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Bechukosai: Protecting Those Within the Fold

אם בחקותי תלכו ואת מצותי תשמרו ועשיתם אותם...

“If you will go with My laws and keep My commandments and fulfill them…” (Vayikra 26:3)

With these words, the Torah begins the Rebuke, in which Hashem admonishes us to adhere to the mitzvos. If we will keep the Torah we will be blessed, these verses explain, but if we won’t keep the Torah we will be beset by numerous troubles and terrible curses, G-d forbid.

Why does the verse mention “chukos - laws” and “mitzvos- commandments” separately? The word mitzvos already includes all types of commandments, including the chukos, which are laws whose purpose is not explained in the Torah. Furthermore, why does the verse use the word “seilech– go” when talking about the laws, and then uses the word “tishmor - keep” when talking about the commandments? What is the significance of this change of wording? The verse then continues by telling us once again to “fulfill them.”  What does this add to what has been said before?

There is an interesting Midrash on this verse (VayikraRabbah 35:1). The Midrash tells us that Dovid Hamelech said, “Ribono Shel Olam, every day I planned and I said: ‘I will go to this or that place,’ but my feet took me to the Bais Midrash.’   As is said in Tehillim (ch. 119): “My feet returned me to Your laws.” Every day, Dovid Hamelech planned to go to different places, but in the end his feet carried him as if by themselves to the Bais Midrash to learn Torah.

What is the connection between this Midrash and the verse?  The Midrash itself must also be understood.  If Dovid Hamelech saw that his feet carried him to the Bais Midrash every single day, why did he still plan to go to other places?  Another question comes to mind; why indeed did Dovid Hamelech make different plans for the day when he should have gone to the Bais Midrash in the first place? Didn’t he want to learn Torah of his own accord?  And what were these plans that he had – where did he want to go, and why did he agree to change his mind and go to the Bais Midrash instead?

The Gemara says (Kiddushin 30b): “The yetzer hara (evil inclination) within the person renews itself each day and wishes to destroy him, and if not for Hashem’s help he would never be able to overcome him.”   This same statement is brought down twice in the Gemara, with a slight difference.  The Gemara in Succah (52b) says the same idea, but instead of saying that the yetzer hara “renews” itself daily, it says that the yetzer hara “strengthens” itself each day.  What is the difference between these similar statements?

The yetzer hara is relentless in his efforts to turn us away from Hashem, but not so the yetzer tov.   It is said in the name of the Alshich that these opposing forces can be compared to two types of merchants. One merchant is selling wares of the finest quality.   He doesn’t have to keep on persuading his customers to buy his products.  Those who are looking for quality products will come looking for his wares, and those who are not interested in his products – well, that’s fine with him!   He is not one to waste time running after customers who are not inclined to buy from him, because he is confident that there are enough people out there who will be coming to purchase his fine products of their own accord.   On the other hand, a merchant who sells inferior products will expend lots of energy in trying to convince people to buy his wares.  He will hawk endlessly about the benefits of his products and reduce the price if necessary in order to catch a few customers.

The same is true about the yetzer hara and yetzer tov. The yetzer tov softly tells the person about the benefits of listening to Hashem and keeping the mitzvos, and then steps back to let the person make his own decisions.   The yetzer tov’s words are easily silenced. Those who are looking for truth will listen to him and run after him of their own accord and those who ignore him will be left alone by him.

On the other hand, the yetzer hara who is selling worthless, destructive products must keep running after people and constantly persuade them to become his customers.  Because the yetzer hara wishes to destroy the person, that is why he renews his tactics each day and strengthens himself each day, and if not for Hashem’s help we wouldn’t have been able to fight him.

It is truly heartbreaking to see how many Jewish souls have been pulled away from the true and correct path.  The yetzer hara worked hard on them for many years, until he finally caught them in his net.  Fortunate are those parents who see that all of their children are G-d-fearing people.  How sad that there are too many parents who lie awake at night out of anguish and worry for the spiritual welfare of their children.  The yetzer hara implements all the powers of persuasion to draw precious Jewish souls away from its Source.  From where does he have so much power?

The yetzer hara begins to work on the person while he is still sitting in the Bais Midrash and learning in one of the finest Yeshivos.   Of course, he can’t come to him at that time and convince him to commit serious transgressions.   Instead he “renews” himself each day.   He comes up with new ideas and exploits the latest news, mainly by causing contention between religious Jews.   When one group of Jews denigrates another group of Jews or their Torah leaders, they are doing the job of the yetzer haraby degrading the honor of Torah leaders and their followers. This poisons the hearts of children who see such behavior and may eventually be turned off from Yiddishkeit.

I am not saying this in theory; I have spoken to many Jews who have unfortunately strayed from the ways of the Torah and asked them,“Where did you go wrong?   What caused you to slip away?”   Many of them replied that they witnessed machlokes(contention) between individuals or communities and this belittled yiddishkeit in his eyes.   After that, they were already easy prey for the yetzer hara.

In today’s generation the yetzer hara has many powerful tools at his disposal, primarily the technological devices that have already ensnared thousands of upstanding Jews into his net.   Even those who are in the Bais Midrash must be guarded especially well.   There are many educators who travel the world to bring back lost Jewish souls, but there must also be a concentrated effort to protect and keep those who are still in Yeshiva.

This is why our sages use the word “renew” and “strengthen” in very similar statements about the yetzer hara.  To those who are already in the yetzer hara’s trap, the evil inclination “strengthens” itself each day anew in order to draw them farther away and prevent them from returning.  But to those who are still in Bais Midrash learning Torah the evil inclination “renews” itself by thinking of new ways and tactics that will draw them away from Hashem.

“If you will go with My laws and keep My commandments and fulfill them…”  Many mitzvos are logically understood, while some mitzvos are chukim – laws that have no revealed reasons.  Similarly, there are Jews who can be compared to mitzvos – they are Torah adherent, upstanding Jews that are respected by all.   On the other hand, there are Jews who are like the chukim – the hidden laws that have no obvious explanation. These Jews have precious souls that are unfortunately hidden underneath outer layers of transgressions.  But the soul is forever connected to Hashem; it is forever chukah – engraved within the person. Although outwardly we cannot see their holiness, there is definitely a “reason” – an eternal spark of holiness, within them.

Tzaddikim in each generation are pained by the plight of unobservant Jews and go to seek them out.  Dovid Hamelech told Hashem: “Each and every day I thought to myself, just as the yetzer hara doesn’t rest and actively pursues people, I will also not rest.  I will go to the home of so-and-so who fell victim to the yetzer hara and try to bring him back.  But each day I realized that if I would go after those who are distanced, who will guard those who are in the Bais Midrash?  And so, my feet took me to the Bais Midrash where I helped protect those who are still there, they shouldn’t fall prey to the evil inclination.”

This important message can be found in the verse: “If you will go to the chukim” – you will go to seek out Jews who are compared to the chukim (laws that have no outward explanation), Jews who have strayed from the Torah and have no outward appearance of holiness, then please remember to “keep my commandments” – remember that the Jews who are still in Bais Midrash and are compared to the logical commandments, they too need to be kept.  They too need protection!  Be especially careful that there should be no machlokes and ill-will among frum Jews. If you will carefully keep those who are still frum, then you will be able to “fulfill them.”  The word asei (do/fulfill) used in the verse can mean to correct or repair.  Not only will you protect those who are still within the framework of Yiddishkeit, but by strengthening yourselves from within you will successfully bring back lost Jewish souls that have already strayed.

May we merit protecting ourselves and our children, and may all distanced Jews come back to the source of life, to our sweet and holy Torah.


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