Friday, May 20, 2011

Bechukosai 5632 Second Ma'amar

This weeks parsha begins with, “אִם־בְּחֻקֹתַי תֵּלֵכוּ .../If you follow my statutes …” (VaYikra 26:3The pasuk cannot be taken literally because the very next words already enjoin us to keep the commandments, “... וְאֶת־מִצְוֹתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ .../… and you keep my commandments …”  Chazal understand, therefore, that the Torah is instructing us to toil at learning Torah.[1] 

What compelled Chazal to understand these words as referring to toiling at Torah?  The Sfas Emes explains in the previous ma'amar that toiling at Torah is not referring to working hard at understanding a difficult passage of Torah.  Rather toiling at Torah refers to a person's intent as he learns Torah.  Our intent should not be to gain knowledge and great heights.  Rather our intent should be to subordinate ourselves to God through our learning.  We learn until we reach a point at which we do not understand, a point at which we must perforce either accept the Torah as is even though understanding eludes us or reject Torah that flies in the face of our intellect.  Rejecting our own intellect in favor of Torah is true toil.

Chazal learn this specifically from the words, "אם בחוקותי תלכו/If you follow my statutes" because חוקים/statutes refer to those mitzvos which defy reason.  It is therefore appropriate that these words refer to accepting Torah even at the expense of our own logic and intellect.  This pasuk is therefore teaching us that to succeed at Torah we must subordinate our intellect to God.

The Midrash on this pasuk teaches this concept through a metaphor.  David HaMelech says that each day he calculates the path he will take.  Yet, his feet bring him to בתי כנסיות/houses of worship.  The literal translation of בתי כנסיות is houses of congregation.

The Chiddushei HaRim explains this Midrash according to a Mishna in Avos.  The Mishna states, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me.  But if I am only for myself what am I?"  The Chiddushei HaRim explains that every person is created to achieve a specific and unique rectification.  Only he can do it.  Further, there is a unique rectification that applies to each hour of every day.  So, if I am not for myself, if I do not achieve the rectification for which I was sent into this world, who will be for me?  No one else can achieve it but me.
However, if my intent is simply self actualization and self improvement then what am I?  The Tanna is teaching us that although we each have a unique mission, our primary intent should not be selfish rather our primary intent should be the benefit of the nation.  When David HaMelech said that his feet brought him to houses of congregation he meant that the intent underlying all his actions was identification with and inclusion in the nation of Israel.

And this ultimately is the point of אם בחוקותי תלכו/If I follow your statutes.  The Midrash is teaching us that the way to subordinate ourselves to God is by subordinating ourselves to the nation.

[1] Sifra BeChukosai 1:Introduction


Anonymous said...

In your next to last paragraph - "...our primary intent should not be selfish, rather ..." You left out the word not.

Kol hakavod on this wonderful project, yashar koach

Moshe David Tokayer said...

Fixed. Thanks ... and thanks for the complement.