Parshat Bechukotai

Torah Reading for Week of May 26 – June 1, 2019

By Rabbi Bruce Skolnick, MD, PhD, ’16

The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.


Probably many written drashot have been started off with a question.  This drash will be no different, except that the question will be multiple choice.  I have written a multiple choice question because several months ago when I volunteered to write this drash I wasn’t paying so much attention to the title of the Parsha—just that it was one of those Parashot that started with a B and was located somewhere sort of in the middle of the Torah. So now many months later when started to write my drash I wasn’t sure which which one I was supposed to do.  That’s because in that same part of the Torah there are three Parashot that begin with the letter B.  Should I call the AJRCA office and trouble them with my predicament?  No, there was a better way.  I remembered that the Parsha was scheduled for Memorial Day weekend—the same weekend as AJRCA ordination & graduation. So I pulled out my trusty Luah Hashanah and found out what I was supposed to be writing about.  So here is the multiple choice question—-which Parshat do you think it is? 

1) Which Parsha is scheduled for Memorial Day Weekend, 2019?
       A) Beha’alotecha
       B) Be-Hukkotcha
       C) Beshalokkotai
       D) Bechukotai
       E) both choices B and D


The answer is D, Bechukotai.  And it is a very appropriate Parsha. Why? It is about blessings and curses.  And why is a chapter about blessings and curses appropriate for the time of the AJRCA graduation ceremony?  Because all of our thoughts are filled with admiration,
awe, and respect for our new Rabbis, Cantors, Chaplains, and Masters graduate.  This is not a time to quote Rashi, Maimonides, Soloveitchik, or Buber.  But if you looked at the back of the Stephen Wise Auditorium on Monday you might have imagined these four great Rabbis standing at the back of the room and looking at the podium feeling awe and admiration and cheering on these distinguished new graduates about to start their careers in Judaism.


And so that brings us to Bechukotai.  It literally means “in My laws.  Who is “My” and what are the laws?  “My” of course is God, and the laws are the laws of the Torah.  God is speaking through Moses and what is said is very clear.  The first thirteen verses of the Parsha promise that if the laws are followed then the lives of the people will be good (Let’s forget the rest of the Parsha).  That all the Mitzvot the people do will bring those people good lives and happiness.  This is what our new AJRCA graduates have been doing now for many years.  It is why people go into these professions. They don’t do it for the money.  They do it for the knowledge that every day they may make a difference in the lives of the people they help.  They don’t do it for the rewards of doing Mitzvot.  They do it because that is what God has commanded them in the Torah.  We know that in Pirkei Avot we are told “you do not know the reward for a mitzvot” (Pirkei Avot).  You should not expect a reward for inviting strangers to your Passover Seder.  And you should not expect a reward for helping orphans, widows, and strangers.  The fulfillment of performing a mitzvah is just knowing that you have done it.


And so to those of you who on Memorial Day 2019 became Rabbis, Cantors, Chaplains, and Masters, we offer you our greatest awe and admiration.  Monday was a big day for you, and all of Judaism.  We respect you for choosing your new professions and we know that you will make the world a better place.  Your professors, your families, and your friends wish you Kol Hakavod and Yasher Koach.


As we say when we finish reading one of the books of the Torah: CHAZAK!!!  CHAZAK!!!  V’NITCHAZEK!!! BE STRONG!!  BE STRONG!!  AND MAY WE BE STRENGTHENED !!