This week’s Torah portion opens with Vayikra / Leviticus 26:3-5 saying, ג אִם-בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ וְאֶת-מִצְוֹתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ וַעֲשִֹיתֶם אֹתָם: ד וְנָתַתִּי גִשְׁמֵיכֶם בְּעִתָּם וְנָתְנָה הָאָרֶץ יְבוּלָהּ וְעֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה יִתֵּן פִּרְיוֹ: ה וְהִשִּׂיג לָכֶם דַּיִשׁ אֶת-בָּצִיר וּבָצִיר יַשִּׂיג אֶת-זָרַע וַאֲכַלְתֶּם לַחְמְכֶם לָשֹֹבַע וִישַׁבְתֶּם לָבֶטַח בְּאַרְצְכֶם: 26:3 ‘If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out, 26:4 then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. 26:5 ‘Indeed, your threshing will last for you until grape gathering, and grape gathering will last until sowing time. You will thus eat your food to the full and live securely in your land. (NASB) What we find here is a great blessing upon one’s life if a person is careful to obey the commandments of God to carry them out. The concept being laid out here is that there is a great blessing for those who would walk with God according to His Word! This is drawn out by the words בְּחֻקֹּתַי and מִצְוֹתַי where the Lord God says these “my statutes” and “my commandments,” respectively. The point of the command and the blessing, to walk in God’s Ways, is related to drawing near to the Lord, bringing God’s Word near to the heart, and life of the one who loves Him! God has given His Word to His people. The question we have to ask ourselves is “are we His people?” Have we accepted God’s Word for our lives, to love and to serve the God of Israel, or is this a foreign concept?
Historically, we learn in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the church began to drift away from her Jewish roots. As a result, many misconceptions developed concerning God’s Law, the Torah, in the sense of the Torah having a negative image as opposed to a positive one. This was due to the influences of Greek philosophy and pagan ideas. The first misconception that entered the doctrines of the church was an anti-Torah (negative) perspective on the Torah, as opposed to the traditional belief in the inherent goodness (love) of the Torah. The Hebraic understanding of the Torah is that this is a primary teaching for humanity on how to hit the mark in life (by defining sin and rebellion) teaching man what it means to be disobedient ( commit sin, missing the mark). In the Greek Language, there is only one word for Law (nomos) and so when speaking of the “law of God” or the “law of sin” or the “law of the Spirit of life,” or the “law of Christ,” etc we have to pay particular attention to exactly what Paul or the Apostles are writing in order to discern what is being spoken of in the NT. We do however see the pro-Torah perspective that Paul has according to Romans 7 and 8 when Paul states the goodness of God’s law as the law of the Spirit, as opposed to the law of sin and death and the body. To the Greek thinker, the “law” (nomos) has a negative connotation, whereas for the Hebrew mind, the Torah had a positive image. This has led to the misconception that “Law and Grace” are polar opposites and the Torah was replaced by the age of grace. Once the Torah is understood from a Jewish perspective, as the instruction of God, as a way of life for His people, as a great blessing, this error is exposed. This idea of the opposing concepts of “Law vs. Grace” was developed from a pagan perspective that the Jews were saved by works, while the Church was saved by grace. The idea here is the concept that a man earned his salvation in the sacrifice of atonement. The early church in the 2nd and 3rd centuries also struggled with Gnosticism which emphasized personal spiritual knowledge (gnosis) over orthodox teachings, traditions, and ecclesiastical authority. Gnostic cosmogony generally presents a distinction between a supreme, hidden God and a blind, malevolent demiurge responsible for creating the material universe. Viewing this material existence as flawed or evil, Gnostics considered the principal element of salvation to be direct knowledge of the supreme divinity in the form of mystical or esoteric insight. Gnostic ideology led to the conclusion that the God of Israel was harsh and legalistic as opposed to the God of love that is described in the NT. The 1st century believers however understood the Lord God of Israel as being the one true God who is immutable, having one place of salvation by faith in both the OT (Tanach) and the NT, a plan which involved the bringing of the Messiah of God. The prophet Daniel wrote some 600 years prior to Yeshua being on this earth of the Jewish concept of repentance and trust in the God of Israel for His Mercy (Grace) and how salvation is a work of God (see Daniel 9:18). In the opening to Parashat Bechukotai, we find the blessing of God to those who would obey God’s Word putting faith into action in a practical way, and then seeing the Lord’s blessing come upon His people of faith. This is the role of the Spirit of God in our lives to help us to live according to His Word, to overcome sin in our lives, and to walk in His ways. The Lord God Himself helps us to live out our faith in a way that is pleasing to Him!
The Rabbis describe these things in a similar way saying the following according to the Talmud Bavli.
Talmud Bavli Avodah Zarah 5a
תנו רבנן (ויקרא כו, ג) אם בחקתי תלכו אין אם אלא לשון תחנונים וכן הוא אומר (תהלים פא, יד) לו עמי שומע לי [וגו’] כמעט אויביהם אכניע ואומר (ישעיהו מח, יח) לו הקשבת למצותי ויהי כנהר שלומך וגו’ ויהי כחול זרעך וצאצאי מעיך וגו’ The Sages taught with regard to the verse: “If you walk in My statutes” (Leviticus 26:3): In this context, “if” is a term that means nothing other than supplication, i.e., God is hoping that the Jewish people will observe the Torah. And similarly, it is stated: “Oh that My people would hearken to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways, I would soon subdue their enemies” (Psalms 81:14–15). And it states: “Oh that you would hearken to My commandments! Then your peace would be as a river, and your righteousness as the waves of the sea. Your seed also would be as the sand, and the offspring of your body like its grains” (Isaiah 48:18–19).
The rabbis say the word “if” (אִם) is supplication (prayer) and speak of God’s hope that His people would walk in His ways. The result is the Lord God would subdue our enemies and peace would flow like a river and the Lord would bless us with many children. The rabbis also make an interesting statement in the following quote from the Talmud Bavli.
Talmud Bavli Kiddushin 61b
בשלמא לר’ מאיר היינו דכתיב (ויקרא כו, ג) אם בחקותי תלכו (ויקרא כו, טו) ואם בחקותי תמאסו אלא לר’ חנינא בן גמליאל למה לי איצטריך ס”ד אמינא אם בחקותי תלכו ברכה אם בחקותי תמאסו לא ברכה ולא קללה קא משמע לן The Gemara asks a related question: Granted, according to the opinion of Rabbi Meir, this is the reason that it is written: “If you walk in My statutes” (Leviticus 26:3), you will receive blessings; conversely: “And if you shall reject My statutes” (Leviticus 26:15), you will receive curses. However, according to the opinion of Rabbi Ḥanina ben Gamliel, why do I need both of these clauses? The Gemara answers: They are both necessary, as it might enter your mind to say: If you follow My statutes you will receive a blessing, whereas if you reject My statutes you will receive neither a blessing nor a curse. The verse therefore teaches us that the rejection of God’s statutes warrants a curse.
The discussion involves the verse “‘If you walk in My statutes’ (Vayikra / Leviticus 26:3), you will receive blessings, and on the other hand, ‘And if you shall reject My statutes’ (Vayikra / Leviticus 26:15), you will receive curses.” The reasoning is one may think one will receive a blessing if one obeys God’s Word, and nothing will happen if one disobeys God’s Word. This is exactly what we see going on in the Church theologies that teach “we don’t have to obey God’s Law” under the assumption that all one has to do is say they believe in Jesus and all is good. This concept divorces the idea of faithfulness from our lives. This also causes one not to look for the work of God in their lives to remain faithful to Him. This follows through from the pagan idea that one earned his/her salvation in the OT and now in the NT God has changed that. This is the theological teaching point of dispensationalism and it completely misses the mark on the role of the Torah in our lives being rooted in a pagan way of thinking. The point is the Torah was never meant as a means to earn one’s salvation. The Torah was meant to be a way of life to walk in righteousness, holiness, justice, and truth as a people of God who are already delivered and redeemed. This week’s Torah portion draws out this concept saying אִם-בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ, “If you will walk in My statutes” the Lord God will command the clouds and the soil and the trees all of which have been created only for your sake, to do their share, and He will bless us.
What these things are ultimately speaking to us about is related to what these Scriptures are saying, whether we are willing to submit our lives to God our Father in heaven according to His word or not? James 4:7 states “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (ὑποτάγητε οὖν τῷ θεῷ ἀντίστητε τῷ διαβόλῳ καὶ φεύξεται ἀφ᾽ ὑμῶν,
Delitzch: לָכֵן הִכָּנְעוּ לִפְנֵי הָאֱלהִים הִתְיַצְּבוּ נֶגֶד הַשָּׂטָן וְיִבְרַח מִפְּנֵיכֶם
Salkinson-Ginsburg: לָכֵן הִכָּנְעוּ מִפְּנֵי אֱלֹהִים הִתְיַצְּבוּ בִּפְנֵי הַשָּׂטָן וְיָנוּס מִפְּנֵיכֶם
BSI: עַל כֵּן הִכָּנְעוּ לִפְנֵי אֱלֹהִים. אהִתְיַצְּבוּ נֶגֶד הַשָּׂטָן וְיִבְרַח מִפְּנֵיכֶם
Peshitta: אשתעבדו הכיל לאלהא וקומו לוקבל סטנא וערק מנכו)
Note the word הִכָּנְעוּ means “surrender” to God. The Aramaic translation speaks of become enslaved to God (אשתעבדו). In James, the word submit is translated from the Greek word hupotasso (ὑποτάγητε). The word hupo means “under” and the word tasso means “to arrange.” Hupotasso therefore means to be subjected or in subjection to something. The word translates as “to obey” and consequentially, the Hebrew translation renders this as הִכָּנְעוּ meaning “to surrender.” This word means to place one’s self under obedience or to be obedient to as a servant and is the way the Peshitta opens on James 4:7 (אשתעבדו). The Greek word “to arrange” one’s self under the command is a divine viewpoint of living according to a new way of life in obedience to God’s Word rather than to one’s own way of thinking. When we order our lives according to God’s word, we are surrendering our will to that of our Father in heaven. James is speaking of having a humble and submissive heart which is a choice that we make. This also speaks of our seeking God’s help to overcome and resist the enemy. A similar concept is given to us from the pages of the Torah which state, אִם-בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ וְאֶת-מִצְוֹתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ וַעֲשִֹיתֶם אֹתָם, “If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out.” The idea of resisting the devil and he will flee is connected to giving the evil one a place in our lives by our sins. Submitting ourselves to God’s word requires the daily choice to walk in God’s ways and doing so requires help from our Father in heaven by the power of His indwelling Spirit!
These Scriptures teach us about those who are called by the Name of God, and by His Messiah Yeshua, daily make the choice to submit themselves to God for the purpose of allowing His Spirit to work in our lives, to transform us, and to cause us to have a desire to be faithful to Him! When we do this, (submitting ourselves to Him) we begin to see how the Lord God Almighty uses the situations in our lives giving us opportunity daily to submit to Him according to His word (Romans 8:28-29). It is only when we הִכָּנְעוּ (surrender) ourselves to His mercy are we able to walk according to His Word in repentance and draw near to Him each day. This is what the opening passages of Parashat Bechukotai is teaching us about the importance of studying God’s Word and applying God’s Word to our lives. We choose to submit to God for the purpose of growing spiritually. This is a process and is especially important as the Lord God has made His dwelling place in our hearts. As a result, the Lord gives us the blessing of peace that comes from humbly surrendering and submitting our lives to Him daily, nothing in this world can compare to the mercies and peace the Lord gives us.
The words וְאֶת-מִצְוֹתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ וַעֲשִֹיתֶם אֹתָם “and keep My commandments so as to carry them out” are understood as the Lord God of Israel requesting us to know and to keep His Words. The rabbinic literature states the purpose of Torah study is to lead to one living out God’s commandments, therefore the Torah encourages the pursuit of diverse paths of study. (Or HaChaim on Vayikra / Leviticus 26:3 Part 1-46) These things again teach us how everything we do is spiritual, and as our lives touch this world, we are having a spiritual impact upon something or someone at any given time. This should cause us to think about why there is such a high biblical imperative to study God’s Word and put it into practice. We are called to live our lives on a daily basis with God’s Word in hearts in order to be faithful to Him!
What is being taught here in the rabbinic commentary is the idea of toiling and diligently laboring over God’s Word to understand and to live it out. This is how the divine inspiration of God is at work when we learn something new when we go through the Torah each year. The reason the rabbis go on and on about the importance of Torah study is because of the matter of authentic faith. The Talmud Bavli Menachot 110a describes how faith and love of God’s Word is connected to the desire to study, רבי יוחנן אמר אלו תלמידי חכמים העסוקין בהלכות עבודה מעלה עליהם הכתוב כאילו נבנה מקדש בימיהם “And Rabbi Yoḥanan says that there is an alternative explanation of the verse: These are Torah scholars, who engage in studying the halakhot of the Temple service. The verse ascribes them credit as though the Temple was built in their days and they are serving in it.” The idea being put forward here is related to the power of God’s Word itself. It is believed through faith and studying the halakhot in the scriptures on the Temple service that one is credited as though the temple was built and one was performing the services. There is a parallel here to the NT account on having faith in the Messiah of God. When we study the Scriptures and believe in Yeshua the Messiah, in His atoning sacrifices, it is as if one has by faith brought to the Temple the appropriate sacrifices. (The rabbinic opinion from the Talmud gives credence to the NT idea of believing upon Yeshua for the forgiveness of sins!)
Now these commands on the blessing and the curse are juxtaposed to the laws on the Shemita and Yovel which relate to being faithful and obeying God’s Word, and the year of release, in Parashat Behar. Having faith and being faithful will lead to the Lord God of Israel bringing rain (a blessing) in its season and at the appropriate times along with a blessing on the harvest, one’s job, and family (offspring), protection and peace from enemies, and great prosperity! The rabbis say, “The Torah compensates for the performance of a specific command. Whenever a commandment is not capable of fulfillment by a person (such as all the legislation involving the priesthood for non-priests) study of the relevant portion in the Torah is accounted for the person studying it as if he had personally fulfilled that commandment.” (Talmud Bavli Menachot 110a, Or HaChaim on Vayikra / Leviticus 26:3 Part 18) There is a very significant point that is being made in relation to holiness, righteousness, sanctification, and faithfulness that is coupled to studying God’s Word. This is how we understand the phrase אִם-בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ followed by וְאֶת-מִצְוֹתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ to mean that “if you study the commandments then you will be considered as having fulfilled My commandments.” This is connected to one studying and then applying God’s Word to living. Note also, this rabbinic concept to “fulfill” does not mean to do away with, but to properly perform a command. This is how Yeshua used the word to fulfill the commandments in Matthew 5:17 and as completing them by living them out! We can see this proper usage of the world fulfill in the rabbinic commentary. The word תִּשְׁמְרוּ means we are to be anxiously awaiting an opportunity to physically fulfill such commandments. As a result, the phrase וַעֲשִֹיתֶם אֹתָם, “so as to carry them out” carries the meaning that you will not only receive the reward for studying God’s Word but for having also put God’s Word into action. This begins in the heart and in the mind! Thus the reason the NT holds such a high standard to love and knowing our Father in heaven and His Messiah Yeshua. (1 Corinthians 13:2, 1 John 2:6-10) This is the process of having faith by being faithful to God’s Word. This draws us back to the rabbinic idea of idea of submitting ourselves to God’s word and study as crediting to us something that wasn’t even meant for us to perform. (i.e. the commands on the temple service and the Levite were not for common men.) This is why God expects of us to make the daily choice to walk in His ways. This also requires help from our Father in heaven by His indwelling Spirit. This means those who are called by the Name of God, and by His Messiah Yeshua, daily make the choice to submit ourselves to God by the work of His Spirit in our lives allowing the Lord to transform us into the image of His Son Yeshua. Are you doing this each day as the Scriptures are teaching us to do? These are all Torah centric concepts, which adds more credence to why the Torah and the Gospel Message go hand in hand!