As mentioned on many occasions,1 whenever two Torahreadingsare joined together, they are fused into a single reading. {This is reflected by the fact that we divide the two Torahreadingsinto (only) seven aliyos. Furthermore, the conclusion of the first Torahreadingand the beginning of the second are included in one aliyah2 (with the same blessing recited beforehand and afterwards).}

These factors indicate that the two Torah readings share a common theme that enables them to be joined together. [With regard to the present week] it is necessary to understand: What is the common theme [that unites] the two Torahreadings Behar and Bechukosai? On the contrary, [the two Torahreadings appear to convey opposite ideas]. As mentioned several times, the name of a Torah reading communicates its inner message.3 Seemingly, the names Behar and Bechukosai communicate opposite thrusts.

Behar (lit. “On Mount [Sinai]”) points to lifting oneself up. In Divine service, this means that there are times4 when a Jew has to act with assertiveness and power, [as it is written:]5 “And he lifted up his heart in the ways of G‑d.” For example, when confronted with a challenge, a person must stand firm with unshakable strength and boldness so that he can withstand the challenge. He must “be bold as a leopard.”6

Bechukosai (“If you [proceed] in My chukim...”), by contrast, is associated with bittul. We observe chukim because “It is a statute that I have pronounced; an edict that I have decreed,”7 to the extent that “You have no license to wonder about it.”8 Since G‑d gave an order, we fulfill it (even though we do not understand the reason or even more, even if it [appears to be] contrary to reason and logic).


We can appreciate [the connection between the two Torah readings] through first explaining why — according to Jewish custom9 (and “[Jewish custom] is [accepted] as law”10 ) — the first Torah reading is called Behar.

On the surface, the fundamental emphasis is on the word [that follows Behar:] Sinai. That term clarifies that we are speaking about the special mountain on which the Torah was given.11 Hence, it would have been appropriate to call the Torah reading “Sinai” or at least Behar Sinai (“On Mount Sinai”).12 (For there are several Torah readings13 whose names include two words.) Why is the name Behar — which does not clarify which mountain is being spoken about — appropriate?

This question is reinforced when we consider the lesson in our Divine service to be derived from the words “On Mount Sinai.” Our Sages state14 that the reason [G‑d] chose to give the Torah on Mount Sinai is that it is the lowest of all mountains. Thus a paradox is produced.15 On one hand, humility is required, [for Mt. Sinai is] “the lowest [of all mountains].” Simultaneously, it is a mountain. [Implied is that both modes of expressionare demanded of a person. Although he must be humble, he should not be a “doormat,”16 trampled on [by people at large]. Instead, the quality of humility has to be coupled with power and dignity.

These two concepts are indicated by the words Behar Sinai. Behar (“On Mount”) points to a person’s dignity and power. Sinai — when used alone without specifying that a mountain is involved — reflects the concept of bittul. {[In this context, the name] Sinai (סיני) is associated with the word סנה (“bramble”),17 “the lowest of all the trees in the world.”}18

This indicates that of the two (lifting oneself up and bittul), the fundamentally important quality is bittul. It is only that it is necessary to clarify that one’s bittul should not cause him to become a “doormat,” tread upon by every foot. Instead, (at times,)19 one must show power and elevate oneself. As our Sages commented:20 “A Torah sage must have one sixty-fourth of a measure (of pride),” but not more, Heaven forbid.

In that light, why is it appropriate to call the Torah reading Behar alone, alluding to “lifting oneself up” without mentioning Sinai, bittul, the quality that is most essential?


Among the explanations is that the Divine service of bittul, [which focuses on] “man’s humility,” must [stem from a recognition of] “the greatness of the A‑lmighty.”21 One is batel, because he feels that the truth of all existence is G‑dliness.

As a result, the true concept of bittul is that one is so far from a conception of self that he does not even feel that he is batel. For the very fact that one feels that one nullifies himself (for G‑d) indicates that there (still) exists an entity that must be nullified.22 In a state of true bittul, one feels nothing else other than G‑dliness.

This concept is reflected in nigleh, the realm of Torah law. As explained once at length,23 there is a difference in Jewish law between a servant and an agent.

{As is well known,24 there are three conceptions of agency:

a) The principal gives the agent the license and the power to act in his stead. The deed performed by the agent is, however, associated with the agent.

b) The deed is considered as if the principal performed it. (Although performed by the agent,) it is the principal’s act.

c) (Not only the deed of the agent and his power of action are associated with the principal. Instead,) the agent himself becomes identified with the principal [and is seen as an extension of him].}

[Our Sages state:]25 “A person’s agent is like him.” This (primarily) reflects the highest conception of agency in which the agent assumes the identity of the principal.

Even according to this understanding, however, a distinction can be made between the principal and the agent. (Therefore the concept: “A person’s agent is like him” applies only with regard to the affairs he was charged to care for and not to other matters,26 even those that are relevant at that time.)27

[In halachic terms,] a servant, by contrast, is not considered an independent entity at all. His existence is identified with his master. Accordingly, everything acquired by a servant is acquired by his master.28

[The rationale for this distinction is that] an agent is an independent entity who nullifies himself to the principal. Accordingly, even while his identity is nullified, there still remains a place for his own personal existence.29 A servant, by contrast, does not need to nullify his identity to the master [through his own volition]. From the very outset, he is “the property and possession of his master.”30 Hence, there is no concept of his existing as a separate entity at all.


From the above, it is understood that when one manifests true bittul to G‑dliness, [his recognition of] his personal power and raising his spirits do not present a contradiction. For we are not speaking about the power and elevation of one’s own individual identity. We are speaking about the power and elevation of G‑dliness.31 As our Sages say32 with regard to a servant: “The servant of a king is a king.” This does not generate feelings of self-importance and pride in the servant. For the importance and greatness is not his own; it is the king’s.

For this reason, the Torah reading is referred to as Behar alone. For the ultimate level of bittul is that even when a person resembles a “mountain” (i.e., when he stands with power and is uplifted), it is not necessary to clarify that the power of holiness (and not his ego, Heaven forbid) is being expressed. For he is batel to G‑dliness to the extent that there is not even an initial assumption that he is concerned with his own identity. It is, thus, unnecessary to emphasize that the mountain is (a result of the approach of) Sinai, [which is bittul].


This is the explanation (with regard to our Divine service) concerning the different ways to which Mount Sinai can be referred.

At the beginning of one’s Divine service, when one has a sense of his own identity, he must be Sinai alone. There is no place for being a mountain, lifting oneself up only bittul.33 Since he is concerned with his own identity, the motif of [assuming] power and raising one’s self-image in the realm of holiness is not appropriate. For him, that would mean lifting up and [showing] the power of his own ego.

{[A parallel in the realm of halachah is] the first conception of agency mentioned above: The agent is an independent entity, and yet he nullifies himself and acts on behalf of the principal.}

At a higher rung in Divine service, one proceeds to Mount Sinai. Here, he can feel like “a mountain,” lifting himself up. Since he has developed an inner bittul, the power [he expresses] is not his own; it stems from G‑dliness.

Nevertheless, he still must be cautioned. Hence, we mention Sinai, bittul. For there is the possibility that he will slip into self-concern, since his bittul has not permeated his existence entirely. He is still feeling that he is nullifying himself to G‑d.

{This parallels the higher conception of agency,34 when the agent transfers his power to the principal, and so, it is considered as the principal’s deed, or on the highest level, when the agent is identified with the principal. [Even on this level,] however, a distinction can be made between the agent and the principal.}

The highest level is Behar, where all that is mentioned is the mountain. One’s bittul is so complete that he does not need the word of caution:35 Sinai. [He is so identified with G‑d that] there is no room for even a thought that something other than G‑dliness exists.


Although Behar represents a very high level of bittul,36 it nevertheless serves as a directive for every Jew in his Divine service. For, in truth, every Jew is “a mountain,” for all of Israel [are described]37 as kings.

[There are times] when it is demanded of [every] Jew, [not only those on a high level of bittul,] to assert himself for the sake of his Yiddishkeit. [The intent is] not that he should sacrifice his bittul, because there is no other way to protect him from evil, but that [he should assert himself knowing that] the inner dimension of this strength is the power of the G‑dly soul which is “an actual part of G‑d from Above.”38

A Jew must realize that his soul “was never driven into exile, or subjugated to the dominion of the nations.... With regard to every­thing involving... Torah, mitzvos, and Jewish custom, no one can impose his views on us.”39

We are taught:40 “The law of the ruling authority is law,” and warned:41 “Do not provoke [even] a small gentile.” But when it comes to a matter involving Yiddishkeit, [every Jew]is (the “servant of a king,” [and therefore]) “a king.” Hence, not only does he have the power of a king, but also he may not forego his honor.42 For the honor is not his to forego. It is the honor of the King, the King of kings Who states: “I will dwell within them,”43 within the G‑dly soul [of every Jew] which is “an actual part of G‑d from Above,” a part of the essence.44


Based on the above, we can appreciate the connection between Behar and Bechukosai:there is no contradiction between the two thrusts in Divine service indicated by their names. Not only does Behar (strength and dignity) not run contrary to Bechukosai (bittul), one is a result of the other. As explained above, the strength and dignity implied by Behar is an outgrowth of true bittul, a manifestation of bittul so complete that it leaves no room for any other thought. From the outset, there is no doubt that the servant is [an extension of and identified with] the Master.

This commitment of bittul is expressed through Bechukosai —ob­serving mitzvos in a manner of chukim. TheAlter Rebbe explains45 that Bechukosai also has the implication “engraved.” [This points to a con­nection deeper than the] unity of the letters and the entity on which they are engraved. [To explain:] written letters are an ancillary entity, aside from the parchment. Engraved letters, by contrast, are not a distinct entity in their own right. [Instead,] their entire existence is the entity on which they are engraved; for example, the entire existence of the alef in the stone tablets is the stone.

This is the implication of the term chukim. It reflects a deeper commitment than the term gezeiros,“decrees.” The term “decree” would imply that a person [feels] compelled to observe the mitzvos. He must break [his nature] to perform an act that does not have a reason.

The term chok — which also has the implication of engraving — indicates that one is not compelled to perform the mitzvah. Instead, one is entirely batel to G‑d without any sense of personal identity at all (like letters that have been engraved into a precious stone). As a result, he [willingly] fulfills every aspect of G‑d’s will.

On this basis, we can appreciate the careful choice of wording in our Sages’ expression (with regard to chukim):8 “You have no license to wonder about it.” On the surface, the directive should have been worded: “Do not wonder about it.”46

It is possible to offer the following explanation: The phrase “You have no license to wonder about it” implies that by and large, one should wonder about [and contemplate the Torah’s commands]. The commitment “We will do” should be coupled with — albeit followed by47 — the promise “We will listen” (interpreted48 to mean, “We will understand”). For, generally, we must seek to understand the motivating rationales for the mitzvos. In this instance, however, this does not apply.

A person has a mind and he should use it. With regard to these particular mitzvos, however, man was not given “license to wonder about [them].”

Moreover, [even with regard to these mitzvos,] the intent is to negate only the kind of thought described as הרהור, “wonder.” Chukim need not be observed in a manner that negates entirely intellectual meditation, research, and inquiry.49 On the contrary, [there should be an intellectual element to the observance of the chukim].50 [It’s true that] within the statements of our Sages, we find explanations that chukim are not intellectual commandments. Some of them, indeed, appear to be the opposite of logic.51 [Therefore,] one must [control] his intellect and neither wonder about nor impugn52 the chukim. He should not think that the chukim lack anything when compared to those mitzvos which can be comprehended intellectually.

On the contrary, [since] chukah reflects engraving, [it implies that a person’s] bittul toG‑d has progressed to the point that it is “engraved within him.” For him, there is nothing else outside of G‑dliness (like letters engraved on a jewel which are part of the jewel itself). The individual’s personality (his thoughts and feelings) are not a contradiction to bittul, for he has transcended his individual identity entirely and has identified with G‑d.


On this basis, we can also understand the connection between the content (of the majority) of the Torah reading — which speaks about reward and punishment for the mitzvos — and the name Bechukosai. On the surface, the implication of chukim is observance [of these mitzvos] only because they are G‑d’s commandments (i.e., even though we do not know the reason for them and we don’t appreciate any advantage in observing them). How is this an appropriate name for a Torah reading in which both the beginning and the majority of the Torah reading speak about promises of reward for the observance of the mitzvos (or the opposite, punishment for the failure to observe them)? [Seemingly, these verses would seem to serve] as encouragement to observe the mitzvos because of the reward one will receive.

The explanation is as follows: When a person is batel to G‑d in a manner of engraving — nothing apart from G‑dliness exists (like en­graved letters which are an integral part of the jewel) — the reward he receives for his observance is also viewed in a similar light: The fact that the mitzvos lead to reward does not motivate such a person to perform the mitzvos for the sake of his own reward and benefit (i.e., that they will bring him good in a material or spiritual sense). For the only good he appreciates is what is good in G‑d’s terms. [Neverthe­less,] since G‑d is the ultimate of good, His mitzvos lead to good in all things,53 including simple material well-being and prosperity.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Behar-Bechukosai, 5740)