Parshat Behar-Bechukotai

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“G’d’s Nearness is a Promise”
By Rabbi Elisheva Beyer, RN, MS, JD, ’06

Bechukotai tells us of G-d’s promises for following His commandments and consequences for failing to do so.  The parsha opens with, “Bechukotai tale’chu,” which translates as, “If you go in My chukim….” “Chukim” (plural) or “chok” (singular) has several meanings. 

With regard to this passage, chukim are understood as decrees from G-d which are not necessarily ones we can rationally understand. The classic chok identified in rabbinic literature is the ritual of the red heifer which purifies the defiled but defiles those involved in its preparation.  While we may rationally understand the prohibitions against murder or robbery in a civilized society, the red heifer ritual is beyond understanding.  Chok may also mean a boundary, as in, “When He assigned the sea its limits [chuko].” (Proverbs 8:29) Yet another meaning is an allotment or portion as, “Give me my daily portion of [chuki] bread.”  (Prov. 30:8)

More specifically, bechukotai is related to the root “chakika,” which means “engraved.”  Thus, our Sages tell us that G-d’s path must not only be written on our hearts, but rather, it must be engraved upon our soul.  (Alter Rebbe, Likkutei Sichot Bechukosai; Sefat Emet Parsha Chuka)  Our psyche and soul are to be engraved or, perhaps in modern language we would say that we are to be “hard-wired” with G-d’s path connecting us to G-d.

Consciously following G-d’s path must be interconnected with every moment.  G-d is our first thought in the morning when we wake with thankful prayer for returning our souls to us.  It is mindful focus upon G-d during every thought and every breath.  G-d is concerned with everything we do:  how we treat our family, ourselves, the stranger and even how we treat material items.  Do we avoid negative speech?  Do we preserve the dignity of each person we see though compassionate responses?  Do we avoid waste?  G-d’s path also needs to be our prayer mind as we thank G-d for the day and resolve to do better tomorrow in our last thoughts before we sleep. 

Following G-d’s way is the path to blessing.  The blessing for following G-d’s path is G-d’s nearness.  “I will place My Sanctuary among you.  My Spirit will not reject you.  I will walk among you.  I will be G-d unto you and you will be a people unto Me.”  (Lev. 26:11-12) 

Experiencing G-d’s presence is a gift which requires our focus.  Where our mind takes us that is where we live.  Would that we could live the prayers of King David who said, “I am my prayer.”  (Ps. 69:14) and, “may my heart be perfect with Your statutes (chukim).” (Ps. 119:80)     

During this time in the Hebrew calendar, we count the omer which challenges us to daily personal refinement as we move closer towards our own personal “Sinai.”  This includes a dedication to G-d’s path.  It must be a deeper experience than something merely written on our heart.  Torah needs to be received in such a way that we cease to see ourselves as an independent entity, like pen and paper.  We need to be so involved living G-d’s path that it is permanently engraved on our innermost being, where the person and “Torah” are integrally united.   

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