1. On this Shabbos, we concluded the third1 of the five books of the Torah, the Book of Vayikra. As is Jewish custom, after the reading was completed, the entire congregation proclaimed: “Chazak, Chazak, V’nischazeik” — “Be strong, be strong, and gather strength.”

This proclamation teaches that when a Jew completes a portion of Torah, his approach to Torah and mitzvos should be strengthened. Though only a single book of Torah is completed, this has an influence on the totality of Torah and mitzvos for the entire Torah is reflected in each individual aspect of Torah and each individual aspect contributes to the entire Torah as a whole.

This is particularly true in regard to the Book of Vayikra which is unique among all the books of the Torah. A significant portion of all the other books of the Torah is devoted to relating the various different events that transpired in the history of the Jewish people. In contrast, the Book of Vayikra is almost entirely devoted to Torah law: the description of the sacrifices, the Temple service, and other mitzvos.

We see this idea in the concluding verse of the book itself, “These are the mitzvos which G‑d commanded Moshe for the children of Israel.” This verse is much more appropriate as a summation of the mitzvos than the concluding verse of any of the other books of the Torah, even the Book of Devarim, which is the conclusion of the entire Torah.

The Book of Devarim concludes “before the eyes of all Israel,” stressing the importance of the Jewish people in accordance with the teachings of Tanna d’vei Eliyahu that the Jewish people take precedence over the Torah. Since this verse concludes the entire Torah, it emphasizes the most essential matter, the Jewish people. Nevertheless, the conclusion of the Book of Vayikra is unique for it summarizes the mitzvos of the Torah.

2. The opening verse of Parshas Bechukosai refers to the Torah as G‑d’s chukim. In Likkutei Torah, the Alter Rebbe explains that the word chok also has the meaning “engrave” or “hew.” Thus, he contrasts letters that are written with ink on parchment to letters engraved in stone. Not only are the letters which are engraved into stone totally one with the stone, they have no independent existence of their own. They are part and parcel of the stone into which they are engraved. In contrast, when one writes on parchment, even though the letters become one with the parchment, they constantly remain an entity of their own.

The classic example given of letters engraved into stone are the tablets of the Ten Commandments. They were engraved into the tablets from side to side [and thus the final mem and the samech remained only by virtue of a miracle].2 Since the Ten Commandments represents Torah as it is one with G‑d, its source, the form in which the Ten Commandments were given to us also expressed this oneness.

Our Sages (and Rashi in his commentary) explain that the expression “Im Bechukosai tailaichu” — literally, “If you will walk in My statutes” — as “If you labor in Torah study.” Thus, the use of the word bechukosai in this context alludes to the concept of engraved letters and teaches us that we should study Torah in a manner in which we become one with the Torah, without remaining a separate, independent identity.

This idea is also reflected in the expression “If you labor in Torah study.” When will a person labor in Torah? When the Torah has become an essential part of his being to the extent that he cannot separate himself from it like a businessman who works for his own business. The effort which he invests is incomparably more than that of a hired worker.

A question can be asked about this concept: When talking about letters which are engraved into stone, how is it possible for one to “walk,” i.e., proceed further, as the Torah commands? When speaking about letters which are written on parchment, it is possible to add to them and change them. However, when letters are engraved into stone, it is not possible to add to them or change them, their existence is defined as it is. Nevertheless, the Alter Rebbe writes that the potential to proceed further in Torah study is associated with the letters engraved into stone.

This idea is also reflected in Torah study. Each Jew has an obligation to develop new Torah concepts, both in Nigleh (the revealed, legal realm of Torah study) and Nistar (the hidden, mystic teachings of Torah). This is possible in regard to the oral law in which the Sages of each generation can develop new teachings based on the principles of Torah study. In contrast, in regard to the written law, there is no possibility for addition. There are an exact amount of letters in the Torah that was given by G‑d and we cannot add or subtract from them. The potential to bring out new ideas exists only in regard to the explanation of Torah.

Within the context of the oral law itself, though there is much room for debate and discussion and thus, the development of new ideas, there are laws which are “halachah l’Moshe m’Sinai” (“A law given to Moshe on Mount Sinai”). In regard to these laws, there is no room for discussion or debate, the law stands as it is.

Similarly, in regard to the explanation for mitzvos, one can constantly develop new ideas regarding the mitzvos which are called eidus and mishpatim for they are intended to be understood intellectually. However, the mitzvos which are called chukim are above intellectual explanation as our Sages declared: “You have no permission to think about them.” Thus, it appears that regarding these mitzvos, there is no possibility for addition. Nevertheless, the Torah tells us that it is within this aspect of Torah, the chukim, that we must “walk,” i.e., proceed further.

The explanation of this concept is related to the statement: “Every new concept developed by an experienced scholar was given to Moshe at Sinai.” On the surface, the statement contradicts itself. If the concept is new (i.e., not only a revelation of the hidden, but a genuinely new idea), how could it have been given to Moshe on Mount Sinai?3

However, since “the Torah and the Holy One, Blessed be He, are one,” just as G‑d is infinite and boundless, so, too, the Torah is infinite and there is the possibility to develop new concepts. This applies to all dimensions of Torah, including the aspect of Torah associated with chukim. On the contrary, since this aspect of Torah is above human knowledge, its connection with Torah’s infinite dimension is greater. Therefore, one must “walk,” i.e., progress forward by developing new concepts in this realm of study more than in the other fields of Torah study.

It is the Jewish people who bring out this infinite dimension in Torah study. Our Sages state that both Torah and the Jewish people existed before the world and that the Jews existed “before” Torah. When speaking of entities whose existence preceded the creation of the world, the use of the term “before” has no chronological significance (for time did not begin until creation), but rather means “on a higher level.” Since the level of the Jewish people surpasses that of the Torah, they have the potential to bring out new dimensions in Torah.

This concept is also apparent from our Sages’ description of the relationship between Torah and the Jewish people as that between a bride (the Torah) and a groom (the Jews). As in a marriage relationship, the groom gives the potential for new growth. Similarly, the Jews bring out the essential connection between the Torah and G‑d and thus, develop new Torah concepts.

This is also related to our Sages’ statement, whenever someone studies Torah, G‑d studies opposite him.4 Since G‑d studies opposite him, through developing new concepts in his Torah study, each Jew can reveal an infinite dimension of Torah and show how the Torah has no bounds whatsoever. Thus, the new concept that one brings out is not an addition to the Torah, but rather, an expression of the Torah’s infinite G‑dly nature.

Thus, the concept that one brings out is genuinely new — brought out by the effort of the scholar — and, nevertheless, it “was given to Moshe on Sinai,” for Moshe received the essence of Torah and it is from this essence that the new concept is derived.

In practice, we see that such new concepts have been brought out in each generation and in all realms of Torah study, even in the realm of Torah that involves chukim. These new dimensions have added, not only to our understanding of Torah, but also to our Torah practice. This is true not only of the mishpatim and the eidusmitzvos that can be comprehended intellectually, but also concerning the chukim despite the fact that, on the surface, they surpass our understanding. Though our Sages stated “You have no permission to think about them (the chukim),” the Rambam writes about them, “Whatever reasons it is possible to provide for them, one should provide.” In the light of that statement, the Sages’ prohibition against thinking about them must be interpreted as forbidding only questioning whether to fulfill them or not and not delving into their deeper meaning. On the contrary, study of the latter nature will bring about an increase in the observance of the chukim.

The service of “Walking in My statutes,” proceeding in Torah and mitzvos, is a general directive. Every day, a Jew must continue to reach a higher level of Torah practice. Since each day, a Jew is a new creation, each day, he must reach a higher level in the service of G‑d. Furthermore, this process of growth must also be in those aspects of service that reflect the concept of engraved letters.

This concept is reflected in the education of a Jewish child. In the very first stages of his education, a child is trained to perform mitzvos in a manner in which they become engraved in his character, i.e., they become his spontaneous reaction. For example, when he wakes up, it should be an immediate reflex response for him to recite Modeh Ani, when he reaches Modim in his prayers, he bows naturally, without any conscious thought.

Though this is desirable for a child, when the child grows up, he is taught how performing mitzvos out of habit is improper and that he should understand and think about his Torah practice so that he will be motivated to apply himself to it with greater intensity. Thus, we see that although a person started out with “engraved letters,” there is still room for growth. Torah and mitzvos must be part of a person’s nature, his habit and natural tendency. Simultaneously, he must be constantly striving to progress and reach higher peaks.

The above is also related to the continuation of the Torah portion which mentions the blessings and the curses that come about as a result of our service. When Torah and mitzvos are engraved in a Jew’s being in a complete and total way as the letters of the Ten Commandments were engraved from one side of the tablets until the other — his entire existence is permeated with G‑dliness — then G‑d will surely grant him all his material needs with the intent that through his service, the Jew will also connect these entities to G‑dliness. Even when on the surface, it appears that one’s portion is not good, ultimately one will realize how these are also blessings, indeed blessings so great that they must be hidden.

These concepts must be expressed in our service within the world. We must demonstrate how G‑d’s relationship with the world parallels that of engraved letters, i.e., the world is nothing more than a dwelling place for G‑d, and not that of written letters, that the awareness of G‑d is an addition to the world’s essential nature.

This concept is expressed by the Rambam at the very beginning of Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, where he writes that the entire creation came into being from “the truth of His existence,” i.e., G‑d’s essence. This will be “engraved from side to side,” i.e., it will be openly apparent how the world is G‑d’s dwelling place and His creative power will be visible within creation.5

3. The above can also be connected to the portion of Rambam associated with the present day which includes the fourth chapter of Hilchos Ma’aseh HaKorbonos (The Laws of the Sacrificial Procedures).6 At the very beginning of this chapter, it is stated that the sacrifices must be offered during the daytime. Metaphorically, this relates to our service of G‑d, for the word korban, “sacrifice,” is related to the word kerov, “close.”7 A Jew’s drawing close to G‑d must be during the day, amidst light and revelation, in both a material and spiritual sense. This applies even when a Jew is in the night of exile. The permission the Torah grants to offer certain aspects of the sacrifices at night reveals how a Jew is able to transform the night into day, “the night will shine as the day.”

This is particularly relevant at present when we are approaching the year תש"נ, 5750, which according to certain opinions is equivalent to midnight of the sixth day.8 According to some authorities, this is one of the years in which it is appropriate for Mashiach to come. In the times of the Gemara, the Sages already declared, “All the appointed times for the Mashiach’s coming have passed and the matter depends only on teshuvah.” Since that time, the Jews have performed a multitude of Torah, mitzvos, and teshuvah. Hence, Mashiach’s coming must be very imminent. May it be in the present year, תשמ"ט. Indeed, the name of this year spells out the Hebrew word, tashmet. The Torah uses that word in the verse: “Release every [debt] your brother [owes] you.”

4. The Rebbe Shlita spoke again about the lesson to be learned from the counting of the Omer, the importance of “Showing respect to each other.” (See the Sichos of Emor and Behar.) The Rebbe Shlita also stressed the importance of studying Pirkei Avos as is customary during this time period.