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Bechukotai 5765-2005

“Achieving Peace and Security for the Jewish People”

by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

In this coming week’s parasha, parashat Bechukotai, we encounter the first of the two tochachot–portions of the Torah in which G-d reproves the people of Israel for their transgressions. In both parashat Bechukotai, Leviticus 26:27-46, and parashat Kee Tavo, Deuteronomy 28:15-69, the evils that are predicted to befall the people of Israel for not following G-d’s directives are terrifying. The only comforting aspect regarding both of these ominous portions is that they are each preceded by generous blessings that G-d will bestow upon the Jewish people for following His commandments.

Parashat Bechukotai opens with the most glorious blessings for rain and abundant harvest, for peace and tranquility, for material wealth and for the promise of G-d’s presence to dwell among His people.

Given the seemingly perpetual state of embattlement of the people of Israel, the predictions of peace that are found in this parasha are worthy of our attention. The Torah in Leviticus 26:6 states: “V’nah’tah’tee shalom bah’aretz, oosh’chav’tem v’ayn mah’chah’rid.” G-d promises that He will provide peace in the land, and that His people will lie down with none to frighten them. G-d will cause wild beasts to withdraw from the land, and the sword will not cross the land of Israel. The Jews will pursue their enemies, who will fall before them by the sword. In fact, five Israelites will pursue one hundred enemies, and one hundred Israelites will pursue ten thousand enemies.

Jewish history is often perceived, with great justification, as one unending series of tragedies, pogroms, expulsions, inquisitions, crusades, destructions, exiles and, ultimately, the holocaust. As we say in the Passover Haggadah: “B’chol dor va’dor om’dim ah’lay’noo l’chah’lo’tay’noo.” In every single generation they [the enemies of the Jews] rise up and try to destroy us. Our generation, that has experienced both the cataclysmic holocaust and the exhilarating rise of the State of Israel, bears witness to the fact that there appears to be no rest for the weary. Once again, the State of Israel is besieged and beleaguered and subjected to constant vilification and condemnation, for the grave sin of attempting to provide basic security and protection for its citizens.

Are we, the Jewish people, destined to live this way eternally? Is there no antidote or formula for achieving peace for our nation?

Thank G-d, there is a formula, and it is spelled out clearly in the first verse of this week’s Torah portion. Leviticus 26:3 reads: “Im b’choo’ko’tai tay’lay’choo, v’et mitz’vo’tai tish’m’roo, va’ah’see’tem o’tahm…” If the Jewish people will follow G-d’s decrees and observe G-d’s commandments and perform them, then G-d will bless His people with all good, and will provide peace in the land.

If we look at the long and painful history of the Jewish people, we will clearly see that there has really never been a period of peace for our people without a concomitant return to G-d. Of course, the political leaders must pursue all diplomatic means and efforts to achieve peace, but the true source of peace for the Jews is clearly our relationship with G-d.

In the time of the prophet Jeremiah, the evil came from the “North.” Nebuchadnezer and his powerful Babylonian legions were threatening to wreak havoc upon the people of Judah. Looking for a means to defend themselves against this mighty force, the rulers of Judah sought to establish alliances with the Egyptians and the Assyrians. Jeremiah rails against these alliances and cries out (Jeremiah 2:18): “And now what have you to do on the road to Egypt, to drink the waters of Shichor (the Nile)? And, what have you to do on the way to Assyria, to drink the waters of the River (the Euphrates)?” Israel’s salvation, says Jeremiah, lies only in the peoples’ return to G-d. And so it is in our day as well.

I’ve often wondered why the Camp David peace agreement with Egypt was concluded between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. After all, Menachem Begin was the hardline Revisionist Zionist, who believed that even the East Bank of the Jordan belonged to Israel. Why wasn’t peace concluded with Golda Meir or Levi Eshkol, who were far more conciliatory? I believe that it is directly attributable to the fact that Menachem Begin was the first Prime Minister in thirty years to utter those fateful words that “with the help of G-d we will achieve peace.” Menachem Begin opened the door for G-d just a bit, inviting Him to play a role in achieving peace, and G-d responded generously.

Let the diplomats continue to ply their diplomacy, let the negotiators continue to negotiate, but the real source of peace for our People is, and will be, based upon our relationship with the Al-mighty. If we Jews will only follow G-d’s directions and faithfully observe and perform G-d’s commandments, then infinite blessing will be ours, and we will lie down in peace, and none will disturb us.

May you be blessed.