Parshas Bechukosai

This Dvar Torah is dedicated towards a Refuah Shelemah for

טויבע פרומעט בת חיה ליבע

The Rav particularly disliked the aphorism

העבר אין, והעתיד עדיין, והווה כהרף אין, [אם כן] דאגה מניין

The past is remote, the future has not yet occurred, the present is fleeting, why, then, should one be concerned?

For those musically inclined, this aphorism was used as lyrics for Yossi Green’s funky tune, as famously sung by Mordechai Ben David. I’ve always loved the song, and my band also loves performing it ( number 164 on the Schnapps list for those who wish to pre-book  🙂 The author of this aphorism is a source of conjecture amongst scholars.

Why did the Rav dislike this aphorism?

Bechukosai includes the infamous section known as the תוחכה, the admonishment of בני ישראל on account of sinning, together with a short section describing the blessings they would attain if they acted with fidelity. In Vaykikra 26:42, the pasuk states

‘וזכרתי את בריתי יעקב וגו’ וזכרתי  להם ברית ראשונים וגו 

And I remembered my covenant with Jacob … and I remembered my original covenant

The תוכחה can be viewed as a ברית—covenant. The ברית of the תוכחה employs the same phraseology as the ברית enacted on Har Sinai when we received the Torah. How so? Regarding the Siniatic ברית the Torah says:

אלה החוקים והמשפטים והתורות אשר נתן ה’ בינו ובין בני ישראל בהר סיני ביד משה

These are the statutes, judgements, and laws that Hashem transmitted between Him and B’nei Yisrael on the mountain of Sinai through the hand of Moshe.

Compare this to the phrasing of the תוכחה as described in the version in Parshas Ki Savo:

אלה דברי הברית א‍שר־צוה ה’ את־משה לכרת את־בני ישראל בארץ מואב מלבד הברית אשר־כרת אתם בחרב

These are the words of the covenant which Hashem commanded Moshe to enact with B’nei Yisrael in the land of Moav, beside the covenant He enacted with them in Chorev.

The ברית at Chorev was the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the ברית at Moav was the תוכחה.

We see from here that the promise in Bechukosai וזכרתי את בריתי יעקב וגו’ וזכרתי  להם ברית ראשונים, the ברית אבות mentioned above, is linked to the ברית of the תוכחה, and the ברית of the תוכחה is linked to the ברית at Sinai. In other words the ברית at Har Sinai is connected to the ברית of our forefathers,  ברית אבות. What is the meaning of the covenantal connection between these seemingly disparate Psukim?

The essence of the ברית at Sinai was a process of acquisition קנין whereby B’nei Yisrael committed to the קנין—the commitment—to keep all 613 Mitzvos. What about the ברית אבות? We can say that through the ברית אבות (which was prior to the formal keeping of Torah and Mitzvos) Jews tacitly appreciated the feeling of being Jewish and what the experience of keeping the Mitzvos would effect. Furthermore, we can learn from this how history plays out in the life of B’nei Yisrael.

In secular circles, a mechanical understanding of history is such that the past gives birth to the present and the present gives birth to the future. In Jewish history, it is often the case that the future gives birth to the present. This is certainly so in our own days, wherein our anticipation for the future ביאת המשיח fuels our present attachment to the Holy Land of Israel.

In a similar way, we can explain the language used at the  עקידה when Avraham says:

שבו לכם פה עם החמור, wait here with the donkeys

ואני והנער נלכה עד כה, and the lad and I will go until there

What is the difference between פה and כה? In the annals or interpretations of secular history, the present פה influences the כה future. Whereas in Jewish History, the future, the פה, influences the present.

This then, explains the Rav, is the connection between the Psukim and the covenants. When we look at the covenant and promise to the Avos, which was in the past, we could assume that at that time, the feeling of being Jewish and the anticipation of keeping Mitzvos implied and gave birth to a process which resulted in the future covenant at Sinai. This wasn’t the case. Rather it was the future, the concept of Kabolas Hatorah which caused the inspiration and the “feeling of being Jewish” by the Avos at that time. Similarly, one might think that the ברית of Sinai was the precursor to convincing us that if we did the wrong thing we would be admonished and suffer terrible things. This wasn’t the case. Rather it was the subsequent reward and punishment as described by the  תוכחה which was the inspiration behind the קנין at Har Sinai in the form of Kabolas HaTorah.

This is a subtle, but inspirational difference. It doesn’t accept the vacuity inherent in העבר אין, והעתיד עדיין, והווה כהרף אין

Mount Gerizim on the left and Mount Avol on the right

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

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