The name of this parashah, Bechukotai, means “in accordance with My rules.” “Rules” (chukim) are those commandments for which no reason is given, and which indeed make no logical sense. This category of commandments contrasts with the other two broad categories of commandments: “laws” (mishpatim)—which human reason can understand and would even dictate on its own, and “testimonies” (eiduyot)—ceremonial institutions that human reason would not necessarily dictate but can understand and appreciate.1 It is specifically by observing the Torah’s chukim that we express our total submission to God’s will, our readiness to follow His directives even when doing so flies in the face of logic or reason.

This total submission to God’s will, without any concern for rationale, seems at odds with the bulk of this parashah’s content: the rewards and punishments that await us for fulfilling or not fulfilling God’s commandments. If we are fulfilling God’s will for its own sake rather than for our own interests, how is a description of the advantages of obedience or the disadvantages of disobedience relevant?

Parashat Bechukotai is often combined with parashat Behar in the public reading of the Torah. As we know, in order for two parashiot to be read together, thereby forming in effect one parashah, they must have some common theme, and we should expect that theme to be reflected in their respective names.2 At first blush, however, the self-assertion that, as we have seen, is implied in the name Behar—a mountain3—appears to be the opposite of the self-abnegation implied in the name Bechukotai—humble submission to God’s will. We have explained, however,4 that true Divine self-assertion is possible only when we have first overcome our inborn sense of self: the more we lose our sense of self in our awareness of God’s reality, the more our Divine self—our Divine soul—can be manifest, and the more God can act through us. In this light, not only do the names of these two parashiot not clash; they in fact articulate the same ideal.

As we will we note in greater detail later,5 the fundamental meaning of chok is “chiseling” or “engraving,” implying that through observing these types of commandments we express our true unity with God, just as a letter engraved on a block of stone is part and parcel of that stone and not a second, discrete entity grafted onto it, as is the case with a letter written in ink on parchment or paper. Moreover, letters are engraved in stone by removing what was there before, just as observing God’s “rules” is predicated upon the “removal” or negation of the ego.

This perspective will help us understand why a parashah named after God’s supra-rational rules (and the total self-abnegation called for in observing them) can be concerned almost wholly with the graphic description of how worthwhile it is for us to submit to His will. When we have emptied ourselves of our ego, we view the rewards promised by the Torah not as motivating impetuses encouraging our compliance with God’s will out of self-interest, but as intrinsic components of the Divine experience. God is absolute goodness, so abnegating our ego in favor of becoming transparent conduits for God’s will—as our true, Divine self asserts itself—enables us to experience God’s goodness in its fullest, including the physical beneficence that results from obeying His will.6

In this light, we can also understand why the Torah presents us, after graphically detailing the consequences of fulfilling or not fulfilling God’s will, with the laws concerning donations to the Temple. It is only natural that—if we experience God’s beneficence selflessly, as an intrinsic component of our experience of Divinity in general—we should feel inspired to give some of the beneficence He has placed at our disposal to the institution whose purpose it is to disseminate and enhance Divine consciousness throughout the world.

The final two topics in parashat Bechukotai are firstborn animals and tithed animals. The former must be offered up as sacrifices (the priests are given part of the flesh to eat); the latter must be eaten by their owners in Jerusalem. These two commandments reflect the two complementary dynamics that characterize the entire sacrificial enterprise, which, as we know, is the subject of the opening of the Book of Leviticus as well as the theme underlying its entire contents. These two dynamics are God’s “call” to us (this being the name of both the first parashah in Leviticus as well as the name of the entire book, Vayikra), the inspiration through which He awakens us to our inner, Divine identity, mission, and challenges; and our response to Him, the ways through which we express our willingness to hear His call and answer it, thereby giving voice to our true, Divine selves.

As such, these two commandments form a fitting conclusion to the Book of Leviticus, the book in which we hear God calling out to us, challenging us to take life seriously and live in full cognizance of our own potential as God’s people, thereby transforming ourselves into “a kingdom of priests” who sanctify mundane reality. In this way, we fulfill the purpose of creation: making the world into God’s true home.7