Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Bechukosai 5636 First Ma'amar

“אם בחֻקֹתי תלכו .../If you will follow my statues …” Chazal tell us that בחֻקֹתי/my statutes” from the root חֹק/statute refers to mitzvos that have no apparent reason. The prohibition against wearing a garment made of linen and wool, for example, is a decree having no apparent reason. It is a חֹק/statute. “תלֵכו/You will follow” on the other hand, from the root הלוך/go, implies a reasoned decision. People generally think about where they want to go. Decide. Then go. It seems that חֹק/statute with הלוך/go is an awkward combination.

Addressing this issue, the Midrash quotes a pasuk in Tehillim, “חִשבתי דרכי ואשיבה רגלי אל עדֹתיך/I considered my ways and returned my feet to Your testimonies.” “עדֹתיך/Your testimonies” refer to the mitzvos. David HaMelech is saying that to attain clarity in action and thought it is not enough to rely on our logical faculty. We need to perform the mitzvos. In Mishlei we find, “ועל בינתך אל תִּשָׁעֵן/Do not rely on your own understanding.”

In what capacity, then, can we use our mental abilities, our logic in serving God? The Sfas Emes explains that we should use our intelligence to understand the need to perform God’s mitzvos and submit to Him. We need to understand and consciously consider before any act that this act is for the sake of God, lesheim shamayim. “... בחֻקֹתי תלֵכו .../… You will follow my statues …” then means, “Use your intelligence to submit to My will.”

We see this idea in the Midrash that Rashi quotes to explain, “אם בחֻקֹתי תלֵכו .../If you follow my statues …” The Midrash says that this cannot refer to performing mitzvos since the very next words in the pasuk are, “ואת מצותי תשמרו/and keep my mitzvos.” Rather, the Midrash says, it is referring to laboring at studying the Torah. How do the words, “אם בחֻקֹתי תלֵכו .../If you follow my statues …” refer to laboring at Torah? According to the Sfas Emes, Chazal are teaching us that we must use our power of reason represented by “הלוך/go” to know what to do to submit to God’s will represented by “חֹק/statute.”

The Sfas Emes is teaching us that we reach uprightness by performing mitzvos rather than trying to figure it out for ourselves. We use our intelligence to understand what we must do to submit to God’s will.

Clarifying the point further, Chazal tell us that regarding words of Torah a person should make himself like an ox to a yoke and a donkey to a burden. The Sfas Emes explains that just as an ox must go wherever the yoke leads him, so a person should follow the will of God wherever it leads him. Just as a donkey carries his burden, so a person carries with him the entire Creation which is elevated because of him.
This double comparison exactly parallels learning Torah and performing mitzvos. We need to learn Torah to determine the will of God and follow it just as an ox is lead by the yoke. When we learn Torah with this in mind, our actions are influenced as well. We take a moment before a mitzvah to consider, “I am doing God’s will.” Then our actions are elevated and become a vehicle for elevating the entire Creation just as the donkey carries his burden.

The results are illustrated in the next p’sukim which describe a world of plenty. Our actions, with the proper intent, draw the power of Torah into the physical world even to the point where barren trees, representing the lowest most impure places, are imbued with that power and give fruit.

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