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Why in Leviticus?

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The last Torah portion in the Book of Leviticus, Bechukotai, lists the blessings that the Jewish people merit if they follow God’s commandments and the curses that result, God forbid, from neglecting the commandments. Later on, in the Book of Deuteronomy, the Torah repeats a similar construct. In Deuteronomy, it is understandable that Moses communicates the potential blessings and curses with the Jewish people in preparation for their entry into the Land of Israel. On the other hand, it is extremely perplexing that God communicates the blessings and curses in the Book of Leviticus. After all, the Book of Leviticus deals mainly with the laws pertaining to service in the Temple performed by the priests.

The opening words of Parshat Bechukotai are: “If you walk in my statutes and you keep my commandments.” What is meant by the strange phrase “If you walk in my statutes?” Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests that walking implies performing our day-to-day activities (chores, business dealings, interpersonal relationships, eating, drinking, etc.) or activities that are not, strictly speaking, Mitzvot (commandments) and are considered mundane activities. God is effectively saying to us, ‘If you perform your daily activities bearing in mind my laws that govern every activity, I will bless you.’ Similarly, the Tosher Rebbe understands God to be saying, “If you bring me into your mundane daily activities and sanctify them by performing them with honesty, ethics and integrity for my sake I will bless you.”

I would like to suggest that we have now discovered the key to understanding God’s choice in placing this section in the Book of Leviticus. At the conclusion of the Book of Leviticus, God wants to leave us with a simple, unambiguous message. Being a good person in the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) and Synagogue is not ultimately what it is all about. God’s intention is that the Synagogues and Houses of Learning form the basis for the integration of ethics and ideas that we carry with us into the ‘mundane’ world of our day-to-day lives. After all is said and done, God wants us to know that the service in the Temple, with all its intricate details, is meaningless if we are unethical and devoid of Godliness and morality in everyday life and activity. Therefore, He placed this admonition in the Book of Leviticus following the detailed laws of the Temple service.

Let us all take this profound message to heart and, in that merit, become beneficiaries of God’s bountiful blessings.