Audio: TTA for Parshat B’chukotai and the Shmita Year

Tap on Shoulder / Sledge Hammer The twice-presented TOCHACHA - in B'chukotai and in Ki Tavo.
5/16/2014, 12:10 PM

A7 Radio's "Torah Tidbits Audio" with Phil Chernofsky
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Tap on Shoulder / Sledge Hammer

The twice-presented TOCHACHA - in B'chukotai and in Ki Tavo - are very heavy on the negative side. They each start with relatively few p'sukim which extol the benefits of following G-d and keeping Torah and Mitzvot. And then the sledge hammer comes down and details and repeats all kinds of terrible things that will a happen if we turn away from G-d and if we disregard his Mitzvot. This is very painful to hear. And frightening to contemplate. We should note well that HaShem says the same things to us in a much gentler way, something like the tap on the shoulder referred to in the title of this Lead Tidbit. We recite G-d's promise of good and warning of bad every single day. At least twice. And we enclose it in every Mezuza on our doorposts and in every pair of T'filin (twice). We are referring to the second passage of the Sh'ma, the second of two parshiyot in a Mezuza, and one of the four parshiyot in each of the T'filin.

We are talking about, V'HAYA IM SHAMO'A TISHM'U... And if you take a careful look at that portion from Parshat Eikev, it might not strike you as a mere tap on the shoulder, but, at least, it isn't the same sledge hammer of the Tochacha. If you indeed heed My commandments... to love G-d, and serve Him with all your heart and soul... then we will have beneficial and timely rain, bountiful crops... Very similar to the beginning of this week's sedra. Be careful lest your heart be tempted and you go astray... Avoda Zara, idolatry, the worst betrayal of G-d that could be. Then G-d will be angry (so to speak)... He will close the Heavens... no yield of produce... and we will perish swiftly from the Land... Again, on the flip side, very similar to the Tochacha. But somehow, this part of the Sh'ma feels gentler than the harsh Tochacha. And there are other portions of the Torah that contain the same or similar promises if we follow HaShem and warnings, if we don't. Tochacha, twice a year. V'haya every single day - twice. Sledge hammer. Tap on the shoulder. In this case, it isn't a matter of 'take your pick'.

We get Parshat B'chukotai and Parshat Ki Tavo, whether we need them or not. Whether we want them or not. And Sh'ma is Sh'ma. That's not the point. So what is? Let's make two points. First, our deal with HaShem is a done deal. A real deal. However He chooses to tell us, to remind us - whatever His tone of voice is (so to speak), IF we follow Him, then... And if we don't... If we heed His daily warnings, then the Tochacha will not sting as much. It would be lovely to point to the first part and say: That's me. That's us. As to the second part? Who me? G-d forbid. For the deeds, not just for the punishment. The other point: In life, we receive many reminders and messages of many types. If we get the point with the tap on the shoulder type, then we won't need the sledge hammer. Appreciate your eyesight (for example). Say the bracha Pokei'ach Ivrim with a real appreciation of G-d for the gift of sight. Take something like this for granted and we sometimes get more than a tap - eye trouble or worse...

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Phil Chernofsky is the educational director of the Orthodox Union's OU Israel Center in Jerusalem and editor of the Torah Tidbits parsha pamphlet. Since 1998, he has hosted Torah Tidbits Audio, a shiur on the weekly parsha with witty insights. It airs every Thursday from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Israel time and is downloadable as a podcast on Israel National Radio. Phil made Aliyah to Israel over 30 years ago. He is the author of the newly released book And Every Single One Was Someone, a tribute to victims of the Holocaust.
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