The Torah portion of Bechukotai is the final portion of the Book of Vayikra, the third of the Five Books of Moses.

Upon completing each of the Five Books, it is customary to wish each other, “Chazak, chazak, venitchazek – be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened.” The Shabbat that we read the last portion of each book is thus called Shabbat Chazak.

So five times a year, the Jewish people collectively wish each other, and all Jews, that by virtue of completing a book of Torah, the Torah should imbue us with strength and courage.

This idea is also found in the opening verses of Bechukotai: “If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them, I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit.”1

The Torah goes on to enumerate blessing after blessing: economic prosperity, peace and security, happiness, offspring, strength, and more.

What brings about these tremendous blessings? “If you follow My statutes.”

Since the next words are “and observe My commandments,” the instruction to follow G‑d’s statutes must refer to something other than the fulfillment of His commandments (mitzvot). Rashi explains that “follow My statutes” means to toil in the study of Torah. The flow of the verses implies that these blessings come into our lives “when you toil in Torah study with the intent of observing the mitzvot.”

All these blessings will rain down upon us when we devote ourselves regularly to studying G‑d’s Torah.

It’s Never Too Late

The parshah of Bechukotai is often read in proximity to two holidays: Pesach Sheni and Lag BaOmer.

Pesach Sheni, or “Second Passover,” marks the day when those who were unable to bring the Passover offering in its proper time—whether due to impurity or being far from Jerusalem—were given the opportunity exactly one month later to “make up” this mitzvah, and bring the sacrifice.

What is the lesson of Pesach Sheni today, when the Passover Sacrifice is no longer offered? The Rebbe, quoting his father-in-law, the Sixth Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Shneersohn, of righteous memory, writes: “The theme of Pesach Sheni is that it is never too late. It is always possible to put things right. Even if one was ritually impure, or far away, and even in a case when this (impurity, etc.) was deliberate - nonetheless he can correct it.”2

It’s never too late to return to and re-embrace Judaism. What is the first step?

Torah.

A Jew cannot be complete without entering the world of Torah because Torah is G‑d’s world.

And that is the message that the portion of Bechukotai begins with: When you diligently study Torah, the blessings flow.

Torah Study to the Rescue

The holiday of Lag BaOmer commemorates the day when the plague that killed 24,000 students of the great sage Rabbi Akiva came to an end. It is also—and primarily—a celebration of the life of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, commonly referred to as Rashbi, author of the Zohar, and the first to publicly teach the mystical dimension of the Torah, known as the Kabbalah.

Once, during a severe drought in the Land of Israel, the Jewish People appealed to Rabbi Shimon to intercede with G‑d to bring about its end. Instead of praying, however, he taught Torah, expounding on the verse, “How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together”3— and miraculously, it began to rain.4 Unlike the stories of various other sages who prayed for rain, Rabbi Shimon employed the power of Torah study, extolling the greatness of the unity of the Jewish people through Torah.

Thus, the portion of Bechukotai and the holidays it coincides with underscore the importance of Torah study.

It All Begins With Torah Study

The portion of Bechukotai famously contains the section referred to as the Tochachah – the “Admonition.” After beginning with the tremendous blessings that will be bestowed upon the people when they follow G‑d’s laws and keep His commandments, it transitions to the Admonition, highlighting the consequences, G‑d forbid, of failing to do so.

The sages of the Midrash point out that the importance of toiling in Torah study can be seen in the domino-like flow of the verses that begin the section of Admonition.5 G‑d says, “But if you do not listen to Me and do not perform all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes and reject My ordinances, not performing any of My commandments, thereby breaking My covenant ...”6

Rashi, quoting this Midrash, explains, “We have enumerated seven sins, the first leading to the second, and so on, until the seventh, and the process of degeneration is as follows: First, a person does not learn the Torah; then, he subsequently does not fulfill the commandments; he then despises others who do fulfill them; then, he hates the Sages, prevents others from fulfilling the commandments, denies the authenticity of the commandments and finally denies the very omnipotence of G‑d.”

What is the first mistake? Not studying Torah. If we study Torah consistently then all of our challenges will hopefully dissipate and disappear.

The Centrality of Torah Study

When the Rebbe initiated his now-famous 10-Point Mitzvah Campaign, not surprisingly, at least three of these mitzvot were directly connected to Torah study.

One is the campaign for Jewish homes be filled with Jewish books, starting with the basics: Chumash (the Five Books of Moses), Tehillim (Psalms), Tanya (the fundamental text of the philosophy of Chabad), and a Siddur (prayer book).

Another campaign is to study Torah. Entering a life of Judaism begins, first and foremost, with Torah study. And, as the Rebbe would say, we can spiritually “conquer the world through Torah study.”

A third campaign highlights the importance of is to ensure that our children receive an authentic Torah education.

That’s almost 30 percent of the Rebbe’s “starter” mitzvot—yet another indication that a proper Jewish life begins with Torah study.

Daily Study Regimen

Building on an initiative of the Sixth Rebbe, the Rebbe strongly encouraged everyone to study a daily regimen (called “chitat”) involving the study of Torah, Psalms, and Tanya. The Hebrew acronym for these three books is “chitat.”

The weekly Torah portion is divided into seven segments, corresponding to each day of the week. For chitat, we study the first part of the Chumash (together with Rashi’s commentary) on Sunday, progressing through each subsequent part until Shabbat, when we delve into the seventh and final part.

The book of Psalms is divided into 30 parts, one for each day of the Hebrew month, and for chitat, we read the Psalms for that particular day.

The book of Tanya is divided into daily sections covering each day of the year. For chitat, we focus on studying the designated section of Tanya for that day.

The Rebbe stressed that even if we approach the daily study on a superficial or beginner’s level, it still serves to fortify and shield us from potential negativity in our daily lives.

Drawing from a term in the verse “…and the fear (chitat) of G‑d was upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue Jacob's sons,”7 the Rebbe explained how Chitat serves as a protective shield, akin to the Divine protection that Jacob and his family received following the terrible episode when Shechem kidnapped and violated his daughter Dinah. (Her brothers Simeon and Levi avenged her, destroying the city of Shechem and killing all its adult male inhabitants, leading to Jacob’s fear of a counter attack). Instead, the fear of G‑d overcame the inhabitants of the land, and protected his family. Likewise, the daily study of chitat protects us from life’s adversities.

In addition to the daily study of chitat, the Rebbe instituted another daily study regimen involving the works of Maimonides, with three tracks: at the beginner level, one can study Sefer Hamitzvot (the Book of Mitzvot), where Maimonides enumerates the commandments; at the intermediate level, one should study one chapter per day of Mishneh Torah (Maimonides’ compilation of Jewish law); and the ultimate objective is to study three chapters every day.

Six Week Challenge

Studying the daily portions of Torah, Psalms, Tanya, and Rambam unquestionably counteracts negativity in one’s life. I have witnessed this phenomenon repeatedly.

Over the years, many people have confided in me their personal struggles, expressing sentiments such as, “Rabbi, I am unhappy; I am feeling depressed; I’m not myself; I’m in a bad mood; I can’t get things going; I can’t get motivated.”

To which I consistently reply, “Give me six weeks.”

And I explain that I have merited to teach the daily study classes online (now easily accessible at Chabad.org or via your favorite podcast app), and I encourage them to study with me for six weeks.

Study Chumash and Rashi with me; study Tanya with me; study Rambam with me. I promise you that in six weeks, you’ll see a difference in your life.

The Perfect Elixir

The second portion of the Shema prayer employs the term visamtem, “… and you shall place (visamtem) these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul ...”8 The Talmud9 explains that the word visamtem can be broken up into two words: sam tam, a “perfect elixir” and shares a parable about a man whose son suffered a severe injury. His father applied a bandage and medicine to the wound and said, “My son, as long as this medicine-laden bandage is on your wound and is healing you, eat what you enjoy and drink what you enjoy, and bathe in either hot water or cold water, and you do not need to be afraid, as it will heal your wound. But if you take it off, the wound will become gangrenous.”

Similarly, explains the Talmud, G‑d almighty says to the Jewish people, “I have created an evil inclination (yetzer hora).”

Humans are prone to temptation. We have a little voice inside of us that can convince us to do almost anything because at the moment of sin we become overcome by a spirit of craziness. We are taught that a person does not sin unless he’s temporarily insane. A spirit of folly overcomes him. Then, overcome with regret, he later says, “What did I do?”

“I've created a yetzer hara, an evil inclination,” G‑d continues. “I created Torah as its antidote.” The best thing we can do to stay on the straight and narrow, and to bring blessings into our lives, is to study Torah daily!

Work Smart!

The Rebbe addressed the challenge of keeping up with the rigorous daily schedule required by Torah observance. As a Jew, it is important to pray with a quorum each morning, followed by an hour or so of Torah study. If morning prayers at your synagogue are at seven o’clock, and your study session is from eight to nine, then, with a bit of traffic—and if you’re here in California, a lot of traffic—you might not arrive at work until 10 a.m. Meanwhile, your colleague or your competition might have started work at seven, giving them a three-hour head start. How can you compete?

The Rebbe emphasized, however, that the distinction lies in the approach: while your competition is working hard, you are working smart. Because you prayed, and because you centered and anchored yourself through Torah study, you will have the ability to focus, and to get more done in less time.

The Torah portion of Bechukotai underscores our greatest gift—and the most powerful and potent weapon at our disposal—Torah study.

As we read the portion of Bechukotai—which includes some of the most powerful blessings of the Torah, as well the admonition; as we experience Pesach Sheni and new beginnings; as we celebrate Lag BaOmer, the holiday of master Torah scholars Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai; as we join together and shout “Chazak, chazak, venitchazek – be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened”; as we approach the holiday of Shavuot and the Giving of the Torah, and we prepare for the monumental moment of Revelation at Mount Sinai, let us make a commitment:

Starting today, every one of us will undertake daily Torah study!

By fortifying ourselves and our environment with daily Torah study, may we merit to become stronger, more committed Jews, and may we merit to greet our righteous Moshiach, may it be speedily in our days. Amem