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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Parashat Bechukotai

Parasha: Bechukotai – Leviticus 26:3 – 27:34
Haftara: Jeremiah 16:19 – 17:14
Reading date: 24th May 2008 – 19th Ayar 5768

This parasha begins with the idyllic blessing that awaits the people if they live up to their covenant with YHVH. It then proceeds to the ‘tochacha’ or admonition, a sobering account of punishments, frustrations, and curses that will result from attempts to destroy the covenant. Indeed, though YHVH’s underlying mercy prevents all of these curses from befalling Israel in any one unbearable instant, a careful reading of Jewish history, and perhaps the twentieth century in particular, shows that they have taken place at various intervals, before and after the exiles.
The blessings are given in general terms; the curses however, are given in great detail, because they are intended to awe the people into obedience to YHVH’s will (Ibn Ezra v.13).

26:3-5 The Blessing of adherence to Torah. If we walk in all of the mitzvoth of Torah, given by YHVH, YHVH will give fruitfulness to our Land, we should have bread to the full. “I will give you rain-showers in season.” This alludes to the early rains and the latter rains – in Hebrew the ‘yoreh’ and the ‘malkush’ (Deut.11:14).

26:6 By climaxing the above blessings with that of peace, the Torah teaches that peace is equivalent to all other blessings combined (Rashi; Sifra).

26:14-43 These horrendous punishments are meant not as revenge, but to influence people to repent, and for that reason they are inflicted in stages of increasing severity. If the first stage comes and we do not derive the desired lesson, the next and more severe stage of punishment will befall them, until repentance and YHVH’s mercy finally come.

26:42 The order of the Patriarchs’ names is reversed. This indicates that Yaakov alone should be worthy of brining redemption to his children; and even if his merit is insufficient, there is Isaac’s merit. If even that is not enough, there is Abraham, whose merit will surely be sufficient (Rashi).

26:44 “And yet, even with regard to this, when they shall be in the land of their enemies, have I not despised them.” That is to say, if it shall have come even so far as that they are in the land of their enemies (the words ‘gam zot’ stand first in an absolute sense, and are strengthened or intensified by ‘ve af’ and more fully explained by ‘behayotam vego’ - I have not rejected them, to destroy them and break My covenant with them. For I am YHVH their God, who, as the absolutely existing and unchangeably faithful One, keeps His promises and does not repent of His calling.

26:46 The word ‘vehatorot’ is in the plural because it refers to the two Torahs: the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. This verse emphasizes that both were given at Sinai (Rashi; Sifra).

27:1-8 One may vow to contribute the ‘value’ of oneself or of another person or thing. Here the Torah speaks of a specific form of vow known as ‘erech’, which for lack of a better or exact English translation we use the word ‘valuation’.

27:9-13 If an animal is sanctified for use as an offering, and it is not suitable – blemished, for example – it is redeemed and its value used for the offering for which the animal was originally dedicated.

27:32-33 The tithe of animals. The new born herd or flock is put into a corral with a narrow opening, and the animals are allowed to leave one by one. The owner or his designee touched each tenth one with a paint daubed stick, marking it as the “ma’aser” (the Hebrew word for 10 - 'eser') or the tithe (Rashi; Bechort 58b).

27: 28-29 ‘Cherem’ or segregated property. In the context of this passage, the word ‘cherem’ refers to a person’s expressed resolution to consecrate an object and thus make it forbidden for personal use.

27:30-31 During the first, second, fourth and fifth years of the seven year ‘Shemittah’ cycle, a farmer sets aside one-tenth of his produce, which he must take to Jerusalem to be eaten. It is known as the “ma’aser sheni” – second tithe - because it is separate from the crop only after the first tithe is separated for the Levite. The Torah permits the owner to redeem the tithe for coins, which he must take to Jerusalem and use it to purchase food or offerings that may be eaten.

Chazak chazak ve nitchazek!

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