OzTorah: Torah reading – B’har-B’chukkotai.

OzTorah(In Israel, the reading this week is B’chukkotai only.)

WE DON’T MAKE A BLESSING.

B’har is where we meet the fundamental principle of charity:

“If your brother has become poor, and his strength has dwindled beside you, then you shall uphold him” (Lev. 25:35).

“Call To The Torah”. Artist Martina Shapiro.

Note the words, “your brother” – despite his problems he is still your brother; “beside you” – do not wait until he pleads for assistance, but support him as soon as he shows signs of falling. These are some of the ways in which Rashi and the other commentators explain the verse.

Supporting a fellow being, not just with money but in attitude and every other way, is tzedakah, and it is a mitzvah of the Torah, a requirement of Judaism, a duty commanded by God. But is it not strange that there is a b’rachah for washing the hands, for kindling the Shabbat lights, for reading the Megillah, for hearing the shofar – but no b’rachah for giving tzedakah?

There are many possible reasons. You cannot quantify tzedakah; where the duty begins and ends cannot be precisely defined and thus your fulfilment of the mitzvah cannot be measured. There are many ways of carrying out the mitzvah – giving money, helping the person find employment, providing business contacts, simply calling him “brother”; tzedakah takes many forms.

Avraham ben David of Posquieres, the 12th-century rabbi, says that tzedakah involves humiliating the recipient: making a b’rachah implies that we are praising God for the degradation of a fellow human being.

WALKING & OBSERVING.

B’chukkotai begins,

“If you walk in My statutes and observe My commandments” (Lev. 26:3).

The Biblical principle of parallelism, in which the first and second parts of a verse balance each other, requires us to see “walk in My statutes” and “observe My commandments” as saying the same thing. Hence there is a link between the two verbs, “walk” and “observe”.

But one can argue that there is a difference. The message is a double one: If you walk (metaphorically) in God’s statutes, you observe His commandments; if you observe His commandments, you walk (physically) in His ways.

In the first message, “walk” gives us the source of the word halachah, “walking”, for Jewish law. In the second message, the observance of the commandments indicates movement, progress.

Each commandment we observe is a stepping stone to the next. The more you live by the commandments, the higher you go in your spiritual life. It reminds us of the Seder song, Dayenu, in which every stage is a building-block towards the next. In this sense, even the building of the sanctuary is not the last word. Having a Temple is the foundation for a life of spiritual elevation.

REASON & ABOVE REASON.

This week’s sidra, B’chukkotai, promises reward if we walk in God’s statutes and observe His commandments, and threatens punishment if we fail to do so. The reward is not only for obedience to those laws that are easier to comprehend, but even for observing the “chukkim” or statutes for which no rationale is given in the Torah.

Not everything is obvious or immediately understandable. Some things we may never completely grasp. It is true that Edmond Fleg wrote in his famous little book about Judaism,

“I am a Jew because the faith of Israel nowhere requires of me the abdication of the mind”.

But though a Jew does not abdicate from the use of the intellect, and the whole tradition of Judaism is one of asking and seeking answers, reasoning and counter-reasoning, there are some things which are too difficult for our minds to fathom.

It is the mark of a mature person to recognise that there are limits to human reason. The Psalmist wrote,

“I do not exercise myself in things too great or things too wondrous for me” (Psalm 131:1).

This is not to deny the inherent reasonableness of Judaism, but not everything is on a level accessible to every human being’s understanding.

It is not true that, as the Yiddish phrase claims, “m’tor nicht fregen” – “one mustn’t ask”. One can and must ask, but not every answer will come easily or quickly.

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Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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