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Walk the Walk

By: Rav Yonaton Hirschhorn

In this week’s parsha, Bechukosai, it states "Im bechukotai telechu..." - if with my commandments you will walk... "I will send your rains in their time" (26:3). Rashi explains that these 'commandments' refer to our toiling in Torah.

Let me tell you a story. Nearly three hundred years ago, in the area of Sali, Morocco, a plague broke out amongst the cattle. As a result, all the Jewish- slaughtered animals were found to be treif ("unfit"-disqualified). Only one calf was "kosher mehadrin" acceptable without question, and that was the one slaughtered specifically for the tzaddik, Rabbi Chaim Ben-Atar, the "Ohr HaChayim Hakadosh."

When one of the wealthy men in the city heard about this, he rushed to Rabbi Chaim's house, hoping to get some meat in honor of Shabbat. He offered an enormous price, but the Ohr Hachaim refused saying: "This is not a butcher shop, and the meat is reserved for the poor Torah scholars of our city." Indeed, every week it was his custom to distribute meat to the poor Torah scholars in honor of Shabbat. While they were speaking, one of Rabbi Chaim's "customers" walked in. Upset, the rich man exclaimed, "Huh? You call this one a Talmid Chacham?" The Ohr Hachaim ignored his comment and gave the scholar his portion. The rich man realized the futileness of his endeavor, and stalked out in anger. That night, the Ohr Hachayim had a dream in which he was told from Heaven that since he had not protested against the embarrassment of a Talmid Chacham, he would have to go into exile for a full year. Immediately, Rabbi Chaim packed his few belongings and set out on his long arduous journey, traveling from one town or village to another, making sure not to sleep two nights in the same place. He often went to sleep hungry, yet he accepted his pain with love and prayed to the One Above to forgive him for his sin.

One Friday many months later, the Ohr Hachayim found himself on the outskirts of a city. He sat down on a stone to rest his weak body and reflected on the first verse of the weekly Torah reading, "Im b'chukotai telechu" When he continued walking towards the city, deep in thought and attachment to the Creator, forty two original explanations of this verse occurred to him!

Later, when he arrived in town, he went directly to the local shul and the shamash invited him to his home for Shabbat. At the conclusion of the Friday night meal, the shamash told his guest of the local custom to join the meal at the house of the Rabbi of the city. So they went together, joining the throngs already gathered, waiting to hear the Rabbi's pearls of wisdom. When the time came and all eyes turned towards the head of the table, the Rabbi was still sitting quietly, in a trance-like state. After a few more moments, he roused himself and began to speak. He transmitted fourteen brilliant explanations on the first verse of the weekly Torah reading, "Im b'chukotai telechu," and then concluded, "These explanations I just heard in Heaven, in the name of the holy tzadik, Rabbi Chaim Ben-Atar."  "Mr. Chaim ben-Atar [i.e. not a tzadik, not a rabbi -ed.]!" the unknown guest called out. All eyes turned to see who had the chutzpa to dishonor the Ohr Hachayim, and were prepared to punish him. However, the shamash, feeling responsible for his guest, requested them to leave the poor man alone.  At the conclusion of his Shabbat day meal, the Rabbi expounded on a second set of fourteen interpretations, saying that these too he had heard in Heaven in the name of the holy tzadik, Rabbi Chaim Ben-Atar.  The same scenario repeated itself. Again the anonymous guest screamed out, "Mr. Chaim Ben-Atar," heightening the irritation of the townsmen. Before the Third Meal, the shamash warned his guest to behave properly but the scene repeated itself a third time. They decided to lock the disrespectful guest in a room until after Shabbat, and to keep him locked up until fitting measures would be decided upon.

That night, a sudden strong storm swept through the city, causing much damage. The townspeople franticly rushed to the Rabbi for his prayer and blessing. The Rabbi told them that he had just been informed from Heaven that Gehinom closes on Shabbat, and it does not reopen on Saturday night until the Ohr Hachayim recites Havdala [the "separation" ceremony to enter into the new week]. Since the tzadik could not make havdala, being that he is currently locked in a room, a great uproar ensued above, which is the cause of such a harrowing storm below. Upon hearing this and realizing their mistake, the townsmen immediately released their holy guest from his confinement. Rabbi Chaim understood that this was his sign that his repentance had been accepted in Heaven, and the next day set out to return to his home.

Now back to our parsha.  "Im bechukotai telechu ..."- if, with my commandments you will walk... "I will send your rains in their time."

What is meant by this "walking"? We will bring down some of the 42 different explanations that the Ohr HaChaim offers. The pursuit of Torah differs greatly from that of individual mitzvot. Whereas a sin can 'extinguish' a mitzvah, it can never extinguish the merit of one’s Torah. If one toils in Torah, he is guaranteed that it will walk with him- it will accompany him to the next world.

Another explanation he brings is that man, unlike the animal kingdom, has the ability to change himself and improve. Our pasuk comes to reveal to us what gives man this ability to move, to change, to improve. If you will toil in Torah then you will walk! That is the only way for a true sustained improvement.

Furthermore, there are numerous paths in Torah study and one answer is not the only correct explanation (Pshat, Remez, Drash, Sod…and “70 faces in the Torah”).

One needs to be occupied in Torah matters even when he’s walking on the way.  There’s never an off time for Torah, we always have to be involved in Torah in whatever context we find ourselves in.

 In Kaballah, it is explained that the most “delightful and intimate communication” is “strolling” with someone. Imagine the heights of one who reaches the level of “walking” with Hashem, which can be accomplished through Bechukotai (Torah).

We should be zoche to merit this!

 Shabbat Shalom





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