1.

On the surface, the Torah portion of Bechukotai is divided into two sections. It starts with the wonderful blessings and rewards that are in store for us for observing the Torah laws. Later on, the Torah shows us the “other side of the coin.” This section of the parshah is known as the tochachah — admonition. It contains a sobering amount of punishments and curses that will, G‑d forbid, be instituted upon the Jewish people for failing to observe the commandments of the Torah.

In many congregations no congregant is called up by name to be honored with this Biblical reading, rather, the ba’al koreh — Torah reader — takes this portion without officially being called up by name.

In fact a story is told of a Congregation where nobody, including the ba’al koreh agreed to take this portion, and without another alternative they found a member who agreed for a fee. Shabbat morning everyone was eagerly awaiting his arrival, but he was a no-show. After the reading of the parshah began, he ran in just in time. When he was asked, “Where were you? We were all very worried and anxious.” He responded, “I can’t make a living from one tochachah, so I was in three other shuls this morning before coming here.”

On a serious note, the Rebbe in HaYom Yom (17 Elul) relates that the Alter Rebbe himself served as the ba’al koreh. Once he was not in Liozna for Shabbat Parshat Tavo (that also contains a tochachahDevarim 28:15-69) and his son the Mitteler Rebbe — at the time, a boy before bar mitzvah — heard the Torah reading from another person. He experienced such distress upon hearing the curses of the tochachah, that on Yom Kippur the Alter Rebbe was unsure whether his son would be able to fast.

When the Mitteler Rebbe was asked to explain the severity of his reaction, for after all, this same passage is read every year, he replied: “When my father reads it, they do not sound like curses.”

In fact many seforim contain explanations about how the seemingly harsh words are transformed into actual blessings.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, your parshah is, thus, filled with blessings, both revealed ones and concealed ones. The question for you to ponder is “How do I achieve them? What approach must I follow to earn them in their entirety.”

The answer to this may lie in the three opening words of the parshah. The Torah says “Im bechukotai teileichu”אם בחוקותי תלכו — the acronym of these words spell the word “avot” (אבת) — parents. (The word “Avot” is spelled in the Torah with and without a vav. In fact, the first two times the word appears in Torah it is spelled without a vav. (See Shemot 12:3 and 20:5.)

Torah’s message to every Jew is that Hashem has an unlimited amount of blessing. Blessings are readily available for every Jew and also for you, my dear Bar Mitzvah. The prerequisite for meriting them is by following in the footsteps of our parents and adhering to the guidance they have instilled in us.

Thank G‑d, you were blessed with venerable parents and grandparents. They have inculcated you with an authentic Torah and Chassidish education and upbringing. Stick to this path tenaciously and throughout your life you will be a recipient of infinite Heavenly blessing.

Before I conclude permit me to add one note: As I explained, your Bar Mitzvah Torah parshah of Bechukotai emphasizes the concept of “avot” — parents. I would like to add that for following in the ways of your avot you will also receive the berachah of “avot,” with a vav — אבות — which is an acronym when read in reverse for Torah u’gedulah B’makom Echad (תורה וגדולה במקום אחד). According to Rashi in the Gemara Gittin (59a) this means Torah scholarship and authority together with osher — material wealth — in one place, [i.e. in the same person]. Hence, not only is avot a way of life, but it is also a blessing for your entire life.


2.

Rashi, on the first words of the first pasuk of our parshah, says that “Im bechukotai teileichu” — “If you will follow — (lit. walk — go) in My statutes” — means “liheyot ameilim baTorah” — “to toil in Torah study.”

The mitzvot in the Torah are divided into three categories: eidut — testimonies — mishpatim — civil laws — and chukim — statutes. Since the pasuk is stressing the study of Torah, why are statutes singled out?

There are two ways to record something: one is through ketiva — writing — and the other is chakikah — engraving.

When one takes a pen and writes on paper or parchment, although the ink now adheres to the paper or parchment, it is not actually a part of the material written on. However, when one engraves on stone or metal, the letters become one with the stone or metal and can never be removed.

The word “bechukotai” (בחקתי) — “in My statutes” — is related to the word “chakikah” (חקיקה) — “engraved.” Thus, this pasuk not only tells us to study Torah in order to receive the great rewards promised in this parshah, but also how to study. We must toil in the study of Torah until Torah becomes engraved in us.

On this subject there is a beautiful story that I wish to share with all.

Once the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, asked the distinguished Chassidic Rabbi Shmuel Levitin to visit and bring warmth and inspiration to the Jewish community in Chicago.

Before he had left New York, the Rebbe asked Rabbi Levitin to pay a personal visit to a Mr. Charles Listner, a wealthy Jewish businessman in Chicago and a descendant of a prestigious Chassidic family. “Send him my warm regards and blessings,” the Rebbe said.

At the train station in Chicago, Rabbi Yosef Wineberg, who was living at the time in Chicago, was waiting to greet Rabbi Levitin. As he stepped off of the train, one of the first questions Rabbi Levitin asked of Rabbi Wineberg was, “Do you know Charles Listner?”

“Most definitely,” responded Wineberg.

“Where can I meet up with him — which synagogue does he attend?” asked Rabbi Levitin.

Rabbi Wineberg, responded with a smile, “I can tell you which Synagogue he should attend, but I don’t think that’s the place you’ll find him.”

A day or so later, Rabbi Levitin and Mr. Listner met in the businessman’s office. The welcome was very warm, and Listner was especially touched and inspired by the personal regards from the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

The conversation flowed easily, and at the end of the visit, Listner reached for his checkbook and asked, “To which organization shall I address my contribution?”

“No one,” said Rabbi Levitin. “Put away the checkbook because I did not come for a donation. Even if you will give me, I will not take.”

“But why else would the Rebbe in New York send to me an elderly Rabbi all the way from New York? Just to enjoy a cold drink in my office?” responded the surprised Listner.

“Let me explain it like this.” Rabbi Levitin began.

In the Old Country, there were many Jewish communities spread all over the countryside. Each community had their own Synagogue, Torah scrolls, and other religious articles.

All Torah scrolls, mezuzot, and tefillin are hand written with ink on parchment by a scribe and periodically checked for flaws, which then need to be fixed by the qualified Sofer — scribe. So there were scribes who lived there and provided services to the city.

The smaller communities in Europe couldn’t generate enough work to support a permanent scribe, so it became common to see traveling, or wandering scribes who fixed, and rewrote, erased letters, and patched up these holy works.

Rabbi Levitin continued, “our Sages (Shabbat 105b) have said that if someone is present when a person, G‑d forbid, expires he should view it as a Sefer Torah being consumed. Thus, a Jew is a living Torah Scroll.”

“There are sometimes, he continued, “ when some ,letters’ of our Judaism get a little bit ‘rubbed off’, and we lose touch with some mitzvot. I guess you can consider me one of the traveling scribes. My goal is to provide a little spiritual ink, a dab of inspiration and a brush of warmth to our intimate connection with G‑d.”

Mr. Listner was deeply moved by this parable and Rabbi Levitin returned to New York. There he shared what he had said with the Rebbe.

“Yeh,” responded the Rebbe warmly in Yiddish, “but there is one big difference.”

“The Torah is written with ink on parchment, two separate entities combined into one. The ink could be erased or rubbed off. The Jew is like a Torah Scroll but with engraved letters. The Torah is engraved in his heart, and on his soul. When letters are engraved, as were the Ten Commandments on the two Tablets, it is impossible for them to be rubbed off or separated in any way.”

“At times a little dust can accumulate and cover the letters.” Here the Rebbe picked up on the parable and concluded, “Then, the job of the ‘wandering scribe’ is to help brush off some dust and instantly the letters will shine.”

My dear Bar Mitzvah, hopefully you will be a kosher and mehudar — beautiful — living engraved Torah. Torah will be an indelible and unerasable part of your life and very being.

We explained thus far that the term “bechukotai” was used to teach that the sublime Torah study is when it becomes engraved in the individual. Let me now explain the word following [im bechukotai] “teileichu” — “you will follow” (lit. walk — go).

Why does it say “teileichu” — “you will walk” — and not “tilmedu” — “you will study”?

With the word “teileichu,” the Torah is teaching that one should not be content with the amount of Torah that he has already studied, but “teileichu” — he should keep going higher and higher, from strength to strength, in Torah study.

My dear Bar Mitzvah it is our fervent wish and berachah that you go meichayil el choyil — from strength to strength — in your tenacious attachment to Torah. Mazel Tov.


3.

The parshah begins with the words “Im bechukotai teileichu v’et mitzvotai tishmeru” — “If you will follow (lit. walk) My decrees and observe My commandments.”

The Torah commandments are divided in three categories eidot — testimonials — chukim — decrees — mishpatim — civil laws. Thus, there is an obvious difficulty since it says “mitzvotai,” which includes all sorts of commandments. Why are chukim — decrees – singled out separately? Due to this difficulty, Rashi explains that the opening words “im bechukotai teileichu” do not refer to observance of mitzvot, rather “shetiheyu ameilim baTorah” — “you shall be toiling in Torah.”

Now why does Rashi use the term “ameilim” — “toiling” — which means difficult labor and not just say “lomdim” — studying [Torah].

When we make a siyum — conclude a Tractate of Gemara or one of the six orders of Mishnah — a prayer is recited. (Incidentally, it has now become popular in many yeshiva circles for a Bar Mitzvah to make a siyum at his seuda.)

In this prayer (see Berachot 28b) we state, “Anu ameilim u’mekablim s’char, veheim ameilim v’ainan mekablim s’char” — “We toil and receive reward, and they toil and do not receive reward.”

This is problematic, because anyone who works, especially one who toils hard with difficult labor, receives some sort of payment?

The superior reward for toiling in the Torah can be illustrated with the following parable:

In a big company there are many employees, from the chief executive officer to the blue collar workers on the assembly line. Usually the chief executive officer receives a large salary and the blue collar worker often only gets minimum wage. While the blue collar employee on the assembly line puts in a full day with sweat and toil, the chief executive officer is often away on vacation or having a leisurely business lunch.

One may reflect on the injustice of it all: The dedicated employee should receive the generous salary while the chief executive officer should receive nominal compensation for his leisurely work. The fact is that the world recognizes and rewards accomplishment, not effort.

G‑d’s system of reward is the reverse. If one learns a piece of Gemara quickly and easily, he receives a smaller reward than one who spends much time and struggles with it. Thus, the famed adage: “G‑d does not count the folio pages but the hours spent studying.”

Likewise, if one attends a shiur after an exhausting days work, he receives more reward than the one who is relaxed and comfortable.

Rashi is teaching us that if “tiheyu ameilim baTorah” — “you will toil in Torah” — then you will receive the maximum reward — in stark contrast to the conditions in corporations, whose rewards are based only on accomplishments.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, in Yiddish we have the two expressions regarding Torah study. One is “lernen Torah” — “studying Torah” — and the other is “horeven in lernen” [Torah] — “toiling in Torah study.” The sublime rewards are for those who horeve — toil. Even if they find it difficult, they do not give up but struggle to set aside time to learn and to comprehend the subject matter.

May you be among those who “horeve in lernen” and merit to receive Hashem’s greatest reward.