Between Heaven and Earth

Behukkotai By :  Matthew Berkowitz Former Director of Israel Programs, JTS Posted On May 16, 2014 / 5774 | Natural World

Fertility of humans and of the land is the essence of divine blessing. It is the theme of the first commandment of Torah—“Be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28).” It is the sacred wish of each couple in the Torah as they desire to see the next generation. It is the notion that also encapsulates the divine promise for the loyal observance of mitzvot. Parashat Behukkotai opens in this vein, with a condition and the promise of God’s blessing. The two opening verses of our parashah speak of the harmony between heaven and earth, the bridges between the two, and the necessity for each of us to view ourselves as a sacred link. Leviticus 26:3–4 teaches, “If you follow My ordinances, observe My commandments and do them, then I will give rain at their proper season and the land will give its produce and the tree will yield its fruit.” As one reads these verses, one is struck by the harmony of their content and the symmetry of their language. Note well that observance of the mitzvot is connected not just to our well-being, but also to that of the Land of Israel. Our environment responds to our spiritual behavior. If our spiritual lives are lived in accordance with the essence of Torah—according to the order of Torah—then the natural environment will mirror that same sense of order.

Even more striking is the spatial description in each verse connecting heaven and earth. Rashi, the great medieval commentator, points out a possible difficulty in the first verse: “You might think that the verse in its entirety is speaking of the observance of mitzvot, but when it states, ‘imbehukkotaitelekhu’(‘if you follow my ordinances’), Torah wishes to send the message, ‘she teyuamelimba-Torah’ (‘that you will labor in the discipline of Torah’).” Accordingly, in the first verse, we have references to Torah, Divine Revelation, the Commandments (human), and action or movement from God to humans connected by the act of doing. Action becomes the bridge between God and man. Similarly, we find this harmonious structure in the second verse, the rains from the heavens, the land, and the trees of the field. Again, think spatially: the rains from the heavens, the produce sprouting from the land, and the trees that connect heaven and earth.

Just as action is the bridge between Torah and mitzvot, and the tree is the bridge between heaven and earth, so too do humans represent a link between heaven and earth. In so many verses throughout Tanakh, the human being is compared to a tree. Even in the haftarah of Behukkotai, from the Prophet Jeremiah, which declares, “Blessed is one who trusts in God, whose trust is the Lord alone, he will be as a tree planted by waters.” So what do we have in common with a tree? A tree derives its energy from a distant source, it needs water from heaven and earth, it needs nutrients, and it aspires heavenward. So too do we. We derive our lives from God, we need the “water” of Torah, we need nourishment, and we ideally aspire heavenward.

May each of us become a bridge between heaven and earth. May we learn Torah and mitzvot and follow them; and may we continually reap the earth’s bounty. May we always be ‘k’etzshatul al mayim’(as a tree nourished by bountiful waters).

The publication and distribution of A Taste of Torah are made possible by a generous grant from Sam and Marilee Susi.