Behar-Bechukotai: Mountains and molehills

Insights into Judaic subjects.

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple, | updated: 17:00

 Raymond Apple
Raymond Apple

Torah reading: B'harB'chukkotai


Why does a Torah portion that lays down the laws of social justice bear the title B’har – “On the Mountain”?

The prosaic answer is that, according to traditional interpretation, the portion is named after the first important Hebrew word. But there is an additional level on which we can understand the concept.

Social justice implies that no-one will be disadvantaged by society. Neither lack of lineage, nor old age, disability, illness, poverty or any other drawback makes you less of a human being and less entitled to respect and support.

As the portion also tells us, the amount of land you own does not make you a mensch: indeed in the final analysis you don’t own the land at all because it belongs to God and we are only tenants of the Divine Landlord.

What has this to do with mountains?

Simple: the heights symbolise the challenge for human beings, whose task is not to limit themselves to the often grubby and selfish life they know on earth but to have eyes ever fixed on the highest of ideals.

The true mensch raises his sights from the molehills and yearns for the mountains.

So maybe he will never get there?

Let him only make the effort and he will certainly achieve something.

I heard a D’var Torah years ago when they were talking about a man on the moon and discussing a Hebrew prayer that says, “We look up to the moon but can never reach it”.

The rabbi I heard said, “You might not reach the moon, but if you make an effort you get higher than the person who doesn’t even try!”


There is a verse (Lev.22:33) in the Torah: “I brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord.”

Its first assertion is that why God brought us out of Egypt was in order to be our God.

The Egyptians had their religious system, against which the Hebrews had to struggle in order to remain true to their own faith. Gaining freedom allowed them to believe as Israelites without being lured into the ways of the environment.

Alas, there is a modern version of the problem: Jews who live all over the world and assimilate to the religious patterns of their neighbours. Sometimes this is combined with lip service to the Jewish God so we get Jews who try to keep both Hannukah and Xmas, Pesach and Easter, Judaism and Christianity. Difficult though it might be, a Jew has to decide to be unapologetically, unambiguously Jewish.

The verse we have quoted says not only that God is our God, but it gives His name: “I am the Lord”.

Actually, His four-letter Hebrew name does not mean “Lord” but is a version of the verb “to be”. It denotes two things, that He is, and that He causes all existence.

His name could be translated “The Existent One”, but that would omit the aspect of causing existence, so the best we can do is to call Him Hashem – “The Name”.

Why does the verse say “I am Hashem”? To identify the One who brought us out of Egypt, to tell us His Name.



Parashat B’chukkotai begins, “If you walk in My statutes…” (Lev. 26:3).

One of the great Chabad teachers, the Alter Rebbe, has a significant comment on the word “walk”. Walking suggests movement, progression from place to place. It is not only movement on level ground, but movement from one level to the next.

The Alter Rebbe says that though it sounds like a responsibility, the duty to make progress from a lower to a higher level, it also suggests a reward. If a person immerses him- or herself in the Divine statutes, they will make spiritual progress.

The more you live by and in the commandments, the more you find yourself ascending, going from one level to the next.

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