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"If You Follow My Laws..."

Parshat Behukotay opens with the statement "if you follow my laws..." (Leviticus 26:3). The verb "follow" is the same word that literally means "go by foot" (hey, lamed, khaf). It is also the root of the word 'Halacha' which refers to the system of rules and regulations governing the life of an observant Jew. A few verses later the Torah uniquely refers to God as the power "that brought you from the land of the Egyptians to be their slaves no more, who broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect" ( 26:13). This repetition of the word for walking used as a literary device alludes to another level of meaning beyond the literal.

The word for foot in Hebrew is 'Cregel'. It also means habit. When the Torah states "follow my laws" it means literally to actively pursue opportunities to fulfill God's laws and commandments. It also alludes to the idea of making observance and fulfillment of the commandments a habit. Not unrelated, the Hebrew word "huk" (law) is derived from a root that means to carve out. Thus, conveying the sense that one must be so habitual in his or her pursuit of commandments that s/he figuratively carves out a path.

This emphasis on the importance of making a habit out of 'Halacha' is revealed later in the parsha when the consequences for not following God's laws are described. A key word for understanding the intensity of God's wrath towards Israel is found in verses 26:21, 23-24: "If you are 'Ckeri' with me, then I will be 'Ckeri' with you". The word 'Ckeri', intentionally left untranslated is usually rendered as contrary or hostile. Rashi, however, suggests that we should understand it as inconsistent or irregular as a derivative of the word 'Cmekre' (lit. chance). (Others suggest that it means to refrain, citing Proverbs 25.17). In other words, according to the Torah God's wrath results from Israel's inconsistent fulfillment of the law.

This ought not to be seen as a demand for perfection. After all, such consistency in fulfillment of God's laws could only be tantamount to perfection. (Incidentally, some rabbis do see a comparison between this parsha and chapter two in Genesis where the Garden of Eden, the place and time of such perfection, is discussed). Rather, it is best understood as a divine insight into relationships: Inconsistency leads to estrangement. (Whenever God is punishing Israel it is understood biblically as a withdrawing of God's presence from among Israel).

In what ways have our inconsistencies led to the withdrawing from our lives of people who are important to us?
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah