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Click here for last year's divrei torah on parshas Bechukosai
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Click here for last year's divrei torah on parshas Bechukosai

Welcome to our Shabbos Table!
We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, email us at responses@ourtable.org.

Parshas Bechukosai/ How to Walk with Hashem

“And if you walk with Me with keri, and you don’t wish to listen to Me, I will add seven punishments corresponding to your sins” (Vayikra 26:21).

Parshas Bechukosai begins by promising great reward to those who walk in Hashem’s ways. Peace, prosperity, and closeness to the Almighty await us when we obey His commandments.

In stark contrast to this idyllic vision, the Torah then depicts a bleak future: disease, poverty, enemy attack, and worse – all because we walk with Hashem with keri. What does this term mean, and why does it elicit such Divine wrath?

Three Interpretations

According to Chazal (as cited by Rashi), keri denotes something temporary or sporadic. Our pasuk therefore addresses Jews who do mitzvos erratically.

For the Avnei Nezer, keri denotes a lack of preparation, an absence of the forethought that the service of Hashem surely deserves.

The Ta’am VeDa’as links keri to kerirus, cold. The sin here, then, is the performance of mitzvos coolly, dispassionately, without the appropriate enthusiasm and the aesthetics it inspires. If we simply discharge our obligations, doing only what the law requires, Hashem too will judge us according to the strict letter of the law, resulting in terrible punishments. However, when we go beyond the bare minimum, so will He, and the meticulousness and beauty of our service will evoke His compassion.

Think About It

Throughout Jewish history, this excitement about Torah and mitzvos has all too often been missing. As Hashem lamented of Yeshayahu’s generation, “…they pay Me lip service, but their heart is distant from Me, and their fear of Me is rote” (Yeshayahu 29:13).

Rashi explains that these Jews feigned submission to Hashem in order to “entice” Him to bless and protect them.

As for their rote observance of the mitzvos, the Malbim identifies two aspects:

(1) “The wisdom of Hashem’s commandments is beyond human comprehension,” they reasoned. “We can’t possibly understand them, so let’s not even try. Let’s just do what we have to do, without any particular intent.” Such observance is a hollow shell, a body without a soul.

(2) They practiced “lifestyle Orthodoxy,” following the Torah out of habit, just because they’d been doing so since childhood. They did mitzvos not because Hashem had commanded them, but because their parents had. This “Orthodoxy” was really orthopraxis, external actions without inner conviction.

Both of these outlooks, warns the Malbim, lead to denying the Divine origin of the mitzvos altogether, Heaven forbid.

Praying with Fire

Yeshayahu may be alluding specifically to uninspired davening. Alshich notes that the pasuk in question begins by describing the Jewish people as nigash (approaching), the same verb used to describe Eliyahu’s approaching Hashem in prayer (I Melachim 18:36). We conclude the Shemoneh Esrei by asking that Hashem accept not only “the utterances of our mouths,” the prayers we’ve just said, but “the thoughts of our hearts,” our kavanos. Yet the heart of Yeshayahu’s generation was “distant,” preoccupied with work or – even worse – with nonsense. Like so many of us, these Jews were on automatic during davening, bowing in all the right places but otherwise completely distracted.

May we take the lessons of these two powerful pesukim to heart, serving Hashem consistently, enthusiastically, honestly, and thoughtfully.

Question for Discussion:

What mitzvah you have seen someone do with real excitement and passion?

Response:

Early one Shabbos morning in Jerusalem, I visited Harry Jacobs, an elderly friend hospitalized with a serious illness from which he was slowly recovering. Still wheelchair-bound, he needed full-time assistance. Baruch Hashem, however, he was very lucid and had much valuable life experience to share.

Mr. Jacobs’ aide hadn’t yet shown up, so I helped him wash his hands as he lay in bed. We used a washing cup and basin he kept on his nightstand.

He then recited the most beautiful Modeh Ani I have ever heard. Eyes closed, he concentrated on every word, thanking Hashem for returning his soul to him for yet another day.

Though Modeh Ani is relatively short, Mr. Jacobs took quite a while, his thoughts and feelings reflected in his facial expressions and intonation.

When he finally opened his eyes, Mr. Jacobs was a bit startled by my presence. He’d been so engrossed in his prayer, he hadn’t even realized I was still there! His Modeh Ani was entirely for Hashem.

What an amazing show of gratitude to Hashem every day!