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Torah Sparks

PARASHAT B'HUKKOTAI
May 24, 2003 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Lev. 26:3 - 27:34 (Hertz, p. 542; Etz Hayim, p. 747)
Triennial Cycle II: Lev. 26:3 - 27:15 (Hertz, p. 542; Etz Hayim, p. 747)
Haftarah: Jeremiah 16:19 – 17:14 (Hertz, p. 551; Etz Hayim, p. 762)

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Torah Portion Summary

(26:3-13) The blessings of peace and prosperity Israel will receive if they follow the way of Torah and mitzvoth.

(26:14-46) The curses and punishments that Israel will suffer if they violate the covenant, including defeat in war, famine and exile. It concludes with words of comfort; if the people of Israel will return to God in repentance, God will forgive them.

(27:1-13) Laws concerning a vow to donate the valuation of a person and of an animal to the Temple. The Torah sets forth specific shekel amounts for different aged males and females. Pledges of animals to the Sanctuary.

(27:14-29) Laws concerning the redemption of houses and fields, the redemption of the firstborn, and the devotion of property to the Temple.

(27:30-34) Laws concerning the tithe of fruit, sheep and cattle; the conclusion of the Book of Leviticus.

Discussion Theme: Torah Study

“If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments, I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall y ield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit.” (Lev. 26:3-4)

Commentary

  1. “If you follow My laws”: One might be able to think that this refers to fulfillment of the commandments. When it says “and faithfully observe My commandments,” see that fulfillment of the commandments has been stated. What, then, do I maintain is meant by “If you follow My laws?” That you should be laboring in the Torah. (Rashi on Lev. 26:3)
  2. “You will go/You will follow” connotes movement from place to place, and alludes to the process of Torah study, in which one regularly progresses to increasingly more sophisticated levels of understanding. “Go/follow” also means “you will walk,” which can be a laborious activity; thus “you shall be laboring in Torah.” (Gur Aryeh on Lev. 26:3)
  3. The words “you should be laboring in the Torah” found in Rashi on Leviticus 26:3 do not simply mean that one should be constantly engaged in the study of Torah. Rather, these words refer to how we view our livelihood and everything we do. The obligation of the Jew is to ensure that our lives and everything we do is done in the spirit of the Torah. Our sages illustrate this with the following illustrations: A man earns his livelihood in the field. He plows and sows, harvests and reaps. While working in the field, the observant Jew fulfills the mitzvah of “kilayim” (making sure not to mix seeds), “leket, shich-cha, and peah” (the obligation to leave part of the field for the poor). In that way he is laboring in the way of Torah. Likewise, business people who uphold standards of ethics in the workplace and do not commit even subtle acts of fraud are also laboring in the way of Torah. Similarly, one can interpret the statement in Pirkei Avot (6:4), “and in Torah one should labor,” to mean that all one’s labor in life should be guided by Torah and be conducted in the spirit of its commandments. (Moshe Elyakim Mikoznitz)
  4. The Talmud Kiddushin 30b states that “If you occupy yourselves with the Torah, you will not be delivered into the hands of the evil inclination, but if you do not occupy yourselves with Torah, you will be delivered into its hands.” The only escape route lies through “occupying oneself with the Torah.” What does that mean? The expression ‘esek... refers to an activity which forms a person’s main pre-occupation, which wills all his heart and soul and which he pursues single-mindedly all his waking hours….This is how we are commanded to pursue the goal of Torah-knowledge…But what of someone who is engaged in a business or profession? Is it not inevitable that he must take his mind off the Torah? The truth is that it is by no means inevitable. As is well known, the tribes of Yissachar and Zevulun made a pact: Zevulun would go out in ships and trade, and from their profits they would supply the needs of Yissachar, who would sit and occupy themselves with the Torah. But in fact both Zevulun and Yissachar were occupied with the Torah: one in learning it and one in supporting it. The driving force in their lives was identical: to magnify and glorify the Torah of Hashem... I have seen with my own eyes a simple craftsman, a tailor, ignorant of Torah-knowledge, whose occupation nevertheless was all Torah. All his thoughts, all his ambitions, were concentrated on one point only: that his sons and sons-in-law should be great in Torah. He was prepared to live on bread and water himself so that part of his meager earnings could be set aside for this holy purpose. All his work was thus nothing but “Torah occupation”: he was an example of a life devoted to Torah. But it has never been permitted, God forbid, to the holy people of Israel to occupy themselves with material pursuits in such a manner that the point of inner aspiration should be directed toward material ends for their own sake: to “live comfortably,” “to have a good time,” and so on. (Eliyahu Dessler)
  5. The halachot relating to consumer transactions are diametrically opposed to the skewed societal values that have taken root in the United States today: A) We consumers are the only ones who count. B) The bottom line is the only thing that matters. C) We are measured by what we possess, i.e. we are what we have. The Torah attempts to shake us loose from such values by insisting that: A) We are not the only ones who count. Those with whom we engage in commercial transactions, e.g. merchants, were also created in God’s image and we are responsible for their economic and emotional well-being. B) What counts is our ethical behavior while we are achieving the object of our shopping ventures. C) We are not what we consume. Rather, our essence lies in how we use our possessions in pursuing the goals set by God, and in treating our possessions as gifts from Him. By applying spiritual values to this most materialistic of pursuits, we can counteract the influence of a society that increasingly values “what” over “who.” (Saul Berman “The Halakhot of Shopping")

Sparks For Reflection/Discussion

To reap the rewards of our parashah, one must, according to Rashi, engage in Torah study and observe mitzvot. Yet, the requirement to study Torah is so encompassing that it would seem that there would be little time for anything else. Each of the above commentaries sets up a model by which we can both pursue a livelihood and labor in Torah. Some of the other commentators make a close reading of Rashi on our verse in Leviticus and observe that he did not use the language of “studying” Torah but “laboring” in Torah. Rabbi Moshe Elyakim Mikoznitz interprets that to mean that anyone’s profession can be holy work because every profession involves specific mitzvot. Rabbi Dessler argues that as long as one labors in the name of a higher purpose, one is laboring in Torah. Rabbi Berman argues that one labors in Torah when one engages in worldly pursuits (even shopping) if one upholds the Torah’s unique values and its standards of honesty and fair dealing.

Are these models possible with the professional lives that we lead? How can we, on the one hand, fulfill our tradition’s demand to labor in Torah and, on the other hand, still pursue a livelihood? Of course, we could attend synagogue adult education programs – but what else can we do to meet the standard of “laboring” in Torah?


 
 
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