Thursday, May 15, 2014

In Service: Pursuit and Self-Persecution; the Torah Portion of Bechukotai

This week's Torah portion describes the rewards and blessings bestowed upon us when we as a people are observing the Torah (specifically dedicating ourselves to its study), as well as the punishments and curses that come when we fail to do so. The descriptions bring to mind the events that took place during the Holocaust as well as those immediately after, at the time of the establishment of the State of Israel. By no means is one to infer that those events were in effect the reward and punishment of that particular generation - anyone with any experience or knowledge of those events should know that this could not possibly be the case.

One powerful contrast between the section of the blessings and the one of the curses has to do with the pursuit of the enemy. While regarding the curses, the verses repeatedly mention the fact that we would run away when no one was pursuing us, regarding the blessings, the Torah states:

8. Five of you will pursue a hundred, and a hundred of you will pursue ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.

RASHI: of you will pursue: [It will require only five] of your weakest [to pursue a hundred enemies], and not of your strongest [i.e., מִכֶּם means “the weakest (מָ) of you.”]- [Sifthei Chachamim; Torath Kohanim 26:10]

RASHI: Five… will pursue a hundred, and a hundred of you will pursue ten thousand: But is this calculation correct? [Since five will pursue a hundred, this means that each Jew will pursue twenty enemies;] therefore, should Scripture not have written here: “and a hundred of you will pursue two thousand”? But, [the Torah teaches us that] there is no comparison between a few who fulfill the Torah and many who fulfill the Torah [and thus, here, the larger the group of pursuers, the higher proportionately is the number pursued]. — [Torath Kohanim 26:10]

Rashi's mathematical calculation is certainly very interesting, and makes us appreciate the exponential value of the combined Torah observance and righteousness. What is perhaps equally as interesting is that Rashi does not even comment (even though his words make clear) on the fact that when it comes to our enemy (both external and internal - the evil inclination), there is no combined exponential growth at all. It is almost as if evil did not matter - that it was there almost only to play a "supporting role" to the good.

That is in fact the case. Evil has no real substance - it all depends on us. These are the famous words of the Fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, before his last Ma'amar (Chassidic Discourse). Communist soldiers were searching house by house for "illegal" religious activity. They barged in to the home of the Rebbe and were planning on searching the entire house and making arrests. The Rebbe and his Chassidim were in a Farbrengen (speaking words of Torah, singing and drinking) and the Rebbe continued as if the soldiers weren't even there. He told all of his Chassidim to pay no attention to them."

"With great ecstasy he exclaimed: 'I will say another Maamar, so they will become completely [batul - nullified].' He then said the Maamar, ‘Reishis Goyim Amalek’, which explains that the forces that oppose G-dliness do not exist in the true sense."

This is the ultimate truth. However, when we are not steeped enough in Torah learning, or otherwise disconnected from the Source, then we feel constantly pursued, when in fact there is no one pursuing us at all - but ourselves.


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