Parashas Behar-Bechukosai

Parashas Bechukosai contains the first of the two Torah passages called tochachah, rebuke, which present a long litany of curses that will befall those who stray from the Torah path. In the middle of the litany of curses in our parashah we find the following verse (Vayikra 26:42): “And will I remember My covenant with Yaakov, and also My covenant with Yitzchak, and also My covenant with Avraham will I remember, and I will remember the land.” The Maggid raises two questions about this verse. First, why are the forefathers listed in reverse order? Second, why does this verse, which seems to present good tidings, appear in the middle of the litany of curses?
The Maggid answers these questions by means of a parable. Two men were arrested for stealing. When they were brought into court, the judges inquired into their background. The first thief replied: “I’m from Mudville. I’m the son of Donald Black.” One judge said: “Ah, Donald Black, we know him well. He spent time here in jail. He is a thief, his father was a thief, and his grandfather was a thief.” Afterwards, the judges turned to the second thief and asked: “And you, who is your father?” The thief replied: “David Cohen, the rabbi of the town of Pleasantville.” The judges asked further: “And your grandfather?” The thief responded: “Moshe Cohen, the rabbi of the city of Megatropolis.” The judges gave the first thief a light sentence and the second one a heavy sentence. The second thief asked: “Why is my sentence so much heavier than this other thief?” One judge replied: “This other fellow is the son of a thief, from a community of thieves. So he is not so much to blame for his stealing. But you grew up in the house of a saintly and upright man. How did you come to steal?” A second judge continued: “Ah, I know your grandfather, and he is also a saintly and upright man.” The third judge added: “I know your great-grandfather, and he is a saintly and upright man as well. You come from a line of saintly and wholehearted men. It does not befit you to steal. So you deserve a very severe sentence.”
This is the idea behind the verse from our parashah. The verse appears in the middle of the litany of curses because it bears a penetrating rebuke. Hashem is comparing our conduct with the splendid conduct of our saintly forefathers. In the same vein, the Gemara in Shabbos 89b tells us that in the end of days, Hashem will come to us and say: “Go to your forefathers, and they will rebuke you.” In the verse from our parashah, Hashem is telling us that He will say to us: “I remember your father Yaakov, with whom I had a covenant. And I remember as well your grandfather Yitzchak, with whom I also had a covenant. And furthermore I remember your great-grandfather Avraham, with whom, too, I had a covenant. So glorious is the stock you come from! How could you fall so low? In addition, I remember the land. I brought you into a lofty land, and you sinned against it. And so you will go into exile, and the land will be rid of you.”
We can compare Hashem’s approach toward us to the way a tutor treats his students. When a dull student learns poorly, the tutor treats him leniently, for he knows the student cannot do much better. But when a bright student learns poorly, the tutor disciplines him severely, for he knows that his poor performance does not befit him.
In the Zichronos (Remembrances) section of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf prayer, we say: “And the binding of Yitzchak remember for his descendants this day in mercy.” We plead with Hashem that His remembrance of our forefathers should serve to lead Him to treat us with compassion, rather than serving as an indictment against us. Similarly, when praying to Hashem on our behalf after the sin of the golden calf, Moshe asks Hashem to recall our forefathers for our benefit, as a reason to show us mercy (Devarim 9:27): “Remember Your servants, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov; do not look upon the stubbornness of this people, nor to their wickedness, nor to their sin.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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