Shabbos Parashas Bechukosai

This week’s parashah presents the tochachah, the litany of curses that will befall us if we do not observe the Torah. One of the main punishments is exile. The Maggid asks why Hashem chooses exile as a means of punishment. Seemingly He could just let us stay where we are and punish us there; He surely does not lack the means to do so. The Maggid sets out to answer this question.
Two sets of verses set the background. The first set consists of the verses in our parashah that discuss the exile (Vayikra 26:33-35, 43):
And you I will scatter among the nations … your land will be desolate … then the land will be appeased for its sabbaticals … the land will be rid of them and it will be appeased for its sabbaticals, and they must gain appeasement for their iniquities, for they have rejected My ordinances and their souls have become disgusted with My decrees.
The second set of verses comes from Yeshayah 2:6-8 (on which we previously presented another perspective from the Maggid):
For You have abandoned Your people, the House of Yaakov, for they became filled with [idolatries of] the east [Aram], and with divinations, like the Philistines, and they involved themselves with the children of foreigners. Its land became filled with silver and gold … full of horses … their land became full of false gods – everyone bows down to the work of his hands, to what his fingers have fashioned.
Initially, Hashem placed the Jewish People in the Land of Israel because the people and the land were perfectly matched to each other, as our Sages state in Yalkut Shimoni, Nach 563 (expounding on the statement in Havakkuk 3:6 that Hashem measured the earth) and in Bamidbar Rabbah 23:6 (expounding on the statement in Tehillim 16:6 that “the inheritance suits me beautifully”). The Land of Israel is uniquely suited to Torah. Thus, Yeshayah declares (verse 2:3): “For from Zion will come forth Torah, and the word of Hashem from Yerushalayim.” And in Bava Basra 158b, the Sages say that the air of the Land of Israel makes one wise. Thus, while the Jewish People dwelled in the Land of Israel, the people flourished in Torah and mitzvos, while the land benefited from the positive influences generating from the people’s observance of the agricultural mitzvos (“mitzvos dependent on the land”). So long as the people observed the Torah, the people and the land remained together in harmony.
But later the Jewish People strayed and developed an interest in the vain enjoyments and customs in fashion in other parts of the world. When this occurred, Hashem separated them from the land and exiled them to the lands where the pursuits they became interested in were practiced. Thus, expounding on the Torah’s statement above that Hashem will scatter us among the nations, the Midrash expounds (Bamidbar Rabbah 7:10): “Since you want idol worship, I will exile you to lands where there is idol worship.” The separation between the people and the land was along the lines of the separation between a husband and wife who have become disgusted with each other and no longer wish to live together. In the passage from the parashah, the words תרץ and ירצו, rendered above respectively as it will be appeased and they must gain appeasement, can be rendered as desire or be contented with. Thus, we can read the verse where these words appear as follows: “The land will be rid of them and it will be contented with its sabbaticals, for they desired their iniquities.” The message here is that the people chose a wayward path, and so, correspondingly, the land chose to be rid of them and become desolate. The separation was appropriate for both parties.
The Maggid brings out the idea with a parable. A certain rich man had a sort of inn where he would invite guests in and treat them to a free meal. These meals were lavish, and everyone could eat their fill. The host had the practice of sizing up each guest and serving him the type of food they he guessed would fit the guest’s constitution, and seating the guests accordingly. One day a guest came who was dressed in a fancy suit and appeared to be a delicate fellow.  The host seated him near the head of the table, where the more delicate foods were served. The host placed at this part of the table a plate of rice, at the next part of the table a plate of pancakes, further on a plate with beans, and at the far end a plate with vegetables. The guest in the fancy suit looked at the rice and smelled it, and did not know what it was. Afterward, he saw the other plates being placed at the table, and he stretched his arm out to the other end of the table and took some of the vegetables. A bit later, he stretched out his arm in front of the other guests a second time to take some more vegetables. At this point, the host approached him and said: “My dear friend, how about you get up from here and sit down at the other end of the table?” The guest was very surprised, and he exclaimed: “Why are you, with all your graciousness, embarrassing me by telling me to move?” The host replied: “Far be it from me embarrass anyone. I want only to give all my guests exactly what they want. When you first came in, I sized you up to be a delicate fellow, so I seated you here where the more delicate foods are served. But now that I saw you reaching for the vegetables, I figured I’d move you to the other end of the table with the vegetables, so that you can help yourself to them easily.”
The parallel is clear. As indicated in the Midrash on the verse in Havakkuk, Hashem sized up all the lands and all the nations, and assigned each nation the land that suited him, in accordance with the special qualities of the particular land and the nature of the people of the particular nation. Hashem sized up the Jewish People as a people suited to Torah study and observance, and so He placed them in the Land of Israel, which is especially conducive to the Torah lifestyle and to spiritual experiences such as prophesy, Divine inspiration, and insight into the Torah’s secrets. But then, as indicated in the passage in Yeshayah 2:6-8 quoted above, Hashem saw the Jewish People turn their back on the Torah and become disenchanted with the holy duties that the Torah calls for. And He saw the people, from their place in Yerushalayim, stretch out their hands to other lands: to Egypt for horses, to Aram for sorcery, and so on. And He said to them, so to speak: “If this is what you are doing, what good is there in your living here, where you have stretch out your hands to other lands to get what you are looking for? Go out to these other lands, and the plate you want to take from will be right in front of you.” And accordingly, Hashem took the Jewish People out of the Land of Israel, sending each person to the land that was best tailored to the pursuits he desired.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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