Living Up to a Higher Standard

In Parashat Bechukotai Moshe warns the people that if they violate the Torah’s commandments they will unleash Hashem’s wrath and bring upon themselves devastating punishments. Before completing his graphic description of the evils that will befall them if they sin, Moshe interrupts with a brief verse of consolation: “I will remember My covenant with Yaakov, and I will remember My covenant with Yitzchak, and I will remember My covenant with Avraham, and I will remember the Land” (Vayikra 26:42). He then returns to words of admonishment.

Why is this verse of consolation included in the section of reprimand? If any consolation was intended, wouldn’t it be better if it were placed after all the reproof, rather than interrupting the harsh words which are then followed by more threatening promises?

The Maggid MiDubno answers with a parable.

Two thieves were arrested for perpetrating serious crimes. The judge inquired in detail about their family backgrounds and environment. He discovered that one defendant was the son of a notorious evildoer and the other was the son of a well-to-do, respected public official. After adjudicating the case, the judge declared both defendants guilty. The judge then meted out the sentences to the two guilty parties. To the son of the criminal he gave a very light sentence, and to the son of the good parents he meted out a very harsh penalty.

The man who came from the good home complained and demanded an explanation for the apparent inequality of the sentences. “We were partners in the same crime. Why should he get off easy and why should I be treated so harshly?” he asked.

“The fact that your partner is a criminal is no surprise,” answered the judge. “That is all he saw at home and that is what he thinks is proper. But for someone from a fine family like yours to participate in wrongdoing of this magnitude is really a disgrace for which there is no excuse and no leniency.”

This answers our question. The verse is not a consolation in the middle of reproof. It is the greatest admonition of all. “How could you — the Jewish people, who are descendants of the righteous Patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov — behave in such a way? It is a disgrace, which deserves the harshest of punishments.”

Jews throughout the generations appeal to Hashem for mercy by invoking zechut avot — the merit of our patriarchs and matriarchs. In our behavior at home and in public we must remember that we are the offspring of the most righteous of ancestors. Our lineage has its benefits but also requires of us sterling behavior in all that we do and strict adherence to the commandments of the Torah. The lofty status of our lineage obligates us to dress, talk and behave a cut above the “men on the street” among whom we live. We ask Hashem to remember where we come from — and we must not ever forget that, either.

Shabbat shalom.


 

Rabbi Raymond Beyda serves in the Sephardic Community in Brooklyn, N.Y. He lectures to audiences all over the world. He has distributed over 500,000 recorded lessons free of charge. He is author of the book 1 Minute With Yourself: A Minute a Day to Self-Improvement, Sephardic Press, 2008.