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Parshas B'Chukosai - How Do Things Break?   26 Iyar 5782

05/26/2022 09:48:38 PM


Several years ago, I wrote about my shoelace ripping as I pulled to tie it. I pondered why, if I tie both shoes and laces one after the other, for the same number of times, does only one lace rip and not the other? Even when I changed the ripped lace and continued using the second old lace, the old used one continued to do its job, lasting a much longer time than its partner. It wasn’t a simple case of ripping the next day, or the following day.  It was simply much stronger, getting tied repeatedly, sometimes for many weeks longer than its counterpart. A few months ago, a similar occurrence took place, causing me to wonder about this uneven shoelace lifespan once again.

Every morning and throughout the day I need to repeatedly tie my shoes. Due to the obstruction that exists between my shoulders in bending down and the shoes patiently helping to hide my feet, I need to move into a variety of different positions to accomplish this feat. Sometimes I sit on the corner of my bed or the edge of a chair, hold my breath, then cross one leg and pull it towards me, allowing me to tie one shoe. I then reverse the process to reach and tie the second shoe. A second option is to get down on one knee and tie my shoe, but that puts too much pressure on the foot that I once broke. My third option is to place my foot on a chair, bench or  a convenient low table. For years I used the coffee table in my living room as a handy platform for tying my shoe. Dozens, maybe even hundreds of times, I placed my foot on one of the corners of the table to fix my footing. The last time I did that, and I repeat the last time I will ever do that, was when I placed my foot on the corner, leaned down and snapped off the edge of our glass tabletop! This graceful maneuver resulted in a small cut on my hand, which took a few seconds to catch my attention.   Again, I’d managed to use the corner of that table as a ledge to place my foot many, many times before without the glass breaking.  Why did it decide to break that one time?  It was a thick piece of glass!

There are three factors that govern how something breaks: 1) The strength of  the bonds in the material  and, more importantly, what defects are present in the material; {2} Materials break as they become worn and deformed, reaching their breaking points. Over the years of wondering about this phenomenon, I’ve learned that the process of deformation tends to occur as defects in the fabric of any material (including glass table tops or simple shoe laces) wear out unevenly, leading to factor (3) Objects break along areas of defect. A large object is more likely, statistically, to have a defect in each direction than a small object. In other words, the handy idiom "the straw that broke the camel's back" describes the minor or routine action that causes an unpredictably large and sudden reaction, thanks to the cumulative effect of small actions, alluding again to the proverb, "it is the last straw that breaks the camel's back". This gives rise to the phrase "the last straw", or "the final straw", meaning that the last one in a line of unacceptable occurrences which causes a seemingly sudden, strong reaction. I am sure that the stress on a shoelace or even on a glass table will ultimately succumb to repeated pressure, and causing be the “last” time before it finally snaps.

The notion of having a certain amount of patience for people and situations is something we all experience. Make no mistake, however, that although we believe, we fully understand God is merciful and patient, His patience does not preclude that our actions of disobedience and laxity of following the Torah will result in a sudden harsh response.  There are two places in the Torah that are described as the tochachah - public rebuke. This, in turn, leads to a series of punishments that build up over time. The tochachah is mentioned in Parshas Ki Savo, but it is first mentioned this coming Shabbos when we read Parshas Bechukosai.

In this week’s Parshas Bechukosai, following a brief description of the great blessings to be showered upon the Jewish People, the Torah quickly turns to a series of curses and horrifying punishments. There will ultimately be a series of seven curses, the fourth one described in Vayikra 26:30. The Torah states "והשמדתי את במותיכם והכרתי את חמניכם ונתתי את פגריכם על פגרי גלוליכם, וגעלה נפשי אתכם"  “When I destroy your altars and smash your sun gods, I will let your corpses rot on the remains of your idols. I will thus grow tired of you”. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains the need for this apparent superfluous statement. Some explain the words to mean My soul will abhor you. Why did the Torah have to spell this out? It is something that we can extrapolate from verse 11 where God had stated that as long as the Bnei Yisrael  observed the commandments they would be blessed; Hashem would not abhor them. Clearly, such a blessing would not continue when the people turned sinful. If Hashem wanted to write how blessings would be reversed, turning to curses during periods when the Jewish people rebelled against Him, why didn’t Torah present all the previously mentioned blessings as being reversed?

We must assume therefore, that God listed the various punishments independent of the fact that the blessings would now be absent. The message of the verse is that even the Tzadikim - the righteous who would live during these times when the bulk of the people turned sinful -would not enjoy a display of Hashem’s favor. We find a statement to this effect in Hosheah 4:5 "וכשל גם נביא עמך"  "even the prophet who is among you will stumble." Another meaning of all these punishments is that the precious gift of prophecy will be withdrawn; there will no longer be prophets to admonish the people, to stand up and cause the people to listen, to repent. God's "soul" manifests itself through His communication with His prophets. This is just about the worst curse there is, and it is the reason the Torah mentioned it only after having already listed many other curses. Tragically, we are still witnessing the effect this curse has upon all of us even now, in our own days.

After a certain period of disobedience, Hashem can grow tired of us, removing the connection, the precious bond  between our God and all of us.  Moreover, as we stray from the basic ABC’s, the very foundation of Judaism, we weaken the vibrancy, the very strength of the bonds that connect us, tie us, to Hashem. With every proactive sin, with every passive, failed fulfillment of each Mitzva, the strength of the material that keeps us connected to Hashem weakens and erodes. Eventually, as the relationship grows more strained, the matter that holds us tightly together eventually snaps off. This occurs without warning, as suddenly as a snapped shoelace, shifting from a feeling that Hashem ‘accepts my lifestyle’, complacently believing, “it’s all good” to, Chas V’Shalom,- Heaven Forbid - a breaking off of the relationship from Hashem to us.

We read the Tochacha of Ki Savo before Rosh Hashana to end any potential liability we created. Likewise, we read this Tochacha before Shavuos so we can once again re-attach ourselves emotionally, spiritually, and ultimately physically to the Torah and the Mitzvos. The Tochacha’s message is not one of separating us from God, rather it is to re-attach, strengthen, and  renew those weakening bonds before they break off completely.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Fri, December 8 2023 25 Kislev 5784