“I will provide peace in the land, and you will lie down with none to frighten you…” (Leviticus 26:6)
Parashat B’chukotai includes a list of blessings for following God’s commandments and a much longer list of curses for not following. The final chapter (which many scholars consider a later addition to the text) serves as a “bookend” to the opening of Leviticus by discussing gifts to support the sanctuary.
B’chukotai opens with a condition for receiving blessings: “If you walk according to my laws…” (Lev. 26:3) Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) says this means to labor in, or to study, the Torah. The Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagen, 1838-1933; outstanding scholar and ethicist) observes the reason to labor, generally, is to create a product (a shoe or a house) and thereby receive a payment or reward. The study of Torah is different, though, because the emphasis is on the process, not the product. That is, even if you cannot reach a conclusion upon studying a section of the Torah (the “product”) the study itself (the “process”) is its own reward.
Rabbi Abraham Twerski (1930-; an American chassidic rabbi, and a psychiatrist specializing in substance abuse) uses this idea to explain why the parasha (portion) begins with the imagery of walking. Walking implies direction, forward motion, and progress toward a goal. B’chukotai says laboring in the Torah is the way to walk. It is the original Jewish journey. And if we walk according the law, then God, too, will walk among us. (Lev. 26:12)
B’chukotai is the final parasha in Leviticus. It is customary (in the Ashkenazic, or European tradition) to stand up and say, “Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek,” (Be strong, be strong, and let us summon up our strength.) at the end of the reading.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom
Dr. David Ackerman is the Director of JCC Association’s Mandel Center for Jewish Education.