Behukotai- Reliving the Beracha of Yom Yerushalayim

Forty eight years ago, to the day, the Jewish People were not in a good position. The Egyptian army blocked the Straits of Tiran, a clear act of aggression against Israel, which encouraged her other neighbors to also draw battle lines and prepare for a war to end all wars. While Israel’s greatest allies worked tirelessly to find a diplomatic solution to avoid war, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon amassed forces on their borders, getting ready to storm the Jewish State and destroy her for good. Radio broadcasts in Israel and abroad were full of the same grim tidings- cries by Arab leaders for  the Jews to be driven into the Mediterranean Sea, news of fruitless political negotiations, and the especially terrifying declaration by Israeli rabanim that every public park in the country would be a graveyard, in an effort to prepare for the bloody onslaught.

At this time Rav Shlomo Goren, chief Rabbi of the IDF, was abroad raising money for the United Jewish Appeal. As news broke of Egypt’s aggression, Rav Goren wanted to return to Israel, but couldn’t make it in time to travel before the weekend, so he spent Shabbat in Far Rockaway, NY, close to the airport. The concerned congregants in the local shul cried out to Rav Goren, asking him how he felt about the situation- about the imminent war, the threats of a second Holocaust, and destruction of the only Jewish State in modern history.

Rav Goren, referring to that week’s sedra which is also ours, simply responded: Hashem promised us that no matter how badly we behave, no matter where we are scattered to, He will never destroy us completely. “לא יהיה חורבן שליש,” he cried, “there will not be a third destruction in Jerusalem.”

It is very interesting and even scarier that the Six Day War was fought around Shabbat Behukotai. The tochacha, the very scary admonition that makes up the bulk of this sedra, describes the terrible punishments our people face when we, unfortunately, don’t follow G-d’s commands. Broken up into five parts, each corresponding to a progressively worse level of sin, the tochacha serves as a very effective warning to our people of the price of misbehaving.

A look into the fifth and most serious tochacha shows that the fears of the Jewish People of 1967 were well founded. G-d, via Moshe, warns us:

וְנָתַתִּי אֶת עָרֵיכֶם חָרְבָּה וַהֲשִׁמּוֹתִי אֶת מִקְדְּשֵׁיכֶם וְלֹא אָרִיחַ בְּרֵיחַ נִיחֹחֲכֶם

I will make your cities a ruin, I will destroy your temples, and will not accept your service (lit. appreciate the smells of your korbanot). (ויקרא כו:לא)

This sounds exactly like everyone’s worst fears realized- complete destruction of Israeli cities, Jewish religion and culture, while G-d seemingly stands on the side and lets it happen. With this tochacha, the future truly looked too dark to bear.

Enter Rav Goren, who optimistically reminded the Jews of Far Rockaway of the final passuk of the tochacha:

וְאַף גַּם זֹאת בִּהְיוֹתָם בְּאֶרֶץ אֹיְבֵיהֶם לֹא מְאַסְתִּים וְלֹא גְעַלְתִּים לְכַלֹּתָם לְהָפֵר בְּרִיתִי אִתָּם כִּי אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹקֵיהֶם

Even when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them nor destroy them, to stop my covenant with them, for I am Hashem, their G-d. (שם מד)

Even at our worst, surrounded by enemies with nowhere else to turn, G-d will never completely destroy our people- we may get hit very badly, and suffer many losses, but at the end of the day, the Jewish People will continue, rebuild, and return.

It interesting that the Jewish world of 1967, including the oddly optimistic Rav Goren, related to the Six Day War as a fulfillment of the tochacha. The best case scenario that the Jews of Far Rockaway could imagine was terrible destruction… but not complete annihilation; the promise of continuity.

Scarcely a week later, the outcome of the Six Day War exceeded even the wildest dreams of the Jewish People. Not only did we manage to continue- Israel won much more than her people could have ever hoped. Through outright and open miracles (such as Rav Goren accidentally singlehandedly retaking Hebron, the Egyptian Air Force’s mistakes that led to its destruction, and divinely inspired tactics that led to the Syrian army being surrounded on all sides in its own territory… the stories go on and on), our people escaped destruction and ended up retaking the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria, and even our eternal national capital, Jerusalem. No one, not even the Jews at Mt. Sinai, could have foreseen this.

In fact, as far as I can tell, Israel’s miraculous victory in the Six Day war has almost nothing in common with the tochacha in Behukotai. Rather, it seems to be a clear fulfillment of the shorter, yet more positive, part of our sedra– the beracha.

Chizkuni, in his commentary on the passuk “ונתתי את עריכם חרבה,” notes the contrast between this verse and corresponding points in the beracha. “ערים חרבהour cities destroyed” is directly opposite “וְרָדְפוּ מִכֶּם חֲמִשָּׁה מֵאָה וּמֵאָה מִכֶּם רְבָבָה יִרְדֹּפוּ וְנָפְלוּ אֹיְבֵיכֶם לִפְנֵיכֶם לֶחָרֶב– and five of you will chase a hundred [of your enemies], and one hundred will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall to the sword” (כו:ח). The next phrase “והשימותי את מקדשיכם,” is a punishment opposite “וְנָתַתִּי מִשְׁכָּנִי בְּתוֹכֲכֶם וְלֹא תִגְעַל נַפְשִׁי אֶתְכֶם– I will place My dwelling among you, and My soul  I will not be disgusted by you” (יא). Lastly, “ולא אריח בריח ניחחכם” corresponds to “יְהִתְהַלַּכְתִּי בְּתוֹכֲכֶם וְהָיִיתִי לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ לִי לְעָם– And I will walk among you, be for you a G-d, and you will be for me a nation.” (יב)

It is my belief that Chizkuni’s analysis here perfectly describes the “before” and “after” of the Six Day War, albeit for good.

Jews of 1967 expected “ערים חרבה,” rampant destruction in their land. Instead, by G-d’s Grace, we merited a disproportionate victory, where, in some cases, five soldiers truly won battles against armies at least one hundred times bigger than them. The IDF’s success, as an army of scarcely 250,000 troops against a collective 550,000 aggressors, truly seems to fulfill “ומאה מכם רבבה ירדפו,” and we are truly fortunate that our casualties, while painful, were less than one thousand, while our enemies suffered at least 25,000 losses of soldiers, and over 450 aircraft- this very clearly seems to be “ונפלו איביכם לפניכם לחרב.”

Jews of 1967 expected “והשימותי את מקדשיכם,” removal from the Holy Land and a destruction of the Jewish religion in Israel and beyond. However, we ended up with “ונתתי משכני בתוככם,”winning back the holiest place in the world, where Avraham almost sacrificed his son, where two Temples once stood and a third one will again stand.

Our forebears thought that G-d was ignoring their tefilot for mercy (“ולא אריח בריח ניחחכם”). In the end, the Jewish people merited the opposite- G-d walked directly among them, personally fighting their battles and ensuring their success (“והתהלכתי בתוככם והייתי לכם לאלקים”).

With this understanding, we must now ask ‘why.’ All of the Jews of 1967 were expecting destruction, terrible losses, and a fulfillment of the worst tochacha. How did we instead merit what seems to be a fulfillment of the beracha?

At the end of the tochacha, G-d elaborates on the main sin which leads to an enactment of this admonishment:

…בְּמַעֲלָם אֲשֶׁר מָעֲלוּ בִי וְאַף אֲשֶׁר הָלְכוּ עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי

… In their transgressions against me, and even walking with me in keri. (כו:מ)

Most commentators interpret “קרי” as casualness- they say that the Jewish people’s greatest sin, which can lead to the most terrible punishment against them, is not realizing the significance in G-d’s actions. When one thinks back, or looks at recent events, and doesn’t properly see Hashem’s hand in them, he is violating this very serious transgression. In order to correctly serve G-d and avoid being punished with the tochacha, we have a responsibility to seek out G-d’s hand in our lives, to ensure that we do not relate to Hashem in casualness, “קרי.”

Based on this, I would like to answer that the Jewish People of 1967 didn’t end up receiving the terrible punishments that they had anticipated, because they didn’t relate to their Creator “בקרי.” It’s clear from the stories that have emerged from  the weeks preceding the Six Day War, such as the one of Rav Goren which we saw earlier, that all Jews were concerned about the plight of their brothers in Israel. When events began to unfold, the Jews of Israel and the Exile united, seeing Hashem’s hand as the situation became progressively worse, and came together to pray for His help. Since they all, as one, recognized G-d’s hand in the upcoming battle, they merited an amazing victory and a complete 180-turn from tochacha to beracha.

Jumping forty eight years later, we truly need to learn from the actions of the holy Jews of 1967. Recent tragedies over the past few months have given our people opportunities to reunite, albeit for very unfortunate reasons. We’ve even been able to see G-d’s hand in some of these tragedies, as, for instance, the untimely deaths of Eyal, Naftali and Gilad gave the IDF an opportunity to stop a terrible plot by Hamas to infiltrate and wreak a bloody attack on Israel during Rosh Hashana.

However, as we approach Yom Yerushalayim, the day of amazing miracles for the Jewish People, it is not enough to just see Hashem’s hand in recent events. We must also ensure that we are not relating to Him “בקרי,” casually- we must seek out His presence, in order to also merit a complete reversal from the tochacha that recent events appear to be leading to, to beracha, and salvation. How do we accomplish this? By embracing the geu’lah, and moving home to Eretz Yisrael, to where Hashem’s shechina is constantly present and miracles happen every day, whether we see them or not. One who continues their lives in the Exile, despite recent and less recent miracles, shows that they are ignoring  the message G-d’s actions , relating to him on the worst levels of “קרי.”

This is exactly what the tochacha of Parshat Behukotai warns us about. The worst punishments come to am Yisrael not when they forget about G-d, but when they do recognize His hand and nonetheless decide to ignore it.

With recent news of Anti-Semitism, Iran’s nuclear program, Global Jihad and ISIL, and violence in the USA, Europe, and the rest of the world, one could very much jump to the same conclusions that even the most optimistic Jews of 1967 made- we are heading for a tochacha. We could begin to look at the positives parts of the tochacha: We may have lost millions of Jews over the past century, but at least we keep on going, and G-d will never break His covenant with our ancestors, to ensure the survival of our nation.

However, I believe that instead of hoping for a lesser tochacha, we should seek out the beracha. We must proactively seek out Hashem’s hand in our lives and the fate of our people, and stop treating his will with the casualness that many of am Yisrael have been suffering from for over 67 years. If we are to have any hope of turning frightening world events into a victory, one beyond even the miraculous events of Yom Yerushalayim, we must, as a people, stop relating to Hashem “בקרי” and return home once and for all. Only through this can we ever hope to turn the terrible tochacha of painful life in the Exile into the eternal beracha of the redemption.