Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 1012ff;
Vol. VI, p. 112ff; Vol. XVII, p. 313ff;
Vol. XXII, p. 163ff

Satisfying Thirst

One characteristic of the human condition is a desire for growth.1 This is a positive trait, an expression of the nature of man’s soul. For the soul of man is “an actual part of G‑d.”2 As such, no substitute for genuine meaning will ring true. Moreover, even when a person achieves an understanding of authentic truth, he will constantly seek to expand his awareness. For G‑d is unlimited, and the G‑dly potential within us reflects this boundlessness, never remaining content with any given situation, but rather striving to “proceed from strength to strength.”3

Although this desire for growth is universal, its expression varies from individual to individual. For though we all want to continue advancing, many do not know how to start, and this lack of knowledge prevents personal growth from beginning.

How does an individual find the never-ending path to personal growth? Answers to this question can be derived from our Torah reading, which begins with the phrase:4אם בחוקותי תלכו , generally translated as “If you follow My statutes.” תלכו translated as “follow,” also means “proceed,” and is used in several sources as an allusion to personal growth.5 בחוקותי , “My statutes,” refers to a particular category of mitzvos, referred to as chukim. What is implied is that personal growth depends on internalizing the lessons of the chukim.

Hewn Into Our Hearts

The word חוק means “engrave.” Contrasting the difference between writing and engraving allows us to appreciate the inner meaning of the chukim , and the influence they have upon us.6 Firstly, in contrast to writing, engraving involves strenuous labor. Writing is also considered one of the 39 categories of labor,7 but the amount of effort required to write cannot be compared to that necessary to engrave.8

In this context, Rashi interprets אם בחוקותי תלכו as meaning “If you labor in Torah study,” i.e., if you do more than merely study, and arduously apply yourself to the Torah. When a person dedicates himself in this fashion, the words of the Torah will become “engraved” on his heart. Even if his heart is as rigid as stone, the gentle, inexorable pressure applied by the “water” of the Torah will penetrate.9

This is the first key to personal growth. There is no such thing as spirituality without sacrifice. A field will not yield crops unless one plows and sows. In order to make the Divine potential each of us possesses grow and blossom, an investment of hard work must be made.

Without a Dichotomy

There is another difference between writing and engraving. When one writes, the surface upon which one writes and the ink which one uses remain two separate entities. When, by contrast, letters are engraved in stone, the writing and the stone form a single entity; they are inseparable.10

This points to the importance of internalizing the Torah, making its teachings part of one’s own being. There is an advantage to compelling oneself to observe the Torah even when doing so runs contrary to one’s nature.11 But the deepest commitment to G‑d’s service involves remaking one’s nature to reflect His will.12

This is the second lesson of the chukim that a person and the Torah should not be separate entities,13 but rather a single whole.14

This approach leads to true growth, for one proceeds beyond the limited vistas of his own perception, and enters the unlimited horizons to which the Torah introduces him.

Above the Limits of Intellect

The above leads to a third interpretation of chukim: that the term refers to the dimensions of Torah which surpass our understanding. Toiling in the study of the Torah brings one to an awareness that its every facet, even those which appear to be within the grasp of mortal intellect, is in fact unbounded. For the Torah is G‑d’s wisdom, and “just as it is impossible for a created being to comprehend his Creator, so too, it is impossible to comprehend His attributes.”15 “He is the Knower… and He is the Knowledge itself. All is one.”16

Moreover, such a commitment to study does more than engender an awareness of the infinite dimension of the Torah’s wisdom; as mentioned above, it enables this dimension to be internalized. In the process, a person’s way of thinking changes, and the infinite dimension of the Torah becomes one with his own being.

Fusing Conflicting Tendencies

Parshas Bechukosai is often read in conjunction with Parshas Behar. On the surface, the two readings represent opposite approaches, for Behar communicates the message of personal strength and fortitude, while Bechukosai focuses on the theme of self-transcendence. Nevertheless, as a person endeavors to apply the lessons of each reading in his life, he realizes that the messages are complementary.

When the strength of Behar stands upon the self-transcendence of Bechukosai, one uncovers deeper and more powerful reserves of strength than one normally possesses.17

Conversely, the self-transcendence of Bechukosai is possible only when a person possesses the inner strength of purpose needed to make the required efforts.

To Know G‑d’s Goodness

The majority of this Torah reading focuses on the rewards granted for observance of the Torah, and the punishments ordained for failure to observe. One might ask: When a person has internalized the self-transcendence of Bechukosai, of what interest is reward? As the Alter Rebbe would say:18 “I don’t want Your World to Come. I don’t want Your Gan Eden. All I want is You alone.”

In truth, however, only a person who genuinely “wants You alone” can appreciate the full measure of reward G‑d has associated with the Torah and its mitzvos. As long as a person is concerned with his individual wants and desires, he will interpret the reward received for observance in that light. When, by contrast, a person has transcended his individual will, instead of these petty material concerns, he will appreciate the essential good and kindness which G‑d conveys.19

This will create a self-reinforcing pattern, for the purpose of the rewards granted by the Torah is to enable an individual to further his study and observance.20

As this pattern spreads among mankind, we will merit the full measure of blessings mentioned in the Torah reading, with the return of our people to our land, led by Mashiach. Then “Your threshing season will last until your grape harvest…. You shall eat your bread with satisfaction…. I will grant peace in the land, and none shall make you afraid.”21