• Rabbi Rubanowitz

Behar - Behukosai

Behar-Bechukosai, 5777/2017~ “Cents and Sensibility”

The “Second” Parsha of this week starts with the promises of great blessing if we follow the right path in life. There are many words that convey the concept of a “law” (rules, statutes, dictates, Mitzvos…), yet the The Torah chooses “Chok” to start off this great guarantee of blessings. If you keep the “Choks”, “Im BCHUKOsay Tailaichu”-then the blessings ensue! Why this particular word? A Chok is a Mitzva or rule that appears to be inherently “alogical”. It either defies logic (like the “Red Heifer” which purifies the impure and impurifies the pure) or seems to have no normative, comprehensible-on-its-surface  reasoning (like the prohibition against wearing a wool linen mixture- why not?).  An “unexplained statute”. Why would blessings of bounty, success and peace appear to be contingent most specifically on our embrace of the Mitzvot we don’t understand? Are not all the Mitzvot equally important?

Rashi seems to stray from this idea. Citing the Medrash, Rashi interprets the verse to say: “If you TOIL in the Torah”-you get the blessings. As many understand, it’s the effort, the hard work and investment in Torah study and in a life of Torah which yields the physical and spiritual crops of “the blessings”. I am challenged by this Rashi. Where in the word “Chok” does Rashi see the idea of toiling and investment? The word means “unexplained statute”!

Here is my Chiddush friends: In our material-dominated world, we accept a basic premise: the more we put effort into material pursuits, the more materialism we will yield. The American Dream after all, is built on the premise that hard work and thrift will allow anyone to achieve and carve out their piece of the pie. The logical result of hard work and dedication is the realization of our efforts in material success and ultimate happiness. Says the Torah-that might be logical, in a “data in-data out” computer sense. But true success and blessing stemming from that success, comes of course from Hashem, and requires an additional ingredient, one that is not necessarily connected to the world of hardcore logic: Torah. If you want actual success in every way, make sure that your effort, hard work, your TOIL, is done with and through Torah. Be “Amailim”, engage in labor-but in a Torah way. If you seek material success and ultimate happiness to be derived from your physical work on this earth-you may actually need to do the illogical, the “Chok”. Take time off mid-day for a Torah study session. Give away a portion of your income regularly. Every seven years close down your farm and seek no profits from your crops. Take every seventh day OFF from work. Save business opportunities for your rival across the street. Make sure you provide for the needy, the orphans and widows…

Note however, that you won’t find these suggestions in a book entitled “HOW TO MAKE IT RICH”. Elite Business schools won’t direct you to “make your business temporary and your Torah permanent” in their prescription for success in the marketplace. Those approaches are downright illogical. Allowing Torah and Jewish practice to infiltrate your business hours and take precious money-making time away, or running your business affairs based on “what’s kosher” instead of what makes the most money may be lofty, but won’t get you rich in any logical sense.

Says Rashi: WRONG! You want true success-and a life of real blessings and happiness? Do theillogical. Follow the CHOK. Mix Torah right into your daily rat race! “Tiheyu “AMAILIM”, you should be “Working 9-5” with Torah. Do that, and yes, the blessings will be guaranteed.

Now who can turn away a deal like that?

Shabbat Shalom Umevorach!

Shalom Rubanowitz,

at the “Shul on the Beach, Venice,  California.