Table for Five: Bechukotai

An Eternal Covenant
May 30, 2024

One verse, five voices. Edited by Nina Litvak and Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

These are the statutes, the ordinances, and the laws that the Lord gave between Himself and the children of Israel on Mount Sinai, by the hand of Moses.

– Lev. 26:46

Gila Muskin Block
Executive Director, Yesh Tikva

This verse is a summary of the binding covenant between us and God. And many of the commentaries focus on the technicalities of this covenant. Yet the commentaries that struck me the most were the Midrash Lekach Tov and Aderet Eliyahu who highlight Moshe鈥檚 role in this covenant. They both comment 鈥淢oshe had the privilege of being a messenger between the Jewish people and their Father in Heaven.鈥

As inheritors of this tradition, we are called to study and uphold these laws with diligence and reverence, and like Moshe, we are tasked to become messengers of God within this world. These laws challenge us to act with integrity and compassion, to seek justice for the oppressed, and to strive for a society founded on righteousness and peace. And in doing so, we have the opportunity to sanctify the name of God throughout the world.

My mind is constantly looking for the connection between the texts and our daily lives; and what could be more clear than this message: To act like Moshe. To be privileged to stand proud as Jewish people in the face of hate and barbarity, and meet it with dignity and compassion. To stand up for what we believe in through unity and song, instead of disturbance and destruction. To have the privilege of upholding our Jewish traditions and increased resolve in our connection to God, the land of Israel and our people.

Rabbi Elchanan Shoff
Beis Knesses of Los Angeles

The verse that Table For Five chose for us this time around struck me, for it is a song on the Miami Boys Choir鈥檚 most recent album, 鈥淥ne Voice.鈥 Jewish boys with inspired voices sing this verse proudly proclaiming to one and all that we still believe this ancient truth 鈥 that the Torah of Moshe is Divine and was given by God to humans at Sinai. My children hear this song when we drive in the car in its original Hebrew, and even before they know what it means it begins burning an impression into their minds. Play Jewish music for yourselves and your children. Words of Jewish verses and ethical teaching become part of your lingo, they become alive. Billboards that just simply show a photo of an iPhone, or say 鈥淓njoy Coca Cola鈥 cost fortunes to rent! What we just see or hear strongly impacts our subconscious minds. When our children grow up on music that glorifies warped ideas about love, or glorifies depressive thinking, that has no small impact. Music is powerful and impactful. When I heard of the singer who is presently in the news for his alleged horrible treatment of people, using others as objects for trafficking and other crimes so heinous that I refuse to mention them, I wondered why I was so surprised. After all, that is what he sang about in his music! Women as objects, killing others, belittling others terribly. It鈥檚 not 鈥渏ust music.鈥 Let鈥檚 inspire ourselves and your children.

Rabbi Michael Barclay
Temple Ner Simcha, Westlake Village

All too many secular Jews view the laws of Torah as a 鈥淐hinese menu鈥: they pick a few and reject most, feeling that the commandments are archaic and meaningless. This verse is the beautiful explanation for why the commandments are so necessary, and what they can actually accomplish for each individual on a personal level. The purpose of all the commandments is explained here: They are a bridge between each individual and God.

Each commandment we observe gives us a deeper personal experience of Divinity. This verse teaches us that the commandments in the Torah are not random instructions nor onerous dictates from an authoritarian deity, but are loving pathways to enhance the intimacy of our personal relationship with God.

This is one of the most important verses in the entire Torah for our times, when so many Jews have rejected Judaism in favor of politics, activism, etc. By leaving the path of our ancestors, many Jews have lost that intimate personal relationship with God, and we live in a time when that bridge with God is desperately needed. This verse asks each of us to take on a new commandment and see how it affects our lives. If you don鈥檛 already, start lighting Shabbat candles. Become kosher, or at least stop eating treif. Wrap tefillin once a week. Just take on one commandment and try it for a few months.

In taking on just one more commandment, may we all find the personal benefits that our people have found for centuries: A deeper and more intimate connection with God.

Kari Gila Bookbinder Sacks
LCSW, Partners in Torah Mentor, LA Jewish Ladies Chorale member

This Parsha reminds me of an old debate I had with my father a”h, while becoming more religious: Which is loftier? Loving Hashem or Fearing Him? My Dad would vie for the former, I the latter, but as we grew Jewishly, we began to see them as inextricable.

Approaching Hashem as a loving Father who wants only good for us naturally leads to respect and awe of His greatness. When we further grasp that Hashem is perfect and does not need our mitzvot but gave them to us for the sole purpose of connecting with Him, we are compelled to serve Him with greater love.

Similarly, 鈥chukim鈥 (fixed statutes with no logical reasoning, like the prohibition against mixing wool and linen) and 鈥mishpatim鈥 (societal laws of understanding, like honoring your parents) seem diametrically opposed at first. Then, we are taught that whether our mitzvot have an explicit reason or not, simply following G-d鈥檚 Will reaps the highest rewards. That is why 鈥渃hukim鈥 are related to the word 鈥chakuk,鈥 engraved. Just as the indelible engraving on a loved one鈥檚 tombstone becomes an eternal tribute, so do the words of the Torah become etched in our hearts, bridging this world and the next. The stone and the engraving become one, as we and our Creator work as partners in making the best world possible. We are inseparable from Hashem, our Torah, Israel and each other. May we speedily see the triumph of our People in Our Ancestral Land for which our sisters and brothers have given their lives.

Rabbi Jonathan Leener
Prospect Heights Shul

Why does the Hebrew rendering of this verse refer to the Torah in the plural? Rashi provides the most practical answer by suggesting that we did, in fact, receive two Torahs: one in writing (the Written Torah) and one by word of mouth (the Oral Torah). This verse, therefore, tells us that Hashem gave both Torahs at Sinai, and they are of equal importance and authority. Perhaps, in addition to this literal meaning, the plurality of the Torah refers to different conceptions of the Torah.

In his introduction to his commentary on Pirkei Avot, the Maharal of Prague (Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel) suggests that the Torah can be compared to both a light and a tree of life. What does it mean to compare the Torah to a light? On one level, the Torah can illuminate darkness and guide us. On a more mystical level, the Maharal suggests that, like a flame, the Torah transcends time and space.

What about the Torah as a tree of life? Like a tree with strong roots deeply planted in the earth鈥檚 surface, the Torah remains steadfast and unaffected by strong winds. In other words, Hashem gave us a version of the Torah that transcends time and place, and paradoxically, He also gave us a version bound to time and place.

As we prepare for Shavuot and receiving the Torah anew, we should take a moment to reflect on when we experience the Torah as a burning flame and when we experience the Torah as a steadfast tree.

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