This week’s Parasha of Bechukosai begins with a series of assurances regarding the prosperity and security of Israel. They are but conditional guarantees, for G-d promises that rains shall water the fields, lands will give produce, few shall chase the many and peace will finally grace the Promised Land—“if in my ways you will follow and you observe My commandments and perform them” (Leviticus 26:3). The problem, Rashi identifies, is that the objects of the if statement are redundant. If the fulfillment of the Mitzvahs is covered by the clause ‘observe my commandments and perform them,’ what then is meant by ‘Im Bechukosai Tailachu—If in my ways you will follow?’
Many of the commentators write about the matter, and I would like to augment the existing literature with a theory of my own. First, we must differentiate between the Creator and His creations. The Torah is the L-rd’s creation, and as Rashi explains, we are obliged to toil in the Torah, as it is the source of Jewish identity and continuity. However, there is also the Creator, the One on whose behalf we are commanded to toil. What is our relationship to be with Him?
In June 1967, in the aftermath of the Six Day War, Rabbi Chaim Dov Keller of Chicago’s Telshe Yeshiva wrote: “As we reflect on the God wrought miracle which we have been privileged to see and the human miracle of this unprecedented unity of the Jewish people, we must not fail to realize that we are approaching the time of Moshiach.” This is certainly one aspect of following in the ways of G-d: recognizing truly miraculous events for what they are. But what about toiling to appreciate the Creator when all appears natural and mundane? This Thursday morning in my father’s synagogue, at the conclusion of the Torah reading, I was assigned to wrap the Torah scroll with a belt—a task known as Gelila. As I attempted to fasten the Torah, I noticed that the Velcro on the belt had ripped, rendering the belt useless. Our trusty beadle dove into the reading table, where unbeknownst to the rest of the parishioners, an extra belt had been stored. I spent another minute with this second belt before I realized that it was sadly too small and also utterly useless for my cause. The beadle then reemerged with yet another belt, and in the fifth or sixth minute of my Gelila, I triumphantly fastened the Torah with ease—too much ease—as the belt slipped to the bottom of the scroll. From nearby, a longtime member and two-time synagogue President was heard to say, “This is the worst Gelila I have ever seen!” We of the Congregation Yehuda Moshe quorum, a cadre of worshipers gathered to speak with the L-rd, chortled with laughter at the comedic ensemble, chuckling at the manifestation of G-d’s sense of humor in a mundane Torah wrapping.
The story is told about Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, better known as the Kotzker Rebbe, who asked his students, “Where does G-d dwell?” His disciples answered, “Why, everywhere, of course!” Responded the Kotzker: “No, G-d dwells wherever we let G-d in.” Living, particularly growing up and finding one’s way in the world, is certainly no easy task. We yearn for meaning and purpose in all of our endeavors, but such stability is only possible ‘Im Bechukosai Tailachu’—when life itself becomes an element of the extraordinary.