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From the Parasha: Bechukotai

 

אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ וְאֶת־מִצְוֺתַ֣י תִּשְׁמְר֔וּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָֽם (בחקותי כו, ג)

“If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments” (Leviticus 26:3)

First Reading: Revealing the Torah’s Inner Dimension

Every year, Lag BaOmer (לָג בָּעֹמֶר), the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, and the traditional day of passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, falls during the week of Parashat Bechukotai. This year it is on the first day of the week, corresponding to the first aliyah—the first reading in the parashah.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s teachings have been passed down to us in the Zohar, the most important rabbinic work on the Torah’s mysteries and inner dimension. Rabbi Shimon, one of the greatest sages of the Mishnah,[1] was Rabbi Akiva’s most devoted student and after his master was executed by the Romans, Rabbi Shimon was declared his successor.2

The day of the passing of a tzaddik (righteous and holy individual) is the day that the essence of his soul is revealed. Though Rabbi Shimon is a pillar of both the revealed and concealed traditions, the essence of his soul was without a doubt entwined in revealing the secrets of the Torah in general and of the Divine in particular. As he said on his day of passing, “One fire has been burning in me my entire life, with this fire I am one, with it I have been glowing,”[2] referring to his devotion to the secrets of the Torah. For this reason, Lag BaOmer, the day on which the essence of Rabbi Shimon’s soul was revealed, is considered the day of the giving of the inner dimension of the Torah.

Let us see some of the connections between the first aliyah of parashat Bechukotai and Lag BaOmer:

  • ParshatBechukotai is the 33rd portion of the Torah and Lag BaOmer is the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer.
  • The first verse—אִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ וְאֶת מִצְוֺתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם—has 33 letters.
  • The numerical value of the first two words of the portion, “If [you follow] my laws” (אִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי) is 561, which is also the triangle of 33, meaning the sum of integers from 1 to 33.

This last point relates the strongest with the entire counting of the omer and what the 33rd day (Lag Ba’omer) represents. When we count, we do not say, “Today is the 1st day,” “Today is the 2nd day,” all the way up to, “Today is the 33rd day of the omer.” Rather, every time we count, we implicitly include all the previous days as well, “Today is 1 day in the omer,” “…2 days in the omer,” all the way to, “…33 days in the omer.” So actually, we have implicitly been creating a triangle of days, or sum of integers. On the first day we had 1 day; on the second day we had 2 more days; on the third day 3 more days, and so on. So on the 33rd day of the omer we have actually counted not 33 days, but 1 ┴ 2 ┴ 3 ┴ .. ┴ 33 = 561. The 33rd day of the omer thus implies the number 561, which is the gematria of the first two words of parshat Bechukotai.

Revealing the Wonders of the Torah

The same letters that denote the 33 (לָג) in Lag BaOmer, when reversed also spell the word, “unveil” or “open” (גַל). This word appears in the verse, “Open my eyes so that I may see the Wonders of your Torah”[3] after which our publication Wonders is named. Thus, Lag BaOmer is the day on which we have the potential of opening our eyes and seeing the wonders of the Torah. The day on which Rabbi Shimon’s essence is revealed most powerfully is the day on which we can all connect with the inner, wondrous dimension of the Torah and reveal it by incorporating its teachings into our lives.

(from www.inner.org)

 

 

וְרָדְפ֨וּ מִכֶּ֤ם חֲמִשָּׁה֙ מֵאָ֔ה וּמֵאָ֥ה מִכֶּ֖ם רְבָבָ֣ה יִרְדֹּ֑פוּ (בחקותי כו, ח)

“Five of you shall give chase a hundred, and a hundred shall chase ten thousand…” (Leviticus 26:8)

Second Reading: Evil Increases Linearly, but the Good Grows Exponentially

Our reading contains a verse that initially seems to be part of our blessings. When we need to pursue our enemies, 5 of us will overcome 100 of theirs and 100 of ours will vanquish 10,000 of theirs. This is great! It is not even a linear progression as Rashi points out, because the ratio of 100 to 5 is 1 to 20 and the ratio between 10,000 to 100 is 1 to 100. So what is the secret of our great “success?” Rashi’s answer is that when many follow the commandments it is not commensurate with the few that follow them. In other words, there is a quantity multiplier to our strength. The more Jews keep God’s commandments the more exponentially powerful we become.

This all sounds great, until we compare this verse with another in parashat Ha’azinu describing how in times of our weakness the enemy fights against us: “How is it that 1 [of theirs] chases 1000 of ours and 2 [of the enemy] make flee 10,000 of ours.”[4]

Commentaries on the Torah ask: there two, when we are being pursued by our enemies (ostensibly because we have not kept our covenant with God), the enemy seems to become exponentially powerful. The verse starts with a ratio of 1000 to 1 and then continues to a ratio of 5000 to 1. The enemy too seems to enjoy the same 5 times multiplier in its strength. But, even before the multiplier, we are shocked to learn that they only need 1 of theirs to chase 1000 of ours, whereas when we are more powerful, we need 5 to chase only 100. This contradicts the well-established Torah principle, “the measure of good is always greater than the measure of punishment.”[5]

Various answers have been offered by the commentaries, but they do not seem to satisfactorily solve the problem.

A Linguistic Solution

One possible solution looks at the end result. The verse describing our strength ends with “your enemies will fall before you by the sword.” But in the time of our weakness, even though we may be pursued, the Torah does not say that we will perish by the sword. In the end, even though they are more powerful, they do not have the power to obliterate us.

Another point to make is the change in verb in parashat Ha’azinu. Initially, the enemy chases us, but then it makes us flee. Being made to flee is weaker than being chased, as the latter as we see in our parashah can lead to death by the sword, but only fleeing implies escaping.

A Mathematical Analysis and Solution

Since the Torah is using ratios between numbers to describe the two realities of our strength and our weakness, we should analyze them mathematically. The main question we need to ask is why are the two sets of numbers chosen not the same? In strength the Torah chooses (5, 100) and (100, 10000). In our weakness, it uses (1, 1000) and (2, 10000). Let’s call these our data points and treat them as coordinates on an x-y coordinate system. The only number that is common to both sets of data points is 10000, and more about that later.

The second question is why is it that when describing the strength coordinates, the Torah does not start by telling us how many a single one of us will chase?

Linear versus Exponential

Contemplating these two verses a simple mathematical solution presents itself. The verse in our parashah describing our strength is based on exponential growth, while the verse in Deuteronomy describing our weakness is based on linear growth. In other words, to extrapolate the function describing the latter, we would plot the two coordinates (1, 1000) and (2, 10000) and draw a straight line through them. If we wanted to know how many 3 of the enemy could chase, we would continue the line to the right and determine that when x is 3, y would be 19000.

But with regard to our verse describing our strength, we are looking to plot an exponential function with (5, 100) and (100, 10000) as 2 of its points. However, 2 points are not enough to describe an exponential function. We need one more piece of information.

One possibility would be to just guess how many of the enemy 1 of ours could chase. We could then plot the exponential function and demonstrate the exponential growth of the good measure of strength. Even though the exponential function starts out slower than the linear function of Deuteronomy, the function describing our weakness, eventually, the exponential function will overtake the line and will uphold the principle that “the measure of good is always greater than the measure of punishment.” By recognizing that our verse is speaking about an exponential function while the verse in Deuteronomy is describing a linear function, we have already provided a solution to our problem.

However, we can do even better. We noticed that the only coordinate that is common to both functions is 10000. Perhaps, we say, the Torah is implying that when both functions reach a value of 10000, that is when the exponential function overtakes the linear one. In other words, when the x coordinate of our exponential function is 100 (and its y coordinate is 10000), that is when the derivative (the rate of change) of the exponential function overtakes the constant rate of change of the linear function.

With this new piece of information, it is possible to extract the exponential function that describes the growth of strength. We leave this to the capable reader, simply asking: how many of the enemy can a single 1 of ours chase according to the exponential function?

A Possible Solution

Using basic algebra and a little bit of differentiation, we arrived at the following exponential function that satisfies all our conditions: f(x) = 78.49e0.04847x

Solving for x=1, we find that 1 of ours will be able to chase 82.38 of theirs. The decimal fraction is part of the nature of the exponential function and in fact all the other values are not exact integers.

Here is a plot of this exponential function for good measure:

 

בְּשִׁבְרִ֣י לָכֶם֮ מַטֵּה־לֶחֶם ואְָ֠פוּ עֶ֣שֶׂר נָשִׁ֤ים לַחְמְכֶם֙ בְּתַנּ֣וּר אֶחָ֔ד וְהֵשִׁ֥יבוּ לַחְמְכֶ֖ם בַּמִּשְׁקָ֑ל וַאֲכַלְתֶּ֖ם וְלֹ֥א תִשְׂבָּֽעוּ (בחקותי כו, כו)

“When I break for you the staff of bread, ten women will bake your bread in one oven, and they will return your bread by weight, and you will eat and not be satisfied.” (Leviticus 26:26)

Third Reading: Hidden Blessings

Shabbat Shalom. This Shabbat we conclude the book of Leviticus; it is a Shabbat Chazak (“Be Strong”), so we need to strengthen ourselves.

Shabbat Bechukotai opens with the promise of blessings “If you follow My statutes” then “I will give your rains in their season… I will grant peace in the land… I will set My dwelling among you….” The parashah then continues with what will happen if we do not heed God's voice and details the opposite, the curses. This is also why there needs to be a break between reading Parashat Bechukotai and the holiday of Shavuot. However, the Baal Shem Tov and especially his disciple's disciple, the Alter Rebbe teach that all the curses are actually hidden blessings.

“When I break for you the staff of bread, ten women will bake your bread in one oven, and they will return your bread by weight, and you will eat and not be satisfied.” In its simple meaning, this curse signifies famine – God breaks the staff of bread—an image for the source of livelihood—and there is so little grain (and wood for ovens) that ten women must bake bread in one oven, and even then, the baking does not go well, that a loaf does not come out, but rather pieces of baked dough that must then be divided precisely by weight, and ultimately, the worst part, "you will eat and not be satisfied." The Alter Rebbe interprets this entire verse positively, as a blessing in the inner service of God.

“When I break for you the staff of bread"—The Descent of Torah into Physicality

The Alter Rebbe explains that "When I break for you the staff of bread" is related to the secret of the breaking of the vessels—the breaking and falling of the sparks of Tohu [the World of Chaos] into the lower worlds, which necessitates and drives our Divine service by elevating the sparks known as the service of refinement. He begins with a question often repeated in Chasidut: why does man derive nourishment from the vegetation and animals below him? There is an order of inanimate-vegetable-animal-human, and one would expect each to receive its vitality from what is above it, but in practice, God created the world so that each one is nourished by what is below it. Why? Because the higher sparks fell to lower places, and they sustain those who consume and elevate the sparks. Thus, "man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of God," but that which "proceeds out of the mouth of God" is clothed within the bread, and when it is eaten, one is nourished by it.

The Alter Rebbe explains that "the staff of bread" is a symbol for the Tree of Life, and here he connects the whole matter particularly to the Torah, about which it is said, "Come, eat of my bread."[6] Following the breaking (which is manifested in the Torah as the breaking of the Tablets), the Torah also fell—or more precisely, descended—into the lower worlds. The Torah speaks about the physical world, "he who exchanges a cow for a donkey"[7] and the like—the Torah, which is "the utterance of the mouth of God," descended to be clothed in physical bread, as it were, and we must receive our inner vitality from it.

"Ten women will bake your bread in one oven"—Baking the Torah in the Fire of Love of God

To eat the bread and receive vitality from it—so that the food penetrates the body's cells and nourishes them—it must be properly baked. The primary role of an educator—the occupation of those sitting here—is not only to teach Torah but to ensure that the students receive their vitality from the Torah, and for this, the Torah must be 'baked' within the soul. How do you bake the bread of Torah? The verse continues, "Ten women will bake your bread in one oven."

"Ten women" are the ten faculties of the soul—from Keter to Malchut (if not counting Da'at) or from Chochmah to Malchut (if counting Da'at). The Alter Rebbe explains that specifically, the inner dimension of the ten faculties of the soul is a feminine dimension—a dimension in which a person is entirely receptive to Heaven, with the awareness that he has nothing of his own and all his work is "give Him of His own, for you and yours are His" without taking any credit for himself. In general, our inner work is like a woman before God—"we are Your wife, and You are our beloved"—and "ten women" are the ten faculties of the soul in the aspect of a woman, in the work of inner nullification before God.

How do you bake the bread of Torah? The baking is in an oven, hinting at the work of contemplation. The oven is a vessel that receives heat within it, and in inner work, contemplation is the vessel that arouses in the soul a fire of love for God. Contemplation on the unity of God—"Hear [contemplate], O’ Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One"—arouses in the soul the love of God, "and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." This contemplation is hinted at by the phrase "one oven"—an "oven" of contemplation-arousing-love in "[God is] One."

“And they will return your bread by weight"—Mental Balance and Judgment

The continuation of the verse, "and they will return your bread by weight," the Alter Rebbe connects to a deep concept in Kabbalah—the secret of the balance (weight). The deepest part of the Zohar is the Sifra DeTzniuta, which opens with the sentence “before there was balance, we did not look face to face.” The world of Tikkun is a world of balance, and only when there is balance can we look at each other face to face—"we did not look face to face." In the world of Tohu, all relationships are in the aspect of back-to-back—everyone lives with the consciousness of "I will rule." Everyone’s worldview is egocentric, he acts solely based on personal interests, and he is in fear of territorial infringement, as the Ari explains. To create true face-to-face relationships, one must reach a state of balance—a person who has mental balance, who is stable, can leave himself and truly see the other.

"And you will eat and not be satisfied"—Perpetual Taste in Torah

The fourth stage, "and you will eat and not be satisfied," is the peak of this 'curse.' Therefore, even when turning it into a blessing, this phrase—which sounds very negative—must be interpreted as the peak of the blessing. The Alter Rebbe explains that "and you will eat and not be satisfied" means that a person has such a delight in Torah that he can repeat one matter "countless times." When a person studies Torah in this manner of "ten women will bake your bread in one oven, and they will return your bread by weight," he reaches the state of "and you will eat and not be satisfied"—no matter how much he learns, he does not know satisfaction, and he is capable of returning again and again to any matter in the Torah, "her breasts will satisfy you at all times, with her love you will be intoxicated always."[8]

(from a class given on 20 Av, 5776)

 

אִ֕ישׁ כִּ֥י יַפְלִ֖א נֶ֑דֶר בְּעֶרְכְּךָ֥ נְפָשֹׁ֖ת לַֽי־הוֽה (בחקותי כז, ג)

“When a person articulates a vow, pledging to give the value of lives to God” (Leviticus 27:2)

Fourth Reading: Sweetening the Curses

The laws of Valuations (Arakhin, in Hebrew) appears immediately after the blessings and curses, indicating that the valuation of a person serves as a rectification and sweetening of the curses.

In the Ba’al HaTurim it is written:

In the portion of Arakhin, there are 50 shekels, 30 shekels, 20 shekels, 10 shekels, 5 shekels, 3 shekels, 15 shekels, and 10 shekels between male and female, which together total 143 shekels, to atone for the 45 curses in the Torah of the Kohanim and the 98 in Deuteronomy, which together total 143. Therefore, Arakhin is placed next to the curses.

Typically, it is said that there are 49 curses in the Torah of the Kohanim, as Rashi explains "seven times seven," but in Midrash Tadshe, it states that there are 45.[9]

In this portion, beginning with the law of the valuation of a person, there are seven (ז) positive commandments and five (ה) negative commandments, a clear hint to the prophecy of "This is the thing" (זֶה הַדָּבָר) of Moses our teacher. The positive commandments are connected to the blessings, and the negative commandments are connected to the curses, and Moses attained his prophecy through the combination of the blessings and the curses.

In the valuation of a person, there is a clear allusion to the Mashiach: the values of the female are 3, 10, 30, and 10, whose sum is 53, the value of the word, “rejoice” (גִּילִי), the first word in the verse, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, your king comes to you; he is righteous and having salvation, lowly and riding upon a donkey, even upon a colt, the foal of a donkey”[10] (גִּילִי מְאֹד בַּת־צִיּוֹן הָרִיעִי בַּת יְרוּשָׁלִַם הִנֵּה מַלְכֵּךְ יָבוֹא לָךְ צַדִּיק וְנוֹשָׁע הוּא עָנִי וְרֹכֵב עַל־חֲמוֹר וְעַל־עַיִר בֶּן־אֲתֹנוֹת) In the verse, it speaks about a female, "daughter of Zion… daughter of Jerusalem," who, in her feminine intuition, feels the redemption (as the righteous women did in the Exodus from Egypt and as they do today). The values of the male are 5, 20, 50, and 15, whose sum is "king" (מֶלֶךְ), also the topic of this same verse, "behold, your king comes to you." The highest value of a person is like the value of a field, "fifty shekels of silver," similar to a donkey, hinting at "lowly and riding upon a donkey."

The Sanctity of Speech

The law of the valuation of a person is connected to the sanctity of speech – "this is the thing" referring to speech – as the Sefer HaChinuch states:

Because a person only partakes with the heavenly beings through speech, and this is the most honorable part of him, and this is called in man 'a living soul,' as Onkelos translates, 'and it became in man a speaking spirit,' for the other parts of the body are dead, and if a person loses this good part, the body remains dead and like a worthless vessel. Therefore, one is obligated to uphold his word in matters related to the words of Heaven in any case, such as consecrations and all matters of charity. And in all other matters of the world… the sages commanded and warned with many warnings that a person should not change his word.

Caution in the attribute of truth is related to the essence of man-the-speaker; in this, he is similar to God, and therefore, one must not alter his speech, in the manner of "I the Lord do not change" (I do not change My word), "distance yourself from a false matter," which is the foundation of the entire Torah, "Moses is true, and his Torah is true," and it is also the foundation of educating the young (as stated by the Shelah), because the letter alef’s name, אָלֶף, is an acronym for “teach your mouth” (אֱמֶת לָמֵד פִּיךָ). The attribute of truth sweetens the curses, which are also through the power of speech, "this is the thing," as mentioned above.

It is told that when Rabbi Hillel of Paritch wanted to get closer to the Alter Rebbe, he prepared a question on Tractate Arakhin. He went to the room where the Alter Rebbe was supposed to stay and hid under the bed. When the Alter Rebbe entered the room, he said to himself in a melodious tone, "A young man who has a question on Tractate Arakhin, should first evaluate himself." Rabbi Hillel fainted, and the Alter Rebbe continued on his way. The internal breaking that occurred in Rabbi Hillel touches upon the attribute of truth, to evaluate oneself without deceit, and thus attain humility like Moses our teacher.

 

[1]. He is also identified as the anonymous speaker in the Sifrei, the foundational legal rabbinical exegesis on the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy and is the compiler of one of two versions of the Mechilta, the legal exegetical work on Exodus.

 

[2]. Opening of the Idra Zuta [the Minor Gathering], Zohar 3:288a.

[3]. Psalms 118:19.

[4]. Deuteronomy 32:30.

[5]. Sotah 11a.

[6]. Proverbs 9:5.

[7]. Mishnah Bava Metzi’a 8:4.

[8]. Proverbs 5:19.

[9]. Further explanation can be found in Pardes Yosef.

[10]. Zachariah 9:9.

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