Behukkotai’s Challenge to Us

Behukkotai By :  Matthew Berkowitz Director of Israel Programs Posted On May 27, 2000 / 5760 | Torah Commentary

Blessing comes to fruition through journey. The journey may be as simple as lighting Shabbat candles or it may be as complicated as leaving the comfort of one’s home to discover new worlds. Either way, that which is familiar is left behind and a new reality challenges one to grow and thus to earn God’s Blessing. Such is the challenge of this week’s parasha.

Parashat Be-hukkotai, which forms the epilogue of Vayiqra (Leviticus), opens with a promise of God’s Blessing and the imagery of a journey: “If you walk in My laws (im be-hukkotai telekhu),” says God to the Jewish people, “and faithfully observe My commandments, I will grant your rains in their seasons, so that the earth shall yield its produce . . .” (Leviticus 2:3-4). The theme and language of this verse evokes God’s call to an individual, Abraham, in Genesis 12. There, God also makes a promise of blessing and Abraham, responding to God’s command, lekh lekha, leaves his homeland. By remaining in the same physical place, the promise of blessing remains precisely that — a promise. Physical movement is intimately connected to spiritual movement. Indeed, Abraham must journey from his land, his birthplace and his father’s house to realize the promise of God’s Blessing.

In explaining the opening verse of our parasha, Rashi queries, “Could it be that this verse refers solely to upholding God’s commandments? This, one can understand from the second clause ‘and faithfully observe My commandments.’ But what is the meaning of the first clause, ‘if you walk in My laws’? This means that one should labor, even painfully, in Torah.” For Rashi then, the journey alluded to by our verse resembles the physical journey of Abraham. This journey of the mind and soul entails the same investment of self and departure from routine. One sacrifices time and other activities to become worthy of the blessing of learning. Mere obedience to the commandments is inadequate; one must invest oneself in discovering their deeper essence. The process of learning then becomes an indispensable part of observance. Precisely through learning Torah, one leaves the familiar and becomes challenged in ways previously not conceived. It is no wonder that Judaism refers to its system of law as halakha— ‘the way’ or ‘path’. Through physical and spiritual journeys we become not only worthy of God’s blessing but also God’s closeness.

The Hebrew word, lalekhet, ‘to walk’ or embark on a journey, becomes a motif of the parasha. As a consequence of walking in God’s ways, we are given a powerful promise by God, “I will walk about in your midst” (Leviticus 26:12). Rashi explains: God’s Presence will be felt so strongly that it will be as if God is literally dwelling among us. Responding to the human willingness to embark on a journey, God promises to take action. In the third appearance of ‘walking’ in our parasha, God declares “I made you walk upright” (Leviticus 26:13). Here, lalekhet refers to God’s freeing the Israelites from Egypt and guiding them