Parshat Bechukotai: Leviticus 26:3-27:34; Jeremiah 16:19-17:14.
Over the course of thousands of years, the Jewish people have toiled endlessly to uncover and appreciate the depth and significance of the Torah and its commandments. Ultimately, many of its teachings and directives have been explained in a manner which is pleasing to the palate of the modern-day Jew.
However, there is a category of commandments nicknamed chukim in Hebrew, literally translated as “statutes,” which include all those teachings and directives which are incomprehensible to one’s sensibilities. (The name of this week’s Torah portion, Bechukotai, is rooted in the word chukim).
The question is, how can we come to a sense of appreciation for that which seems unappreciable and perhaps antithetical to our modern-day sensibilities?
Perhaps it would help to look at the original founding of the Jewish belief system by our forefather Abraham. The primary revolution of Abraham can be defined by the following question: Is God created by man or man is created by God?
In other words, idol worship (which was prevalent in Abraham’s times) was a manifestation of the belief that man is the one who chooses and assigns divinity to that which feels important and divine. Versus Abraham who recognized the profundity of the fact that if we are discussing the Creator, He must be beyond human choice and definition.
Similarly, one can apply this idea to the general performance and fulfillment of God’s will as expressed in His Torah. The idea of limiting our Jewish involvement and interests exclusively to that which is palatable to our sensibilities is, albeit on a minor level, one form of idolatry in that one is “creating God in man’s image.”
The opportunity to connect and submit ourselves to a truly “Higher power” lies specifically in that which may not sit well with our emotional and intellectual capacities. The importance and significance in the specific act, speech, etc., does not lie in our personal palatable judgment which we assign to it, but rather to the fact that the Supreme Being considers it important.
Rabbi Israel Ba’al Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, was a revolutionary in many ways. One of his primary accomplishments was the recognition and respect which he accorded to the sincere Jew. It did not matter to him if the person was intellectually or emotionally gifted.
In fact, he would emphasize much care and concern toward the illiterate Jews of his time. He saw in them the soulful connection to God which was defined by their pure and sincere dedication and commitment to God and His Torah. Their relationship with God was entirely unadulterated by human definition, as mentioned above.
Suggestion: Next time you are struggling with a Jewish teaching, directive or value, ponder the idea above and appreciate the opportunity to truly serve God in Abrahamic fashion.
Rabbi Mendel Polter is a rabbi at the Woodward Avenue Shul.