YOUR OWN BREAD
What a wonderful promise:
“You shall eat your bread to satiety and you shall dwell in safety on your land” (Lev. 26:5). Note that the verse does not say, “You shall eat bread – ‘lechem’” but “you shall eat *your* bread – ‘lachm’chem’”.
What is it that qualifies you to live in safety in your land? The fact that you live by the ethics of the Torah. When we are told, “Do not steal”, it means not cheating other people out of what really belongs to them. When we want to be able to sleep at night, the requirement of Jewish ethics is a clear conscience:
“Eat your own bread – the bread you have worked for honestly, the bread that you can rightly call your own, the bread that hasn’t been acquired by questionable means”.
There are countless temptations in business life; maybe no-one will ever find out what you have done: no-one, apart from God and your conscience.
WALK THE WALK
The Torah portion begins,
“If you walk in My statutes…” (Lev. 26:3).
Walking in God’s statutes means what it says. Don’t only talk the talk but walk the walk, don’t only pay lip service to the Divine word but live by it.
Rabbi Jonah Gerondi says,
“If a person has sinned with his feet, by walking towards the wrong goal, how can he repent? By using his feet to walk along the right path, by choosing to walk where God tells him.”
BLESSINGS & CURSES
This sidra is one of two (the other is in Ki Tavo) with a “Tochechah”, a set of blessings and curses. Rashi tells that the Tochechah in our sidra is “Mi-pi HaG’vurah”, from the mouth of God, and the one in Ki Tavo is “Mi-pi Atzmo”, from the mouth of Moses.
Rav Soloveitchik asks how this distinction is possible when the whole Torah is the word of the Almighty. His answer is that in our sidra Moses is the representative of Israel. The words come directly from HaShem with Moses in the front line of the recipients.
In Ki Tavo, God, as it were, gives Moses a vote of confidence. He tells him that by now he has enough experience and expertise to be trusted to select the right style and phraseology to convey the message. There is no difference in the ultimate source of the words, nor their authority. On both occasions they come from HaShem. The difference is in the way in which they are conveyed. Leadership has matured and enriched Moses.
The task has not been easy. You can see this on Moses’ face, as you can see how life and experience weather any leader after some years. But now, if I may offer a personal analogy, the Commander knows His agent can handle the responsibility that lies in his hands.
The analogy, l’havdil is this. Years ago I headed a department in the Office of the Chief Rabbi in London. After a while the Chief was apparently sufficiently satisfied to say,
“This is what I want you to say on my behalf; you know my style, so you choose the words for me.”
YESHIVAH IN HEAVEN
The Chafetz Chayyim once stopped singing “Eshet Chayil” on a Friday night when he came to the verse, “Noda bashe’arim ba’alah b’shivto im zik’nei aretz” – “Her husband is known in the gates when he sits with the elders of the land” (Prov. 31:23). This verse, he said, may be interpreted to apply to the World to Come, where a learned person will sit with the elders of previous generations and exchange Torah thoughts with them.
That there is a heavenly yeshivah we all know from the opening words of the Kol Nidrei service with its reference to “yeshivah shel matah”, the earthly yeshivah, and “yeshivah shel ma’alah”, the yeshivah On High. And the fact that scholars continue their learning after they have left this world is expressed in the rabbinic idea that the talmidei chachamim have no rest, either in this world or in the World to Come; “They go from strength to strength” (Psalm 84:8; B’rachot 64a).
The opening verse of B’chukkotai is, “If you walk in My statutes” (Lev. 26:3) which Rashi interprets, “If you toil in my Torah”. Rashi says “you” – not merely the intellectual elite. The Torah does not belong to any one class of Jew but to all of us. Whoever you are, says the Talmud, you will be asked when you seek admittance into the World to Come, “kavata ittim laTorah” – “Did you set aside time for Torah?” (Shabbat 31a).
However, this does not mean that you need Torah merely for life in heaven, but also, and primarily, for life on earth. Indeed, with Torah you can help to make life in this world into almost a heaven on earth. Become acquainted on earth with Moshe Rabbenu, with Hillel, Rabbi Akiva, Rashi, the Rambam, the Vilna Gaon… and you find that they believed that a human being must always seek the path of truth, justice and peace.
Not a bad recipe for heaven on earth! Not a bad reason to develop your Jewish knowledge!
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.