Category Archives: Bechukotai

Bechukotai – Faith and Trust

The Parshot of Behar and Bechukotai form a contract between G-d and the Jewish People regarding the Land of Israel. Behar describes the commandments that form the conditions of the lease, and Parshat Bechukotai describes what happens if the contract is upheld, and then – at great length and in gory detail – what happens if the contract is broken. The latter section is called the “Tochacha”, the Rebuke, and it is so frightening that there is a tradition to read it quickly and quietly, and to give that Aliya to the rabbi because nobody else would want it.

We might have imagined that the Haftarah of Bechukotai would be an equally gory description of the calamities that befall the Jewish People. Instead, it talks about how G-d is the source of all power, and how pointless it is to place one’s hope and trust in anyone else:

כֹּה אָמַר ה’ אָרוּר הַגֶּבֶר אֲשֶׁר יִבְטַח בָּאָדָם וְשָׂם בָּשָׂר זְרֹעוֹ וּמִן ה’ יָסוּר לִבּוֹ: וְהָיָה כְּעַרְעָר בָּעֲרָבָה וְלֹא יִרְאֶה כִּי יָבוֹא טוֹב וְשָׁכַן חֲרֵרִים בַּמִּדְבָּר אֶרֶץ מְלֵחָה וְלֹא תֵשֵׁב:
So said Hashem: cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, and relies on the muscle of his arm, and from Hashem turns away his heart. He shall be like a weed in the Aravah, and he will not see when the good comes, he will live in the parched desert, a salt land that cannot be settled. (Yirmeyahu 17:5,6)

The objective of this Haftarah is not to provide additional examples of sin and its punishment, but rather to point out the kind of thinking that causes the sin in the first place.

In the Tochacha, when G-d talks about all the terrible things that will happen to the Jewish People if they reject Him and His Torah, He makes it clear that what really bothers Him is not so much the actions, but rather the attitude behind them:

וְאִם בְּזֹאת לֹא תִשְׁמְעוּ לִי וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי: (כח) וְהָלַכְתִּי עִמָּכֶם בַּחֲמַת קֶרִי וְיִסַּרְתִּי אֶתְכֶם אַף אָנִי שֶׁבַע עַל חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם:
And if even then you don’t listen to Me, and act toward Me as if you don’t care, I will treat you as if I don’t care, with a vengeance, and punish you Myself sevenfold for your sins. (VaYikra 26:27)

According to the Tochacha, what G-d cannot abide is when our relationship with Him is not one of commitment, but of convenience. We like to be thought of as G-d’s People, we like to dress the part and do the rituals. But there are situations – usually related to financial prosperity – when we act as if G-d is not part of the picture at all. When it comes to making a living, there is a tendency to pretend that it is all up to us, our connections, and our ingenuity. This is in direct conflict with the beliefs that we profess to have about G-d’s omnipotence, and makes it look like those beliefs are only lip service.

The Chazon Ish wrote a book called “Emunah ve’Bitachon”, where he explains the difference between Emunah (belief), and Bitachon (faith). Belief is theological and intellectual; it is the definition of G-d and His attributes. Faith is a state of mind that directly affects one’s actions. Ideally, Emunah and Bitachon are aligned. For instance, we believe that G-d runs the world and can provide us with all our needs – that is “Emunah”. As a result, we have “Bitachon”, faith, that G-d will in fact do that. We still make the necessary effort to provide for ourselves, but if we truly believe that G-d is the source of all blessing, then we will restrict our actions to those that He would approve of.
Conversely, when a person does not have Bitachon, if he does not trust G-d to provide for him, he will instead rely on human beings or on his own cleverness. As the Haftarah points out, this is not a strategy that is likely to succeed. People might be helpful, but they have their own agenda. And our own talents and efforts are necessary, but hardly sufficient.

What’s worse, the attitude that the source of one’s success is anywhere other than G-d can warp one’s moral judgment. When given a choice between doing something to please a patron, or pleasing G-d, one might choose the former. The Chazon Ish suggests that it is lack of Bitachon that causes otherwise religious Jews to get involved in fraudulent schemes.

The Haftarah has a description of this situation and its eventual outcome:

קֹרֵא דָגַר וְלֹא יָלָד עֹשֶׂה עֹשֶׁר וְלֹא בְמִשְׁפָּט בַּחֲצִי יָמָיו יַעַזְבֶנּוּ וּבְאַחֲרִיתוֹ יִהְיֶה נָבָל
Like a partridge that broods over young it did not hatch, he makes wealth but not by law;
in the midst of his days it will leave him, and in the end, he shall be despised.
(Yirmeyahu 17:11)

A person who “makes wealth but not by law” is not only committing fraud. He is revealing that he does not actually believe that G-d runs the world. He does not believe that G-d sees what he is doing, and he does not believe that there will be payback for his actions. In the words of the Tochacha, “he acts towards G-d as if he doesn’t care.” As both the Tochacha and the Haftarah tells us, G-d will not let him get away with this. His bank account might be temporarily padded, but ultimately, he will live to see it emptied and his family ashamed to bear his name.
In addition to giving examples of dismissal and dissonance, the Haftarah also gives an example of true commitment and Bitachon:

בָּרוּךְ הַגֶּבֶר אֲשֶׁר יִבְטַח בַּה’ וְהָיָה ה’ מִבְטַחוֹ: וְהָיָה כְּעֵץ שָׁתוּל עַל מַיִם וְעַל יוּבַל יְשַׁלַּח שָׁרָשָׁיו וְלֹא יִרְאֶה כִּי יָבֹא חֹם וְהָיָה עָלֵהוּ רַעֲנָן וּבִשְׁנַת בַּצֹּרֶת לֹא יִדְאָג וְלֹא יָמִישׁ מֵעֲשׂוֹת פֶּרִי:
Blessed is the man, who trusts in Hashem, and Hashem will be his shelter. He will be like a tree planted upon the water; toward the river, it sends its roots, and does not fear that the heat will come; its leaves will be verdant, in a drought year it will not worry, and will not stop yielding fruit. (Yirmeyahu 17:7,8)

If your actions are aligned with your beliefs, and if your relationship with G-d is one of faith and trust, then perhaps your bank account will not be the largest ever, but your life is guaranteed to be full of blessings.

PDF for printing, 2 pages

The song, Baruch Hagever

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Bechukotai

As one might expect, the Haftarah of Bechukotai is taken from a chapter of Yirmeyahu that talks about how G-d will exile the Jewish People for their lack of loyalty to him.

Of course, this is the case for most of the book of Yirmeyahu, as well as many other prophets. What makes it specifically appropriate for Bechukotai is the point that G-d is the source of all prosperity.

Baruch HaGever – Faith and Trust

Chazak Chazak Ve’Nitchazek!

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Filed under Bechukotai, Sefer Vayikra