshe. How can Jews look on complacently while a gentile is humiliating and beating one of their own? Is this considered Jewish sensitivity, or is it blatant indifference to the plight of our fellow man? How often do we turn aside and pretend to be ignorant while our brethren are being vilified and scorned by gentiles and -- even worse -- other Jews? Iyov turned away and remained silent when Pharaoh made his decree to enslave the Jews. Hashem punished him with terrible afflictions for his silence. Perhaps we should ponder this idea. Do we sit idly while Torah leadership is disparaged publicly by those who refuse to accept their criticism? Must we suffer pain and sorrow before we wake up and realize that silence is not always golden? Let us learn to cry out at the appropriate time.

I will cast your carcasses upon the carcasses of your idols. (26:30)

The Sifra employs a meaningful story to elucidate this pasuk. During the time of the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash, when people were starving to death, Eliyahu Hanavi walked out on the streets of Yerushalayim, seeking out those Jews whose bodies had become swollen from hunger. When he came across a man who was dying of hunger, he questioned his family lineage. After the man responded with the name of his family, Eliyahu asked him about the size of his family. "We were a family of three thousand of which I am the sole survivor," responded the man. "Do one thing," said Eliyahu, "and you will live. Say 'Shma Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad,' and you will be spared the fate of the rest of your family,." To this the man cried out, "No! My father never taught me to mention G-d's Name, I will not begin now!" After this declaration of skepticism, the man revealed an idol that he was holding and began to hug and kiss it. While he was doing so, his strength slowly ebbed away. He died resting on his idol. Hence, the meaning of the pasuk, "I will cast your carcasses upon the carcasses of your idols."

If we think about it, are we that far removed from that terrible period of starvation? We live in a period in which the famine is not of a material nature, but a spiritual famine where people are literally starving for the dvar Hashem, word of G-d. Many unfortunates people do not realize how little they must do in order to save themselves from spiritual death. Why? Because their parents never taught them anything about Yiddishkeit . Did they ever have a Shabbos? Did they ever see candles lit Friday night? Were they ever exposed to the beauty of a Yom Tov, the sublimity of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? Is it any wonder that they continue to clutch their self-made idols, their false beliefs in what constitutes morality, even if it delivers them to a spiritual end? By divorcing themselves from any semblance of tradition, they are regrettably severing the last potential bridge of return.

Any that passes beneath the staff, the tenth one shall be holy to Hashem. (27:32)

The animals born during the current year all pass through a corral which has a narrow opening. As they are counted, the tenth one is marked and set aside as a tithe for Hashem. While the halachah maintains that one should proclaim the tenth animal as Maaser l'Hashem, it does not change its Maaser status if the individual did not orally declare it as Maaser. Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, underscores the fact that oral expression is essential, even though the animal nevertheless becomes holy. We infer from here that even if something is holy, it must be maintained in a state of kedushah. Nothing simply remains holy; its holiness sustained must be nurtured. Horav Feinstein relates his lesson to the area of Jewish parenthood and education. Children must be raised and educated - constantly. One cannot expect that simply because one has a gifted child -- replete with fine character traits-- he will automatically remain that way. Anyone who has ever raised or taught a child knows that the word automatic is inconsistent with childhood. Only through blood, sweat, tears and much Tehillim does one merit to see Torah nachas from a child. One who does not do his utmost to educate their child might u"j see his child's innate holiness dissipate. Moreover, everyone, regardless of his level of spiritual achievement, should scrutinize his deeds, behavior and thoughts, carefully, to ensure that he remains on his spiritual plateau.


1. What is the special blessing regarding the trees that will bear fruit?

2. The progression of sins as indicated in the Torah is in multiples of _________.

3. How is the punishment of internal enemies greater than that of external enemies?

4. Will the gentiles who conquer Eretz Yisrael derive any benefit from the land while the Jews are not there?

5. Does Hashem punish sons for the sins of their fathers?

6. What is the difference between one who redeems his own animal which he consecrated for Hekdesh and one who redeems another's animal?


1. In the future, all trees -- even those that are not fruit-bearing trees -- will bear fruit.

2. Seven

3. The enemies from within know where all the treasures are hidden. The enemies from without only seek that which is obviously revealed.

4. No

5. Yes, if the sons follow in the evil ways of their fathers and continue with their sins.

6. The original owner must add a chomesh, one-fifth, to the value of the animal.

Shema Yisrael Homepage

Peninim on the Torah is in its 7th year of publication. The first three years have been published in book form.

The third volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588.

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
Jerusalem, Israel