Bechukotai - The Traveler

If you follow My statutes and observe My mitzvot and perform [lit. performed] 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.
אִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ וְאֶת מִצְו‍ֹתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם. וְנָתַתִּי גִשְׁמֵיכֶם בְּעִתָּם וְנָתְנָה הָאָרֶץ יְבוּלָהּ וְעֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה יִתֵּן פִּרְיוֹ
Vayikra 26:3-4
Says Rashi, there seems to be a redundancy in this verse:
One might think that "If you follow My statutes" refers to doing mitzvot. However, the next phrase says, “and observe My mitzvot,” referring to the [actual] fulfillment of the mitzvot. So, then what is the meaning of “If you follow My statutes”?
It means that you must toil in the study of Torah (שתהיו עמלים בתורה). [Why? Where do we learn toil from? From the word תֵּלֵכוּ -which literally means “walk,” and walking is a strenuous activity (Gur Aryeh)]. — (Torath Kohanim 26:2)]
What is Toiling (עמל)?
In the Gemorrah in Brechot, we have the famous statement read at the siyum of mesechetot:
For I rise early and they rise early,
I rise early for words of Torah and they rise early for frivolous talk;
I toil and they toil, but I toil and receive a reward and they toil and do not receive a reward;
I run and they run, but I run to the life of the world to come and they run to the pit of destruction.
שאני משכים והם משכימים
אני משכים לדברי תורה והם משכימים לדברים בטלים
אני עמל והם עמלים אני עמל ומקבל שכר והם עמלים ואינם מקבלים שכר
אני רץ והם רצים אני רץ לחיי העולם הבא והם רצים לבאר שחת
Brechot 28B
Says The Ben Ish Chai ( בן יהוידע-על התורה): The toil itself is considered the reward, since one who toils in Torah is happy and satisfied from this toiling.

How is that? It's like when a man is instructed by his doctor that to feel better he needs to go and do some real hard work and sweat. So he joins a construction crew. He works hard the whole day, his clothes are wet and full of sweat. At the end of the day when the boss comes to hand out paycheck, he just walks home. "Hey what about your pay?"
"Look at me, I've already been paid. I came here to get healed and feel better by working hard and having a good sweat, and that's what you gave me."
Why this Specific Wording?
The Kedushat Levi, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak from Berditchev, also asks why does the parshah open with such a seeming repetition of similar phrases. The pasuk could have started with a much simpler statement like 'If you keep my commandments, then I will give you rains in their time..." Reb Levi Yitzhak is concerned with the phrasing at the end of the first verse, וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם - literally 'and you DID them'. So what is the significance of this specific wording and what else do we learn out of the seeming repetition?

Where does Toiling Begin? The Right Intention
We learn in a Gemorah in Kiddushin (40A):
Good intention is fused with deed, for it is said (Malachai 3:16): "Then the G-d-fearing men spoke to one another, and Hashem listened and heard. And a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who feared Hashem and for those who valued His name highly." Now, what is the meaning of 'for those who valued His name highly'?
Said R`Assi: Even if one [merely] thinks of performing a mitzvah but is forcibly prevented, the verse is ascribed it to him as though he has performed it.
מחשבה טובה מצרפה למעשה שנאמר (מלאכי ג, טז) אז נדברו יראי ה' איש אל רעהו ויקשב ה' וישמע ויכתב ספר זכרון לפניו ליראי ה' ולחושבי שמו מאי ולחושבי שמו
אמר רב אסי אפילו חשב אדם לעשות מצוה ונאנס ולא עשאה מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו עשאה
 Kidushin 40A
That is to say even when we just have the intention to take upon ourselves to do a particular mitzvah, then HaKodesh Baruch Hu credits us, as if we had already completed the mitzvah. And all the more so, when we actually complete a mitzvah is this regarded, raising us up to a higher level for performing additional mitzvot, and still going higher and higher.

Moving Forward
This reminded me of an amusing story I heard. 
There was a guy who was hired to paint the stripe down the middle of a road. And so the first day he had his little bucket and his paint and he painted a kilometer and he came back and his boss was like, “That was really good, you painted a whole kilometer. That was terrific.” The next day, the boss comes back to see his work, he said, “Oh, you painted another half kilometer. Okay, well, that’s great. Still pretty good. That’s better than most people.” Then the next day, he came back and only painted a quarter of a kilometer. And so the boss said, “What’s going on? Why did you slow down so much?” And the painter says, “Well, I have to keep walking back to the beginning to get to the paint.”
Hashem credits us for performing the mitzvah from the outset to help us move forward, and not have to go back and 'pick up our paint' but to keep us rising higher and higher. Based on this perspective, Reb Levi Yitzhak explains that the tzaddik is called a 'traveler' since in his life, he travels from one  level to a higher level.

Mitzvah Brings Mitzvah
This is comprised in the teaching in Pirkei Avot:
Ben Azzai would say: Run to pursue a minor mitzvah like a stringent one, and flee from a transgression. For a mitzvah brings another mitzvah, and a transgression brings another transgression. For the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah, and the reward of transgression is transgression.
 בן עזאי במשנה במסכת אבות: "הֱוֵה רָץ לְמִצְוָה קַלָּה כַּחֲמוּרָה וּבוֹרֵחַ מִן הָעֲבֵרָה, שֶׁמִּצְוָה גּוֹרֶרֶת מִצְוָה, וַעֲבֵרָה גּוֹרֶרֶת עֲבֵרָה
Avot 4:3

Reviewing Learning
This brings clarity to the Gemorrah at the end of mesechet Nidah:
The Tanna debe Eliyahu [teaches]:
Whoever reviews halachahs every day may rest assured that he will reside in the world to come, for it is said: (Halikoth) his ways (or travels) are as of old; read not halikoth (travels) but halakoth (Torah law).
תנא דבי אליהו:
כל השונה הלכות בכל יום מובטח לו שהוא בן העולם הבא שנאמר (חבקוק ג, ו) הליכות עולם לו אל תקרי הליכות אלא הלכות
Nida 73A

That is to say everyone that learns and reviews their learning daily, meaning that each day one (yishneh halikhotav) changes their travels, that is to say that he travels each and every day to a greater level - then Hashem's statement resounds: I assure him that he is guaranteed a place in The World to Come.

The Meaning in Seeming Repetition
This shows  seemingly repetitive phrasing from the opening verse in another light, reading as:
  • "If you travel in my My statutes, (אִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי בחוקותי תֵּלֵכוּ)" this is to say that if you attach yourselves to My statutes, you will assume an aspect of a "traveler" - one who goes higher in spirituality.
  • "And observe My mitzvot (וְאֶת מִצְו‍ֹתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ)" emphasizing the word observe (שומר) from when Yosef first tells his brothers and father about his early dreams (Breisheit 37:11):

 So his brothers envied him, but his father awaited the matter
וַיְקַנְאוּ בוֹ אֶחָיו וְאָבִיו שָׁמַר אֶת הַדָּבָר
Rashi explains this saying, "שָׁמַר אֶת הַדָּבָר" (awaited the matter). He was waiting and looking forward in expectation to the time [when the dreams] would be fulfilled.

Story: Sacrifice for a Mitzvah 
We started with a commentary from Reb Levi Yitzhak, and we will conclude with a story from Reb Levi Yitzchak m'Berdichev.

The rabbi was distraught that there were no etrogim in all of Berditchev and he asked his followers to be on the lookout for someone who might have one. Two days before the holiday, R. Levi Yitzchak was told there was a traveler with an etrog. He begged him to stay in town for the holiday, as multiple people can use the same etrog. You’ll have a life of prosperity! But he refused. Finally the rabbi said if you remain here, you can have a place near me in Gan Eden, in eternity. Now this was too valuable to refuse! He agreed to stay.

R. Levi Yitzchak instructed his followers: do not allow this man into your Sukkot. Now, this was a big deal because a Jew is required to eat in a Sukkah on Sukkot, especially the first night. Of course they followed the rabbi’s instructions. The merchant was enraged and he confronted R. Levi Yitzchak. This is how you treat me?

And the rabbi replied, we will let you in a sukkah only if you release me from my promise that you will share the world to come with me!

Sound fair? Not at first glance.
The merchant said, "Fine, I release you from your promise."

The mitzvah he was able to perform in that moment was more important than the promise of the world to come.

R. Levi Yitzchak welcomed him in and embraced him and in that moment said: Now you will be next to me in Gan Eden. It can’t be acquired in a business deal, yet you were willing to give up Gan Eden to fulfill a mitzvah, and through that sacrifice alone you earned your place. 

Performing a Mitzvah
When Hashem says "I further say that if you keep My mitzvot, that is say if you THINK to do my mitzvot, even though you have not done them yet, then it is as if you have done them. The explanation: that I will consider you as if you have done them, since Hakadosh Baruch Hu fuses good thought with action, and that is the meaning of YOU HAVE DONE THEM.

Acharei Mot - Passion and Inspiration

You shall observe My statutes and My ordinances, which a man shall do and live by them.
וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת מִשְׁפָּטַי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם הָאָדָם וָחַי בָּהֶם

Vayikra 18:5

In Mesechet Yoma (85B), there is an exploration amongst various Tannahs into what is the source of the reasoning that Pikuach Nefesh (saving a life) takes precedence over observing Shabbat.

R. Ishmael, R. Akiba and R. Eleazar b. Azariah were once on a journey, with Levi ha-Saddar 20
and R. Ishmael son of R. Eleazar b. Azariah following them. Then this question was asked of them:
Whence do we know that in the case of danger to human life that the laws of the Sabbath are suspended?
— R. Ishmael answered and said: If a thief be found breaking in.21 Now if in the case of this one it is doubtful whether he has come to take money or life; and although the shedding of blood pollutes the
land, so that the Shechinah departs from Israel, yet it is lawful to save oneself at the cost of his life how much more may one suspend the laws of the Sabbath to save human life!
— R. Akiba answered and said: If a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour etc. thou shalt take him from My altar, that he may die.22 I.e., only off the altar, but not down from the altar.23 And in connection therewith
— Rabbah b. Bar Hana said in the name of R. Johanan: That was taught only when one's life is to be
forfeited, but to save life1 one may take one down even from the altar. Now if in the case of this one, where it is doubtful whether there is any substance in his words or not, yet [he interrupts] the service in the Temple [which is important enough to] suspend the Sabbath, how much more should the saving of human life suspend the Sabbath laws!
— R. Eleazar answered and said: If circumcision, which attaches to one only of the two hundred and forty-eight members of the human body, suspends the Sabbath,2 how much more shall [the saving of] the whole body suspend the Sabbath!
— R. Jose son of R. Judah said: Only ye shall keep My Sabbaths,’3 one might assume under all circumstances, therefore the text reads: ‘Only’ viz, allowing for exceptions.4 R. Jonathan b. Joseph said: For it is holy unto you;5 I.e., it [the Sabbath] is committed to your hands, not you to its hands.

The Amorah, Rav Yehudah said in the name of Samuel: If I had been there, I should have told them something better than what they said: "He shall live by them,"(Vayikra 18:5) but he shall not die because of them.

So we see from here that the verse "live by them" comes to tell us that in face of transgressing a mitzvah, it is preferred to transgress and live (except in 3 cases: spilling blood, illicit relations, and idolatry).

Eternal Life
On the other hand, the translation of Onkeles brings another perspective to this verse. Targum Onkleles describes this verse as "chayei alma" - eternal life, which refers to The World to Come. Furthermore, even if there is any doubt about the interpretation that Targum Onkeles brings, Rashi states the same position with straightforward, concrete terms.
"and live by them": in the World-To-Come. For if you say [that the verse refers to living] in this world, does [everyone] not eventually die? 
Torath Kohanim 18:134
Thus we face a conflict. On the one hand "live by them" means to live in this world, and on the other hand this expression refers to another life, life in the world to come. Which is it?

Passion for Life
The Slonimer Rebbe brings in The Netivot Shalom an insight that clarifies this contradiction, saying that both of these approaches are valid and word of Hashem.

He brings a teaching from the Karliner Rebbe, saying when one reached the world to come an announcement went out that he kept Shabbat diligently according to all the details of the statutes of Shabbat. Yet just as this one kept Shabbat perfectly but without enthusiasm for Oneg Shabbat, so also his experience in the world to come is dry and didactic without Oneg.

Says The Slonimer, we learn from this that how we perform the mitzvot impact the type of world to come that we create for ourselves. Where we perform mitzvot with passion, excitement and enthusiasm so also is that feeling carried over to our world to come. Likewise, explains The Slonimer, transgressions impact life on the other side, as he explains that the fires of Gehenom are lit by the transgressions of this world.

So we see we can bring these two seemingly contradictory points of view together on the meaning of the verse "live by them." It is both about this world and the next, for just how we approach the mitzvot in this world directly impact and shape how we will experience our place in the world to come.

Shimini - Integrity

But these you shall not eat among those that bring up the cud and those that have a cloven hoof: the camel, because it brings up its cud, but does not have a [completely] cloven hoof; it is unclean for you. And the hyrax, because it brings up its cud, but will not have a [completely] cloven hoof; it is unclean for you; And the hare, because it brings up its cud, but does not have a [completely] cloven hoof; it is unclean for you; And the pig, because it has a cloven hoof that is completely split, but will not regurgitate its cud; it is unclean for you.
אַךְ אֶת זֶה לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִמַּעֲלֵי הַגֵּרָה וּמִמַּפְרִסֵי הַפַּרְסָה אֶת הַגָּמָל כִּי מַעֲלֵה גֵרָה הוּא וּפַרְסָה אֵינֶנּוּ מַפְרִיס טָמֵא הוּא לָכֶם. וְאֶת הַשָּׁפָן כִּי מַעֲלֵה גֵרָה הוּא וּפַרְסָה לֹא יַפְרִיס טָמֵא הוּא לָכֶם. וְאֶת הָאַרְנֶבֶת כִּי מַעֲלַת גֵּרָה הִוא וּפַרְסָה לֹא הִפְרִיסָה טְמֵאָה הִוא לָכֶם. וְאֶת הַחֲזִיר כִּי מַפְרִיס פַּרְסָה הוּא וְשֹׁסַע שֶׁסַע פַּרְסָה וְהוּא גֵּרָה לֹא יִגָּר טָמֵא הוּא לָכֶם
Vayikra 11:4-7

This passage focuses specifically on the non-kosher animals that are forbidden to it. Yet in describing each of these animals, they all are first described according to the characteristic that would make them kosher, then explained further about the missing component that ultimately makes them not kosher. Says the Kli Yakar, in listing non-kosher animals, shouldn't their non-kosher characteristics take precedent over their kosher aspects? Why does the Torah repeatedly emphasize the kosher side to all of these animals, then seemingly add on the non-kosher side?

Explains the Kli Yakar, that ultimately because the kosher aspect receives priority that this actually emphasizes the non-kosher aspect even more! How can this be? From a midrash explaining the behavior of Esau, it compares him to the state of a pig. The pig would come forward and hold out its feet showing off is cloven hooves as if to prove its kosher, while nevertheless the pig lacked the ability to regurgitate its cud, making it not kosher. So also is the traits of Esau, where he tried to pass himself off as appearing as a tzadik while all the time his heart was filled with bitterness and treachery. This is the nature of Esau, a deceiver, and man of deception. This is worse than the behavior of an evil man, for the evil man is both rotten from within and oppressive on the outside. While the deceiver strives to appear good, while secretly harboring ill will towards.

Quoting Yirmiyahu, the Kli Yakar explains where this deceptive approach will go in trying to bring down Israel, saying "all who eat him [Israel] shall be guilty, evil shall befall them" (Yirmiyahu 2:3). Also we see that one is really like what he eats, for in eating the non-kosher animals, one ingests these deceitful traits. 

The Oppressors of Israel
The Kli Yakar goes on to compare these four animals to oppressors that rose up to put Israel down.
  • Camel = Bavel
  • Hyrax = Persia (Medes)
  • Hare = Greece
  • Pig = Edom (Rome)
Bavel as the Camel
The camel is shown to represent the Babylonians, as brought out in the verse in Tehillim "O Daughter of Babylon, who is destined to be plundered, praiseworthy is he who repays you your recompense (גְּמוּלֵךְ שֶׁגָּמַלְתְּ) that you have done to us." (Tehillim 137:8) That the root to the word Gamal appears in this verse, and shows that ultimately our oppressor is punished.

Persia in the Hyrax
The Persians are mentioned in connection to Megillat Esther, saying that just as the Hyrax 'brings up its cud' so also are Tzadkim raised up. It stats that "Mordecai was sitting in the king's gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king's chamberlains, of the guards of the threshold, became angry and sought to lay a hand on King Ahasuerus." This was the turning point in the Megillah that ultimately lead to the fateful night where the King couldn't sleep and read about this deed, which lead to seeking out and rewarding Mordechai.

Greece as the Hare 
The Greeks are mentioned, saying that just as the Hare 'brings up its cud' so also are Tzadkim raised up, as we see in the famous story with Alexander the Great.
The twenty-fifth of Tebeth is the day of Mount Gerizim, (On which the Samaritans (Cutheans) had their Temple.) where no mourning is permitted. It is the day on which the Cutheans demanded the House of our G-d from Alexander the Macedonian so as to destroy it, and he had given them the permission, whereupon some people came and informed Shimon the Tzadik. What did the latter do? He put on his priestly garments, robed himself in priestly garments, brought some of the noblemen of Israel to come with him carrying fiery torches in their hands. They walked all the night, some walking on one side and others on the other side, until dawn. When the dawn rose he [Alexander] said to them: Who are these people? They [the Samaritans] answered: The Jews who are rebelling against you. As he reached Antipatris, the sun having shone forth, their groups came together. When he [Alexander] saw Shimon the Tzadik, he descended from his carriage and bowed down before him. They [the Samaritans] said to him: A great king like yourself bows down before this Jew? He answered: His image is that which wins for me in all my battles. He said to them [the Jews]: What have you come for? They said: Is it possible that star-worshippers should mislead you to destroy the House wherein prayers are said for you and your kingdom that it be never destroyed! He said to them [the Jews]: Who are these? They [the Jews] said to him: These are Cutheans who stand before you. He said: They are delivered into your hand. At once they perforated their heels, tied them to the tails of their horses and dragged them over thorns and thistles, until they came to Mount Gerizim, which they ploughed and planted with vetch, even as they had planned to do with the House of G-d [Beit Hamikdash]. And that day they made a festive day.
Yoma 69A
Rome is the Pig
As we saw early, the period of the Roman Empire is compared to the deceptive behavior of the pig, which dares to proudly present itself as kosher by showing its feet, when it lacks the other kosher sign.

Meaning in Metaphor
What is the meaning of comparing these animals to these different iconic oppressors of the Jewish people? Explains the Kli Yakar:
By the camel we tell of the ultimate punishment to come back on the Babylonians
With the hyrax and hare, representing Persian and Greece, we see how our Tzadikim are elevated by praise, prestige and honor from the other nations - as we saw with Mordechai and Shimon HaTzadik. However this praise ultimately covers up a baser and fundamental drive to still oppress the Jews.
With the pig compared to Rome, we learn about that a truly deceptive nature and trait worse than evil, trying to present oneself as acceptable while covering up a bitter nature within. 

We should also strive to internalize the same holiness that we project on the outside, and likewise in show the same holiness that we nurture within.

Beshalach - The Power of Torah

So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and toward morning the sea returned to its strength, as the Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and Hashem stirred the Egyptians into the sea.
יֵּט משֶׁה אֶת יָדוֹ עַל הַיָּם וַיָּשָׁב הַיָּם לִפְנוֹת בֹּקֶר לְאֵיתָנוֹ וּמִצְרַיִם נָסִים לִקְרָאתוֹ וַיְנַעֵר ה` אֶת מִצְרַיִם בְּתוֹךְ הַיָּם
Shmot 14:27

What does this mean "the sea returned to its strength" (לאיתנו), couldn't the verse have just said the sea returned, or went back?

Says the Or HaChaim Hakadosh, this expression "the sea returned to its strength" (לאיתנו), means that the sea went back to its initial condition. Bringing the Midrash Rabba on Breisheet, we learn:
R' Yochanan says: Hashem stipulated with the Sea that it should split before Yisrael; thus it is written (Shemos 14:27), 'And the sea returned... to its strength (l'eitano),' to the stipulation (l'tano) that [Hashem made] with it.
Breisheet Rabba 5:5
The  Or HaChaim Hakadosh says that he has a problem with the reference to this condition here, rather the condition belongs to the time of the separation of the earth and waters. So perhaps the verse is coming to explain that after the water returned, the sea realized that it was created with a special condition in place. 

What Makes Water Split?
What was the nature of this stipulation that Hashem made with the sea? What were the conditions required for the sea to respond accordingly?
First, the Or HaChaim HaKadosh looks at how the sea responded when Moshe approached for it to split.
Moses went to divide the sea as G-d had commanded, but the sea refused to comply, exclaiming: "What, before you shall I divide? Am I not greater than you? For I was created in the third day and you on the sixth." 
Shmot Rabbah 21:6
The Or HaChaim HaKadosh then contrasts Moshe's confrontation with the sea, to the encounter of R. Pinchas Ben Yair with the river.
Once, R. Pinchas b. Yair was on his way to redeem captives, and came to the river Ginnai. ‘O Ginnai’ , said he, ‘divide thy waters for me, that I may pass through thee’. It replied. ‘Thou art about to do the will of thy Maker; I, too, am doing the will of my Maker. Thou mayest or mayest not accomplish thy purpose; I am sure of accomplishing mine’. He said: ‘If thou wilt not divide thyself, I will decree that no waters ever pass through thee’. It, thereupon, divided itself for him.
Chulin 7a (Soncino Translation)
 Why did Moshe seem to face a much more stubborn body of water then R. Pinchas Ben Yair?

Created with Conditions
The Or HaChaim HaKadosh explains that within the outset of creation itself were special conditions set within all of creation.
R. Jeremiah b. Eleazar said: Not with the sea alone did God make a stipulation, but with everything which was created in the six days of creation, as it is written, "I made the earth, and I created man upon it; as for Me-My hands stretched out the heavens, and I ordained their host." (Isa. 45:12).
Breisheet Rabba 5:5
In fact the creations were made to be subordinate to Torah, and those that endeavor in it. This means that the creations are subjugated to the will of the Torah and those learned in Torah, as if Hashem Himself were ruling over them. As it says in Vayikra Rabba, "Hakodesh Baruch Hu said to the world 'Who created you? Who created Yisrael? It was all out of the power of the Torah.'

Before and After Torah
Here The Or HaChaim HaKadosh explains the fundamental issue at work. For at the time of the departure from Egypt, it was still BEFORE receiving the Torah. So the initial conditions set with the creations at the time of creation were not active yet. This explains the reason for the protests of the sea against Moshe's request to split. The sea's claim that "I was created in the third day and you on the sixth" indicates that Moshe was not yet considered a Ben Torah - a Master of Torah.

Moshe split the sea not from his status of a Torah Master, but with the help of Hashem. As the midrash says, "From my hand I (i.e Hashem) stretched the heavens, and all their legions I have commanded,': I commanded the sea to split before Yisrael; I commanded the heavens and the earth to be silent before Moshe. (Breisheet Rabba 5:5)"  This gave Moshe the appearance of being a Ben Torah to the sea, as it says "from His right hand was a fiery Law for them" (Devarim 33:2), causing the conditions from creation to activate and the sea to split.

Yet after receiving the Torah, every Torah Master, every Tzadik carries with him a divine contract giving him power over creation. Thus we see the innate power and confidence that R. Pinchas ben Yair showed when he confronted the river, that as a true Torah Master he could demand that the river succumb to his will.