Parashas Bechukosai

The second half of parashas Bechukosai deals with arachin, a certain category of pledges. This prompts the Midrash to expound on the topic of pledges. In particular, the Midrash teaches (Vayikra Rabbah 37:4, end):
Whoever makes a pledge and pays it gains the merit that he will pay his pledge in Yerushalayim, as it is written (Tehillim 116:18-19): “My vows to Hashem I will pay …” – Where? – “in the courtyards of Hashem’s house, in the midst of Yerushalayim – Halleluy-h.” And it is written (ibid. 118:1): “Give thanks to Hashem for He is good – His kindness endures forever.”
Rav Flamm, the redactor of the Maggid’s commentaries on the Chumash, presents an explanation of this Midrash based on an idea that the Maggid develops elsewhere. Rav Flamm raises two questions about the Midrash. First, it is puzzling that the Midrash starts out by saying that the person paid his pledge, but afterward speaks of a later payment. If the person paid his pledge, why would he need to pay again? Second, what does the verse from Tehillim 118 have to do with what the Midrash discussed before?
Rav Flamm answers these questions in the context of the passage in Tehillim 116 from which the Midrash quoted. He notes that the passage poses some difficulties, and that the intent of the Midrash is to clarify its meaning. Let us quote the passage in full (ibid. 116:12-19):
How can I repay Hashem for all His beneficence toward me? I will lift up the cup of salvation, and proclaim Hashem’s name. My vows to Hashem I will pay, in the presence, now, of His entire people. Difficult in Hashem’s eyes is the death of His devout ones. I beseech You, Hashem, for I am Your servant – I am Your servant, the son of Your handmaid; You have undone my bonds. I will present You an offering of thanksgiving, and I will proclaim Hashem’s name. My vows to Hashem I will pay, in the presence, now, of His entire people – in the courtyards of Hashem’s house, in the midst of Yerushalayim – Halleluy-h.
The general structure and flow of this passage is hard to grasp. The passage is repetitious. Also, the statement in the middle about the death of Hashem’s devout ones being difficult in Hashem’s eyes seems to have no connection with the rest of the passage. Rav Flamm sets out to explain what David HaMelech is saying.
He builds on an idea that the Maggid developed in one of his commentaries, which we presented previously, on parashas Tzav. The Midrash in Vayikra Rabbah 9:1 teaches: “‘With the presentation of a thanksgiving offering they shall honor Me’ (Tehillim 50:23). It is not written ‘sin-offering’ or ‘guilt-offering,’ but rather ‘thanksgiving offering.’ Why? Because sin-offerings and guilt-offerings are brought on account of a sin, but a thanksgiving offering is not brought on account of a sin.” The Maggid explains this Midrash in terms of two types of kindness that Hashem extends to us. Hashem grants us blessings over which we can rejoice, such as the birth of a son, or success in marrying off a son, or success in business. And Hashem also rescues us from bad situations. When we sin, He allows us to gain atonement through sin-offerings and guilt-offerings. And when we are in distress – for example, if we are severely ill or imprisoned – He comes to our aid. Both types of kindnesses, blessing and rescue, call for us to praise Hashem, but it is a greater honor to Hashem to be praised for granting blessing.
Now, David HaMelech had many occasions to experience Hashem’s kindness in rescuing people from bad situations, for he went through many episodes of being pursued. During such episodes, David pleaded with Hashem to save him, and vowed to sing praises to Him and present offerings to Him upon being saved. The first three verses in the passage in Tehillim we are discussing reflect this pattern. David praises Hashem for granting him salvation, and promises to pay the vows he made while in the throes of distress.
But then David presents Hashem with a question. David notes: “Difficult in Hashem’s eyes is the death of His devout ones.” Implicitly, David is asking Hashem: “Given that the death of Your devout ones is difficult in Your eyes, why do You put me in the position of being pursued, making it necessary for me to make vows, with the heavy responsibility this entails?” (Vayikra Rabbah 37:1 describes the calamities that can come upon a person for delaying the payment of a vow.) David beseeches Hashem to spare him from such situations. He asks Hashem to bring him blessings instead, so that he will be able to present Hashem with offerings in gratitude for these blessings, rather than having to pay off vows made in times of distress.
Thus David says: “I will present You an offering of thanksgiving, and I will proclaim Hashem’s name. My vows to Hashem I will pay, in the presence, now, of His entire people.” Here, David expresses his yearning to have to opportunity to make and pay vows in gratitude for blessings received. David then declares that he will pay his vows “in the courtyards of Hashem’s house, in the midst of Yerushalayim.” We can explain this statement by turning to another teaching in the same section of the Midrash as the one we quoted at the outset (Vayikra Rabbah 37:1): “Even better … is one who does not make vows to be paid later at all, but instead brings his sheep to the courtyard of the Beis HaMikdash, consecrates it there, and slaughters it on the spot.” This is the type of offering that David seeks to make.
We can now explain the teaching we quoted at the outset. The Midrash is saying that if a person pays a vow he made in a time of distress, then in this merit he will have the opportunity to pay vows made in Yerushalayim in the manner we have just described. The Midrash ends with the quote from Tehillim 118: “Give thanks to Hashem for He is good – His kindness endures forever.” We can bring in another teaching of our Sages to see how this quote fits with the rest of the Midrash. In Vayikra Rabbah 9:7, our Sages teach that in the end of days, all types of offerings will cease except for the thanksgiving offering, and all types of prayer will cease except for praises of thanks. In the end of days, Hashem will eradicate all evil from the face of the earth – as we say in the Amidah of the Yamim Noraim, all evil will dissipate like smoke. No longer will Hashem have rescue us from of bad situations; no longer will we have to bring sin-offerings and guilt-offerings to atone for sin or pay vows made in times of distress. It will remain only for us to bring thanksgiving offerings for blessings Hashem grants us, for His generosity is everlasting.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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