Parashat Bechukotaiis a rather interesting parashah, for it deals with the promise of great reward, and then in a dramatic twist records the severe retribution which immediately follows any divergence from the laws of the Torah.
The opening of the parashah tells us of the tremendous reward of great blessings, peace and tranquility, abundant agricultural plenty and increased national success This raises the time-old question, is this what the true servant of God, the spiritual Jew whose goal it is to fulfill all of the commandments of the Torah and to live a life in God’s light, aims for? Hazal (our sages) tell us that we are to view this world as nothing more than an anteroom before entering the palace, the World to Come. Our eyes should be set on attaining everlasting life in the World to Come, while understanding that our earthly existence is nothing more than a medium which offers us the key to the true reward, the reward that far outshines any earthly pleasure, success, or achievement. Yet amidst the great blessings of our parashah no mention is made of this, the true reward.
The Rambam (Hilchot Teshuvah 9:1) explains that these blessings which are to solely affect the physical world will bring such tranquility and financial security that the direct result will be the increased opportunity to be more involved in the study of Torah and the observance of its mitzvot. The outcome of these blessings, then, is the very opportunity to become immersed in those pursuits that lead to the ultimate spiritual development and thus the ability to merit life in the World to Come. As the Rambam states: “And thus they merit two worlds: a good life in this world which brings them to life in the World to Come.” Thus the Rambam understands that while the explicit mention of the reward which is the World to Come is lacking, the Torah hands us the formula for our success in attaining this reward. The Torah does not state this fact so that we serve God for no motive other than the desire to serve Him through His Torah and mitzvot, and not in order to receive a prize or reward.
I would like to conclude with the approach of the Kuzari, but first an anecdote. It is told of an artisan, a sculptor, who toiled on a certain sculpture for weeks. He did not rest at all, entirely devoting himself to his labour of love – sculpting the form of a horse. After some time he was able to hang up his tools, for he had completed the sculpture. He exclaimed, “There was never, and will never be, anything like this sculpture in all of the history of art!”
The sculptor placed his sculpture in the town square. He stood from afar, waiting to see the reactions of the passers-by and whether they would also be as moved as he was by his sculpture. Nothing happened! No one paid any special attention to his sculpture; no one had even stopped to admire the artist’s prize creation. After some time, and having become more and more frustrated, the sculptor stopped one of the passers-by and asked him why he hadn’t shown the slightest interest in his sculpture. The passer-by answered: “It looks so real! Whoever walks past must think – as I do – that it is a real horse, and that is why no one pays any attention! I have a piece of advice for you: cut the sculpture in half, and then everyone will know that it is a creation of artistic brilliance.” Indeed, the sculptor followed this advice, and within no time he became famous the world over.
This is precisely what happened when God split the ReedSea, Bnei Yisra’el passed through on dry land, and thus this became one of the most legendary miracles of all time. We all take for granted the fact that there is a sea and dry land which exist in perfect harmony, for we were born into an existing natural order. Yet is it really that simple? We all recall how a tremendous wave of a tsunami wrought such destruction in Asia, for example. Or the tremendous famines in Africathat result due to lack of rain. “For then you will know that your affairs are directed by something that stands above the laws of nature,” (Kuzari, 1:109).
The Kuzari explains that God’s blessing to His nation, “And I shall walk in your midst” which indicates God’s presence in this world testifies to existence of God’s Presence in the World to Come. If God is present in the midst of the physical, material man, who comprises the physical body infused with the spiritual soul, certainly God’s Presence will rest among us in the world of spirituality, after the soul has left its physical shell. The blessings of Parashat Bechukotai occur before our very eyes every single day, most certainly in this, the age of Redemption – as we have just celebrated Yom Ha’Atzma’ut. Do we need any further proof after witnessing the tremendous miracles and blessings that have occurred to us?
If we succeed in continually seeing the miracles and God’s abundant blessings within nature, we will fully appreciate the absence of any mention of the World to Come in the Torah. God accompanies us today, and every day, and it is quite clear that He will also accompany us in the end of days. If we merit the rewards and blessings for our actions in this world, certainly we will merit profuse good fortune in the World to Come.
May we merit the fulfillment of the words of the Rambam that we merit good life in both worlds, “a good life in this world which brings them to life in the World to Come.”