Friday, May 23, 2008

BeChukotai (1 and 2)


Inner Avot

The lines of consolation which follows Bechukotai’s description of our (The Jewish People's) punishment for straying (which consists of G-d saying that he will remember Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov) are absent from the tochacha - rebuke in parshat Ki Tavo. Why?

Daily we pray to G-d in the merit of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. What right do we have to ask for things in their merit? The name Pirkei Avot means Chapters of the Fathers. Why is it called the words of the fathers and not the rabbis? Why is each chapter introduced by a Mishna stating that All of Israel has a share in the World to Come? The answers to questions can lead us to an understanding of our original question.

Rav Nissin Alpert explained that the hopeful note on which this tochacha ends is hinged upon the Jewish People maintaining an attachment to the values of the Avot. If G-d sees that we have not severed our ties to the qualities of Chesed-Kindness, Gevura-Strength, /Avodah-Service, and Torah - there is hope. In praying daily bizechut Avot-in the merit of our forefathers we invoke G-d's mercy based on the merit of the attributes of our forefathers that are inside us, rather than based on the historical merit of their deeds.

Pirkei Avot is appropriately named because statements that we read in this book are not remote words of distant Sages. These are words of fathers, and words of fathers live inside us. We should recognize and nurture this connection if there is to be hope. This idea of connection is reinforced by the Mishna read before each chapter which assures our share in Olam HaBa, the world in which all souls are connected. This idea comes up again, early in the second Perek (2:2) when we're told that the merit of the community’s predecessors helps the community's members.

A little boy was flying a kite. The wind was strong so it was a good day for it. He continuously released string, as the kite soared to the sky. An old man passed and asked the what the kid was doing. The boy said he was flying a kite. The man pointed out that there was no kite in sight, only a taught string leading to the clouds. The boy insisted that his kite was at the end of the line. The man demanded: "How do you know the kite is there?" The boy replied, "I can feel it's tug."

We have the tug of our ancestors inside us. Many of us, like myself, have been blessed with parents that value and passed on Jewish tradition. It would be wise to heed the spirit of the Avot inside us. We must foster Chesed, Gevura/Avodah, and Torah in ourselves and our community. As long as we feel the tug, there is hope.

It takes effort to cultivate the good inside ourselves. In life we become what we make ourselves, not necessarily what we wish to be. And there is always competition for our attention.

One evening a Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle going on inside him; "My son, it is between 2 wolves. One is evil: Anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.The other is good: Joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith." The grandson thought about it and asked his grandfather, "Which wolf wins?" The old Cherokee replied, "The one I feed."May we be blessed to nurture the good inside ourselves and to merit great spiritual success.


The following is the explanation of the Ramban (though it sounds new-agey) on the first pasuk of Bechukotai:

The blessings of Bechukotai begin with rain because seasonal rain makes the air pure and the springs clear and this leads to good health. Rain causes all produce to be increased and improves the quality of the environment. If the ecology of the world were at the ideal level due to abundant rain at the right time then people would not get sick and would live naturally for a very long time. Thus, rain is the greatest of all blessings and is therefore given priority of all the blessings.

We forget that people don't die from old age. People die from illness. Adam made a mistake that brought death into the world. Adam lived to nine hundred and thirty. The Ramban says that with good health we could all live that long.

Rabbi Gavriel Zinner writes his Nit'ei Gavriel that rain in between Pesach and Shavuot brings great healing for all illness. The Imrei Pinchas writes that it is therapeutic to stand in the rain between Pesach and Shavuot with ones head a bit exposed to the falling drops and even to open one's mouth and allow the rain to fall into it. The late Puppa Rebbe spoke of his father, the VaYaged Ya'akov, following this practice. The Segulat Yisrael writes that this rain is especially helpful on Lag Ba'Omer and that having rain on this day is a siman bracha -good sign.

May we be blessed with continued rains of blessing and continued health.

Good Shabbos and Good lag BaOmer.


rr said...

This was a gorgeous post, with so much great content! I read it quickly (though every word) and am definitely printing out to savor over Shabbat. Unfortunately Memorial Day traffic has put me WAY behind schedule in Shabbat prep. Wishing you a happy Lag B'omer and a Shabbat Shalom! Thanks for this post.

rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Please forgive my slow reply.