Weekly Parsha Review Laced with Humor and Sarcasm from The Oisvorfer Ruv

Bichukoisai 2022 – The Trump Card: Drop the Mic! Reward & Punishment

Raboyseyee & Ladies,

Mazel tov wishes to Rabbi Kenneth and Nancy Hain, honorees last night at the Beth Sholom Dinner. The good rabbi and rebbitzen are retiring after 34 years and are looking forward to the next chapter of their very productive lives. The heylige Ois and eishes chayil were in attendance along with hundreds of shul members, members of other shuls, family members, along with other community rabbis who came out to honor the Hains for their outstanding leadership and contributions to the shul and to the community at large. Chazak!


The Trump Card: Drop the Mic! Reward & Punishment

According to most dictionaries, when one plays the trump card, one is doing or saying something unexpected which gives one a definitive advantage over other people. A mic drop is an emphatic and declarative gesture signifying the conclusion of a performance of note, often literally (or as if) dropping a microphone. Some say that the Mic drop comes from the practice, initially (but not exclusively) among hip-hop artists, of finishing a performance or song by dropping the microphone. Is that true? Were they first? Not! who was? The RBSO; more on that way below.

Welcome to the last parsha in Sefer Vayikra where, after hearing what the RBSO has in store for those who remain obstinate, noncompliant and even insolent, we will try standing up to recite the words chazak, chazak, v’nischazake  (be strong be strong and let us be strengthened) as the book of Leviticus comes to an end. Strength will be helpful after being threatened with 49 curses the RBSO has in mind should we not listen to His commandments.

So that you sound somewhat intelligent and well-rounded at the shabbis tish, let’s begin with a few informational tidbits.  Parshas Bichukoisei is read separately in an iber-yur (leap year) as is the case this year. Otherwise, it’s read together with last week’s Parsha of Behar. Is that always true? Not, and that depends on where you live.  If you live here in golus (the diaspora) it’s always the case, ober (but) if you happen to live over in Israel it gets more complicated. Bottom line: if you’re planning a bar mitzvah, halt kup (pay attention) to this detail.  These two parshas are separated (even in a non-leap year) in Israel when Pesach begins on Shabbis. Got that? It’s a shtikel complicated, but if you happen to be in Israel for one of those Pesachs, that’s exactly what you’ll experience. In nay event, not to worry because in two months from now as we close out Sefer Bamidbar, on Shabbis of 2 Av (July 30), our holy brothers in Israel will read Parshas Masei, while we will read the also double header -Matos and Masei. Once again, all the Jewish People will be in synch. If only, that’s all it took. Shoin.

B’chukoisei is a smallish parsha (8th shortest) but packs one hec of a punch as we’ll soon learn. Nu, while on the mundane, the shlishi aliya (3rd) happens to be the longest in the gantze Toirah, and consists of a whopping 37 pisukim. Why one needs to know this, I’m not quite sure but it’s certainly more pleasant information than what awaits us as we read the RBSO’s warning to the Yiddin. It’s there that we find one of the most dramatic and harshest sections of the entire Toirah (to this point), a section known as the “toichocho.” What is it and why is it so frightening? Simply stated, it’s a series of increasingly horrible events that will take place if we are to -say it’s not so- abandon the RBSO and His heylige Toirah. Disease, famine, war and exile and their gory details are delineated. If your blood pressure spikes from time to time, now is a good time to pop a pill. Oy vey! Raboyseyee, Bechukoisei is not for the faint of heart.

Any good news? Yes, there is: Parshas Ki Sovoi – which we will read in a few months- is much worse. It contains double the number of curses and more specific ways the RBSO will find to harm us physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually. Death might be better.  And with that gevaldige introduction, let’s taka see what the parsha has in store for us.

LET’S MAKE A DEAL, Host Monty Hall, 1963-76

This parsha could have easily been named ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ and taka that’s what the Yiddin are confronted with. Monty Hall did give us choices but never threatened anyone. The RBSO begins with these words: “If you follow my decrees and if you are careful to keep my commandments” (26:3), then good things will come your way.  Note the double language of ‘if’ and ‘if’. Nu, it’s like this: if you follow the RBSO’s chukim (decrees), all will be good: ober tomer nisht (if not), all hell will break loose and you’re in big, very big,  do-do. Shoin, got the picture? To lure the Yiddin in, the parsha begins with a series of blessings -rewards- that the RBSO will bestow upon them for merit, for being good, for doing the right thing, for observing his Toirah. The first 12 pisukim are dedicated to these blessings. Let’s read the 13th where the RBSO rationalizes His position: I took you out of Egypt, redeemed you from slavery and made you walk erect.

אֲנִ֞י יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֗ם אֲשֶׁ֨ר הוֹצֵ֤אתִי אֶתְכֶם֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם מִֽהְיֹ֥ת לָהֶ֖ם עֲבָדִ֑ים וָאֶשְׁבֹּר֙ מֹטֹ֣ת עֻלְּכֶ֔ם וָאוֹלֵ֥ךְ אֶתְכֶ֖ם קֽוֹמְמִיּֽוּת׃

“I am your G-d who brought you out from the land of the Egyptians to be their slaves no more, who broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.”

Walking erect is certainly a good thing, if you chap and perhaps should have been included in the rewards program, ober, let’s go veyter. It’s only after we’re lured in with the promise of blessings, that we are warned -graphically and sternly- of the calamities to befall us for disobedience. Disobedience is not an option; it comes with major consequences and fartig. Among the brochois the RBSO promises is this: rain in its proper time. “I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit. “

וְנָתַתִּ֥י גִשְׁמֵיכֶ֖ם בְּעִתָּ֑ם וְנָתְנָ֤ה הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ יְבוּלָ֔הּ וְעֵ֥ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֖ה יִתֵּ֥ן פִּרְיֽוֹ׃

The heylige Gemorah (Taanis 2a) tells us that rain is the deepest of all mysteries, (along with giving birth and the raising of the dead). Its source is above even the highest of spiritual worlds and its secret rests solely in the hands of the Creator Himself.  Says the medrish that the proper time for rain is on Friday night because that’s when people are home and don’t have to go out to work. Ober, asks the Ois azoy: would you prefer rain during the week when you can get into your car and drive to work and are otherwise busy anyway, or would you prefer rain on weekends? I don’t know about most of you, but I prefer walking to and from shul on Friday nights without rain. Do you chap this? The bottom line: though 12 pisukim dedicated to rewards ring nicely and sound promising, they are dramatically overshadowed and pale by comparison to the 37 pisukim to follow where the RBSO lays out punishments for bad behavior. That being said, it’s still refreshing to read that the RBSO was the first to come up with a loyalty and rewards package.

Let’s quickly read the entire package: “If you will follow my decrees and observe my commandments…, then I will provide your rains in their time, and the land will give its produce… You will eat your bread to satiety and you will dwell securely in your land.  I shall provide peace (shalom) in the land and you shall lie down at night without fear… A sword will not cross your land. You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall before you by the sword.  Five of you will pursue a hundred and hundred of you will pursue ten thousand and your enemies will fall before you by the sword. I will look with favor upon you, and make you fertile and multiply you; and I will maintain My covenant with you. You shall eat old grain long stored, and you shall have to clear out the old to make room for the new. I will establish My abode in your midst, and I will not spurn you. I will be ever present in your midst: I will be your God, and you shall be My people.”

Ober, how are we to understand and chap the eligibility guidelines? Are they intended for the collective? Do all Yiddin need to be in compliance for the blessings to come through? Is this even possible? Has there ever been a time when all Yiddin were in compliance? Or, is the RBSO talking to each individual? Can you or I be the beneficiaries of the good tidings? Can a good mitzvah performing Jew earn and enjoy rewards? On a boarder level, do we get rewarded or punished for the sins of others? Is reward and punishment really that simple? Shoin, lest we open a pandoras box -one that has yet to be closed to everyone’s satisfaction though many have proffered different ideas -the bottom line is azoy: this hot topic is one of those theological tenets that is typical amongst many world religions, including ours. Another bottom line: the idea of divine reward and punishment -shechar-v’oinesh- was accepted and went on to become one of the RambaM’s thirteen principles [of Judaism]. And taka says Rashi on the direct correlation (Vayikra 26:3)? “Do a mitzvah and you will be rewarded; perform a transgression and the RBSO will give you your comeuppance.” Is that how it works?

Ober says the RambaN that the RBSO is not addressing individuals, but rather a community.  When the community does good things, its populace and its quality of life are better off. When a detrimental policy becomes a part of society, the effects are adverse, and the community suffers as a result. And says the Ibn Ezra that because we are physical beings, we don’t have an understanding of the spiritual world. It’s beyond our pay grade and the RBSO is essentially putting the punishment in terms that we can understand. He’s dumbing it down for us to chap and rationalize. What that all means, ver veyst?

Says Rabbi Ahron Soloveitchik azoy: the answer may lie in understanding that there are two types of reward and punishment: on an individual level and on a collective level. On the individual level, the heylige Gemora (kiddushin 39b) tells us there is no reward for doing a mitzvah in this world; that comes in the hereafter. What? OMG? The RBSO doesn’t give a person reward in this world for the mitzvis that he/she performs and observes?  You mean we do all this davening, learning and all these mitzvis for naught? We beat down temptations for no reward?  And if that’s the case, how can our parsha begin by stating that if the Yiddin study the Toirah and perform the mitzvis properly, that the RBSO will bless them in this world with rain and other goodies?  Ober so say the heylige Gemora:  שכר מצוה בהאי עלמא ליכא. Is this a real incentive to be good? Says the Rambam azoy:  although somebody who properly performs the mitzvis will receive the blessings which are promised by the Toirah, these are not considered his full and primary reward. The primary reward is yet to come in the World to Come. Givaldig. Incentive mamish?

A promise of reward in the hereafter – requiring a significant leap of faith – will not compel individuals to act properly. Human choice thus remains intact. In this world, however, reward and punishment do function on a collective level. When one does something positive, the larger community benefits. Similarly, when one does something negative, the community suffers. Note that when discussing reward and punishment, the text is in the plural. Similarly, in the second perek (portion) of the Shema -recited daily morning and night-  reward and punishment are in the plural (Devorim 11:13-21). In fact, when reward is written in the singular, it refers to an individual’s portion in the world to come. One such example is kibud Av V’ame – “Honor your father and mother that your days may be long.”

The bottom line:  The good can suffer in this world, as there is no exact reward and punishment for individuals. Good things happen to bad people and sadly very bad things happen to very good people. Young innocent children are gunned down; who can chap this? However, when doing the right thing, we may not benefit personally but the community does. In a world that emphasizes the primacy of the self, the heylige Toirah tells us that it may be impossible to control our own destiny. But what we do reverberates for the larger community. Got all that? Veyter.

Here’s another good pshat: On the one hand, the heylige Toirah guarantees that if we -as an entire nation- will follow His Biblical commandments in the land of Israel, the soil will provide “you” with the requisite nourishment and there will be peace – sholom – in the land; no sword will cross the land (see posik 6 above).  On the other hand, in the very next posik, the heylige Toirah tells us that we will pursue our enemies with the swords and a hundred of our men will slay a thousand of the enemy.  Is this the same sholom (peace) as in the previous posik? Even if we are defeating our enemy by the sword, this does not mean that we have no casualties at all! This hardly suggests a cessation of the sword altogether!?  What’s pshat in posik 6 “And I shall provide peace – sholom – in the land?” Says Rabbi Riskin who quoted a famous Ibn Ezra’s one word answer mamish so gishmak azoy: the sholom, peace the RBSO promises is beyneychem, “amongst yourselves.”  The heylige Toirah is telling us that if we follow the commandments and live in peace and harmony amongst ourselves in Israel; if there be no swords of internecine civil wars within the nation, then we will be able to soundly defeat any enemy who might rise up from without to destroy us. Sholom means internal peace, the love of our own -no matter our differences. Bottom line:  only if and when the Yiddin are at peace with each other internally will we be able to overcome our external enemies who threaten to destroy us. When in history was there such a time? Never! When will such an opportunity present?  Only when the Moshiach arrives.

The final bottom line on this entire subject of rewards and punishment in our parsha was never -as you read above- fully resolved. In a cold, dark, cruel world that has plenty of injustice, how can we accept a literal or simplistic understanding of this concept?  Who’s pshat among the many is on point? Ver veyst! In the meantime, we remain spooked! These questions have been and continue to be hotly debated and are zicher above the Ois’s pay grade. How any or all of this works is discussed by many in many books, lectures, exegesis and more. Who is correct? Ver veyst? Only the Moshiach can ultimately resolve this. Will he? According to some, upon his arrival, this concept of sechar v’oinesh will no longer be relevant; it may never be resolved.  Veyter. On the other hand, perhaps Eliyahu Hanovee who is due to arrive in advance of the Moshiach- might have answers as to what the RBSO had in mind with His rewards and punishment programs.

Ober, did listening to the curses in our parsha and in Ki Sovoi at all deter the Yiddin from sinning? From angering the RBSO over and again? Not! Despite the dire warnings in our parsha and again repeated later in Sefer Devorim, seemingly, the Yiddin shook them all off. Did the RBSO not wipe out tens of thousands of them even before entering the land? He did! Did they lose the Beis Hamikdash twice for bad behavior? They did! Were they exiled from the land? Yes!  Have they since experienced innumerable pogroms, massacres and worse? They have! Has anything changed? Also not! The Yiddin are a tough bunch, a stiff-necked people, and case closed. They absorb the punches and go veyter. Nu, who am I to give mussir?

And we close this shorter than usual review with this. Yearly as Bichukoisai and Ki Sovoi come around, the Ois harkens back to how it all began and how the RBSO -over and again- reminds His Chosen People that He’s the boss.

Over and again, a similar message is delivered: follow all My commandments -even the chukim, those you never chap logically, and life will work out for you. If not, a certain death awaits you. And before death -which might be mamish a reprieve- come all the horrible punishment He lays out. Is the RBSO negotiating with the Yiddin? In our parsha and again in Ki Sovi, He offers them, a choice: carrot or stick.

And to improve compliance, He pulls out the ultimate trump card: it’s a drop the mic moment where the RBSO brings out the big guns in the form of a few magical words. These words, when uttered, trump all others and remind us as to who’s in charge and why. What are these magical words that bring about compliance? Do the words always work? Have they over the generations? Let’s take another look at posik 13, following the rewards package.

“I am your G-d who brought you out from the land of the Egyptians to be their slaves no more, who broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.”

אֲנִ֞י יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֗ם אֲשֶׁ֨ר הוֹצֵ֤אתִי אֶתְכֶם֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם מִֽהְיֹ֥ת לָהֶ֖ם עֲבָדִ֑ים וָאֶשְׁבֹּר֙ מֹטֹ֣ת עֻלְּכֶ֔ם וָאוֹלֵ֥ךְ אֶתְכֶ֖ם קֽוֹמְמִיּֽוּת׃ {פ}

Fartig and case closed.  A full 87 times throughout the heylige Toirah and Tanach- we find some variation of these words. Why must you listen to Me. Because I deserve that you should put your trust in Me, that I am able to do all these things – all the promised rewards- for, behold, I brought you forth from the land of Egypt and have wrought great miracles for you. Invoking this very message with these very words and variations of them, 87 different times, the RBSO lays it all out and gives us the one gift that keeps on giving: Jewish guilt. You owe Me! Fartig and case closed.


Chazak, chazak, V’nischazake!

A gittin Shabbis –

The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv

Yitz Grossman


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