"I will set up My covenant with you"
The book of Leviticus concludes this week with a short list of blessings for Israel if she obeys G-d's Torah, and a long litany of admonitions if she does not. At first glance it seems almost a bit cold, a bit distant. And the short but sweet enumeration of blessings is so overwhelmed by the vast inventory of vivid and terrifying admonitions that it almost seems like the odds are stacked against us. All this is in striking contrast to the manner in which the book of Leviticus first began:
"And He called to Moses, and the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting..." (Leviticus 1:1) "And He called" - Vayikra - in Hebrew, is spelled, as it always is, with a vav, yod, kuf, resh and an aleph. But in this case, and only in this case, the aleph is written much smaller than the other letters. Our sages remark that this small aleph bespeaks intimacy. It also visually emphasizes the first four letters, which alone spell the word veyakar. Yakar means "dear," as in precious, as in beloved. This subtle calligraphic gesture speaks volumes about G-d's love for Moshe, and by extension, His love for us. And this is how Vayikra - Leviticus - begins. It is the third of the five books of the Torah, the very heart of the Torah. It is a love letter from G-d to Israel in which He delineates all those things which most endear us to Him. And at the heart of these commandments are the korbanot - the offerings that we are to perform because, as the great commentator Rashi reminds us, it is G-d's desire.
It is from this core Divine desire for man to perform the service of the offerings upon the altar in the Holy Temple, that a fixed point, a north star, is established that creates a moral and spiritual imperative which in turn enables the performance of all of the six hundred and thirteen Torah commandments. Without this center-point and its gravitational pull, our relationship with G-d is painfully and tragically incomplete. It is this center-point, which makes up the lion's share of the book of Leviticus, the middle book of Torah, that describes man's most intimate point of contact with G-d - the korbanot. Is it any wonder that we ultimately come up short when trying to impose a rational explanation for the service of the offerings? For who can comprehend the stirrings of the heart? Conversely, is it any wonder that, having been estranged from the service of the offerings for nearly two thousand years, our hearts have grown cold to a love that we so desperately need to rekindle?
When we look more carefully at this week's concluding portion of Leviticus, Bechukotai, what we should detect is not a distance or a coolness from G-d, but a dire warning against remoteness and its devastating ramifications. "And if you treat Me as happenstance" (ibid 26:21) G-d cries out to us. The Hebrew word for "happenstance" - casualness, coolness, distance, an, in turn, arrogance, is keri, spelled with the letters kuf, resh and yod, the very same three letters that spell the word yakar - dear, beloved - but, alas, in a different order: A different, a distant, a dissonant order, in which our intimacy with G-d has been severed and it is nothing more than happenstance which rules our heart and propels us from one disaster to the next.
Leviticus outlines for us the way in which man and G-d can share this world. And it can only be sustained when we are on the best of terms, when our relationship is as G-d prescribes. The book concludes with a warning and a plea lest we should ever take for granted G-d's great affection for man, and grow distant from His blessings. We owe it to ourselves no less than to G-d, to make our way back to the heart and to the center of our relationship with G-d, in the place and manner in which G-d desires, the Holy Temple and the Divine service.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven reflect on the book of Leviticus whose reading we complete this Shabbat, and which concludes with a list of admonitions for Israel. How simple, how sweet and complete are our lives in the land of Israel, G-d's property, if we but follow His word and perform His word. Security, prosperity and peace are ours! But should we slip, the litany of disasters which will befall Israel and the shame and of opprobrium which will be ours, is long and arduous. But G-d neither forgets nor regrets His covenant with Israel. The second chances which G-d allows us as individuals and as a people, are also reflected in this week's observation of Pesach Sheni - The Second Passover. And... Rabbi Richman's upcoming USA speaking tour!