Slow Down!

V’hifkadti aleichem behala (Vayikra 26:16)

This week we conclude the book of Vayikra with Parashas Bechukosai, which is commonly referred to as the parashah of tochachah — rebuke. After discussing the numerous blessings we will merit if we study Torah diligently and observe the mitzvos, the Torah continues to say that if we reject the commandments and fail to observe them, Hashem will punish us with numerous curses, the first of which is behalah — feelings of panic and pressure.

Harav Shmuel Dovid Walkin, zt”l, writes that if one looks around at the state of the world today, the fulfillment of this curse is evident, as we have lost the attribute of patience, and the need for immediate gratification grows by the day. For example, when it comes to traveling, nobody today would be willing to take an intercity trip by wagon, and even lengthy journeys by car and train are considered burdensome and uncomfortable. Eventually, the time will come that people will be unable to endure a lengthy flight, as it will run counter to the need for instant fulfillment to which we have become accustomed. This impatience is not limited to traveling; it extends to all areas of our lives.

Conventional wisdom maintains that each invention or technological advance that shaves off minutes, seconds, or even nanoseconds from the time required to complete an activity is considered progress and should be encouraged and built upon. The Torah, on the other hand, has a different perspective, as it clearly states that if we fail to properly observe the mitzvos, the first curse that will be meted out, which serves as the introduction to all of the other curses, is behalah, which from Hashem’s vantage point is not considered a blessing.

The Torah goes further and reveals to us that the true source for these feelings of pressure that permeate every aspect of our lives are not technological breakthroughs designed to save us time, but rather punishments for the lack of patience that we demonstrated in serving Hashem without the proper joy and concentration, thereby transforming the mitzvos into heavy burdens to be fulfilled and dispensed with as quickly as possible. The Torah promises that Hashem will punish such an impatient attitude toward Torah study and mitzvah observance by removing our patience in all areas of our lives.

We are witnessing the fulfillment of this curse before our very eyes, as people spend every waking moment constantly running from one place to the next and rushing from the completion of one task to the next item on the “to do” list, and even when we are supposedly at rest in our beds, our minds are still unable to relax, as they dart from thought to thought remembering all the chores and activities that we have yet to accomplish, thereby depriving us of the ability to sleep soundly and peacefully. Although Harav Walkin’s insights seem to perfectly describe the busy lives that we lead in 2014, it is recorded by his uncle, Harav Zalman Sorotzkin, zt”l, in his work Oznayim L’Torah. Harav Sorotzkin died in 1966, and Harav Walkin passed away in 1979; if these were their impressions of their contemporaries, one can only imagine what they would say if they were alive today!

Parashah Q & A

Q: Rashi explains (26:3) that the expression im bechukosai teileichu — if you will walk in my ways — refers to diligently studying the Torah. Why is Torah study considered an illogical chok when it seems quite straightforward that we must study the Torah in order to know and understand the mitzvos?

Q: In the middle of the rebuke, Hashem mentions (26:42) that He will remember His covenant with our forefathers. What is the intention of this verse and its placement?

A: Harav Aharon Leib Steinman, zt”l, suggests that if one was only concerned with knowing the practical laws that one needs in order to live his life in accordance with the Torah, it would suffice to casually read a few short books which collect the pertinent laws. The seemingly illogical component of Torah study is that a person is obligated to study areas which have no practical impact on his life and which may never be relevant, as well as to study them with great exertion and in tremendous depth. Alternatively, the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh posits that the facet of this mitzvah which is difficult to rationally comprehend is the need to review subjects which one has already studied. He adds that Hashem specifically decreed that people should forget what they have learned in order to compel them to study it repeatedly.

A: The Shelah HaKadosh, Beis Yosef, and Dubno Maggid all explain that this verse serves as a reminder of how far we have fallen and is a continuation of the rebuke. If the people who sinned had come from undistinguished lineage, they would at least have a partial excuse. However, the reminder that they are descended from such lofty ancestry only strengthens the complaint against them for their actions. However, the Darkei Mussar points out that this verse is recited in the “Zichronos” section of the Mussaf prayers on Rosh Hashanah, which would indicate that its meaning is positive, as a verse serving as an indictment and accusation against the Jewish people wouldn’t be appropriate to mention on the Day of Judgment. Instead, he suggests that this verse teaches that even at the times that Hashem metes out the greatest punishment, He will still remember that we are descended from the Avos, who are beloved to Him, and will make sure to show us a modicum of love and goodness so that we will know that He hasn’t forgotten us and should not despair.


 

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.