“Parsha to the Point” – Bechukotai 5776

Parshat Bechukotai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34

Rabbi David Stav 

Parshat Bechukotai, the final portion of the book of Vayikra (Leviticus), centers on a section called the “Tochecha”, a term that describes an agreement between a people and its God. This agreement states that if the nation follows the path and adheres to the values set out in the Torah, it will enjoy economic prosperity and physical security. However, if it takes the opposite path, it can expect a host of economic and military crises that will lead to its utter destruction. One of the most calming promises is the following:

I will provide peace in the land, and you will lie down with none to frighten you…and a sword will not cross your land. (Vayikra / Leviticus 26:6)

The style of this verse raises certain questions. After all, there was already peace in the land, and there was no cause for concern or anxiety. If so, what reason was there to state that “a sword will not cross your land”? No one was fighting anyone else, so there was no need for swords to begin with.

Some commentators explained this verse by saying that the land will be so peaceful that other nations won’t even have to cross through it in order to attack elsewhere. If so, however, this statement cannot be seen as a blessing to the Jewish people.

Others posited that those bearing swords would be barred from entering the land – but this is merely security advice, and not a blessing.

We could assume that this verse promises us that we will enjoy not only a respite from enemies outside our borders, but we will also benefit from an absence of swords passing within our midst. In other words, there won’t be any stabbing attacks.

Internal security has been a pressing issue for the Jewish people since ancient days, and has been of no less concern than security from the enemies that surround us. The Sikrikim (Sicarii in Latin), a group that conducted stabbing attacks during the time of the Second Temple, were just as culpable for the destruction of the Temple as were the besieging Romans.

Vigilante blades that have taken to the streets in our land seems to have become a threat that is no less severe than the one posed by Iran. If young men and women dread walking outside in the streets of Tel Aviv, fearing that harm may come to them, we need to do some serious soul-searching.

We can obviously opt to take the easy way out, blaming the police for our helpless plight in the face of mounting crime. Had the police acted with determination and responded promptly to every call for help, human lives would have been spared. This criticism may be legitimate – a greater police presence in city centers and hangouts would deter criminals with the threat of force, and prevent serious crimes.

However, even if some of the criticism against the police is justifiable, it only addresses the manifestations of the root cause of the violence, and not at the root cause itself.

In describing a person’s choice to take the opposite of the path of Torah, the pasuk (verse) employs the words “and if you behave casually with me (“keri”)”. The word “keri” is derived from the Hebrew word “mikreh”, an incident, or happenstance. In other words, even when we are beset with terrible calamities, we may be inclined to believe that these are purely circumstantial occurrences. For human beings, the worst possible curse is the inability to attach any significance to events they are exposed to.

The police has an important role to play in creating deterrence and punishing criminals, but it is powerless at combatting the will to perpetrate crimes. Violence is something that we need to start combating at home, at the playground, and at our schools. We must make it clear to ourselves and our children that there are paths we must never go down, even when we are very upset or hurt. We must learn that we can and must overcome our desire for instant gratification at any price.

This rule also holds true when dealing with a child begging for candy or an expensive cell phone. If we can rein in the child’s desire for instant gratification, as well as our own desire for instant gratification (“industrial quiet”, a way of avoiding conflict with the child), we and our children will be on our way to exercising more self-control, and our society will greatly benefit. When we can educate our society to understand that violence is not an answer, there will barely be a need for a police force.

[Translated from the Hebrew by Ilan Yavor]

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