Bechukotai: A challenge for Shavuot this year
There is a most intriguing commentary of Rashi at the commencement of Parshat Bechukotai. The parsha starts,
“Im bechukotai teleichu…” – “If you walk in my statutes…”
and what follows is a list of promises that Hashem gives to us if we obey his commandments. But Rashi doesn’t understand “bechukotai teleichu” to mean, ‘to observe the mitzvot’, but rather, “shetihyu amalim batorah,” – that we should ‘engage in the toil of Torah study.’ So from where does Rashi know this? Let me ask two further questions.
The passuk says, “bechukotai.” The chukot are the laws or statutes of the Torah but we know from elsewhere that there are also eduyot which are testimonies and mishpatim which are the civil laws. So why here are the chukot chosen to represent all the laws?
In addition, we can question the verb used: “im bechukotai teleichu” means “if you walk in my precepts.” Walking? Surely the Torah should have said ‘tilmedu’, if ‘you study’ my precepts?
The term ‘chok’, meaning a Torah law,’ comes from the word ‘chakikah’ which means ‘to be engraved’. If I take a pen and I write on a piece of paper, the ink will be on the paper but not within it. However if I engrave words within a slab of stone, then the wording becomes an integral part of the substance. ‘Chok’ therefore suggests that when we study the Torah, our Torah knowledge becomes an integral part of our personalities.
Through his peirush here, Rashi wants us to know that by studying Torah we engage in life shaping exercises. Beyond that, we can interpret “Im bechukotai teleichu” as “If you walk within the study experience,” meaning that further to our study, wherever we go, we should allow our learning to influence and to inspire us. Isn’t that exactly what we say in the first paragraph of the shema when we refer to the study of Torah: “uvelechtecha baderech” – “and when you walk on the way”? Let us take these words wherever we go while we are on the paths of our journeys through life.
We therefore see how significant Torah study can be for us. But it all depends on one word. It’s the opening word of our parsha: Im. If. Im bechukotai teleichu, if you will study Torah, it’s available to one and all.
So therefore I throw out this challenge to you: Why not go for it? Why not engage with Torah? And in anticipation of the forthcoming festival of Shavuot, on which we will have a glorious festival of Torah study, please avail of the opportunities in your community. And I promise you, it will shape your lives for the better, and wherever you go, it will accompany you, to give you lives of meaning and happiness always.