|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
בְּחֻקֹּתַי ● B’Chukosai
● What does it mean to perform, observe, and follow G-d’s commands? ●
“Follow the Path”
The final Sidrah of Sefer Vayikra enumerates the various blessings that await the B’nei Yisrael when they perform the deeds of the Torah and the tragic curses for those who ignore them, Chas V’Shalom. However, before the Torah does so, it presents an introductory Pasuk to the blessings which, at first glance, seems to be loaded with redundancy and ambiguity, as it states, “Im B’Chukosai Teileichu V’Es Mitzvosai Tishmoru Va’Asisem Osam…”-“If you will follow my decrees and observe my commandments and perform them…”1
To summarize it, one might simply conclude that this verse as instructing us to obey the Torah. Of course though, when we read this verse, it seems like a pretty long-winded way to convey that imperative. The Pasuk utilizes no fewer than three different phrases which all seem to imply some form of acting in accordance with the different commandments of the Torah, and as such, one has to wonder if all three expressions were necessary. Certainly, if the Torah listed them all, then they were necessary. The question is what each of them means. Truly understanding this Pasuk will entail figuring out the practical differences between the expressions of “Teiliechu” which literally means “walking” or “following,” “Tishmoru” which literally means “observing” or “guarding,” and “Asisam” which means “doing” or “performing.”
TODAY’S SITE: “Im B’Chukosai Teileichu…”
Rashi2 explains that the verse is to be understood as follows: “If you will follow My Chukim (or decrees) by engaging in Torah study with the intent to eventually observe (or guard) My Mitzvos and in such way that you will fulfill (or accomplish) them (then such and such a blessing will follow…).”
In this loose translation of Rashi, the bolded words are the understood meanings of the specific instructions highlighted in the Pasuk. Thus, Rashi understands the “Halichah” or “following” as intensive study of the Torah.
As for the other expressions, typically, Shemiras Mitzvos refers to refraining from violating the prohitibitions and Asiyas Mitzvos refers to active performance of positive commandments, and that could be Rashi’s understanding of these phrases here as well. More plainly though, he seems to suggest here that the “Shmirah” or “observance” refers to the acceptance of the basic commandments and that the “Asiyah” or “performance” refers to the actual fulfillment of those Mitzvos in action.
Similarly but slightly differently, Ibn Ezra appears to identify the three phrases a reference to three instructions, namely to learn the Torah, teach the Torah to others, and to ultimately perform what the Torah commands.
CRITICAL THINKING: Why pair “Walking” with the “Chukim”?
Both of these explanations clarify the overall meaning of Pasuk somewhat, explaining how there are multiple instructions regarding the Mitzvos being relayed here. They suggest what each of those instructions means practically.
However, one question that these explanations do not seem to address at least explicitly is why the Pasuk uses the language of “Teileichu,” walking or following, specifically in connection to the Chukim, or decrees of the Torah. According to these explanations, walking apparently refers to the learning of Torah, presumably of all Mitzvos. But, the simple reading itself highlights the Chukim above all other kinds of Mitzvos. Why is that? Moreover, the Torah could have easily included the Chukim under the instructions of “Tishmoru” and “Va’Asisem,” guarding and performing, along with the “regular” Mitzvos, or commandments of the Torah. That it did not do that, and instead isolated the Chukim and pairing them with the verb of “walking,” leaves us with two questions if we accept the above explanations.
Firstly, why didn’t the Torah simply include the Chukim in its instructions to guard and perform the Mitzvos? And if one should suggest that unique expression of “Teileichu” refers to the toil in the learning of Torah, which presumably is understood to apply to all of the Mitzvos of the Torah, why then did the Torah specifically use this expression in connection to the Chukim?
Indeed, Sforno points out that the expression of walking is often used in reference to performing Chukim.2 The question though is why. Why is it that we consistently find this pairing between the verb of “walking” and the “decrees” of the Torah?
FOLLOW THE LEADER: Trusting the Chukim
The beginning of an answer to our question lies in unique nature of Chukim among other Mitzvos. Chazal famously point out in a number of places how Chukim differ from most other Mitzvos. To put it simply, the general Mitzvos are basic commandments of the Torah whose reasoning can be understood on a simple level, while the Chukim are the“decrees of the King,” as their reasoning is unclear and outside the capacity of the limited human mind to truly comprehend.
With this understanding of the difference between Chukim and other Mitzvos, perhaps one can to begin to appreciate what the Torah is conveying when it commands us to “follow” the “Chukim”-“decrees,” rather than simply saying to “observe” them, for example, as it does for the other Mitzvos. Sforno emphasizes that it is specifically this nature of the Chukim, that they are incomprehensible “decrees of the king” whose observance the Torah refers to with this expression of “Halichah,” walking. The question is what about this unique feature of Chukim is it that truly warrants that expression?
Perhaps we could appreciate the language of our verse in light of the following scenario: Imagine a safari, a quest through the wilderness. We have a group traveling on a path with a tour guide whom they trust will get them safely to the desired destination. Should they reach a fork in the road, the tour guide will direct them on the appropriate route. Should they encounter anything on that path that appears disconcerting, it would be normal and expected for some of the tourists to express their concerns to the guide. But of course, the tour guide, who presumably knows the path well, will confidently be able to either confirm or deny the basis for those concerns. So long as the coast is in fact clear, the guide will assure them that, indeed, the road is safe and the group would proceed continue the journey.
Following the Chukim, like the often daunting path through the wilderness, may be challenging. It may leave one with many questions. Indeed, we spend every day on a journey filled with Chukim, unanswered questions and doubts. But, we are being led by the ultimate Tour Guide—Hashem and the authentic teachings of His Torah. Although we, in our limited knowledge of what lies in the path, are unsure as to what is beneficial and promising, as well as what is detrimental and precarious—and we should be unsure because we are human—with the Torah as our guide, we are assured that the path it leads us on will successfully get us to our desired destination.
All of that said, in light of the scenario we depicted, to follow means to stick to the trail and trust in your guide. Thus, it is the Chukim or the aspects of the journey that we don’t fully understand that necessitate that trust, which G-d needs to remind us to follow.
In a similar vein, R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch understands the “walking” in our verse as a reference to our worldly pursuits and goals and the Chukim as the moral confines, the trail on which we are to remain when venturing towards those goals. Thus, “Im B’Chukosai Teileichu…” implies that the Chukim are our walkway.
Indeed, even according to Rashi’s explanation that the “following” refers to Torah study, the verb of “Teileichu” has to include something more than just sitting in the Beis Midrash behind Seforim. Since “Teileichu,” as we’ve explained, literally connotes “walking” or “going,” then the simple read of “following” here would presumably follow that meaning. That said, Rashi’s read would have to mean to learn the Torah, yes, but with that degree of trust so that one may follow the path it leads him on, because it is the Torah that provides a person with a sense of direction.
Or HaChaim was famous for his forty-two different explanations of our phrase, “Im B’Chukosai Teileichu…” and although we will not be enumerating them here, in his twenty-fourth explanation4, he suggests this very idea that the Torah is our guide, supporting this interpretation with various verses from Kesuvim (Holy Writings). Thus, he quotes, “B’His’halechecha Tancheh Osach”-“When you walk, it will lead you”5 and “Ki Neir L’Ragli Devarecha V’Or L’Nesivasi”-“for Your word is a lamp for my feet [to travel] and a light on my path.”6
What emerges is that indeed, the Torah is a beacon for us, a guiding light that leads us on the road. And those do not have this guiding light are doomed to walk in the dark, thus Or HaChaim cites, yet another verse: “Derech Resha’im Ka’Afeilah”-“The path of the wicked is like darkness.”7
FINAL DESTINATION: On the Derech
We could suggest that at some level, the Chukim were put in place to ingrain in us a mindset necessary for our observance of Mitzvos in general. Just as we’re commanded to have a special faith and follow the Chukim, so are we commanded to faithfully observe the entire Torah. There is a reason why Jewish law is referred to as “Halachah,” literally, the “way” in which we are to “walk.” There is a reason why colloquially, one who is observant in Halachah is referred to as being “on the Derech,” literally, on the road or path of Torah. They are not just laws and practice. Torah is a way of life, the way of life.
Thus, wherever we may go in this world and lifetime, Hashem urges us to remain steadily “on the Derech,” as R’ Hirsch understood it, in the confines of the Torah path. And as the Pesukim go on to describe, by following the trail and ultimately fulfilling Hashem’s Torah, we will never be “steered wrong.” On the contrary, as Or HaChaim explained, the Torah is our guiding light, and as such, it will lead us to great blessings and our soul’s truly desired destination, ever closer to Hashem.
May we all be Zocheh to trust our Tour Guide and His guiding light, keep to His Derech, faithfully follow all of His decrees, guard his Mitzvos and consequently fulfill His Torah, and that Derech should lead us ever closer to Him and te ultimate Geulah in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Vayikra 26:3
- Toras Kohanim 26, 1:2-5
- See Vayikra 18:4 and Yechzkeil 33:15
- Based on Zohar, Cheilek 1, 185B
- Mishlei 6:2
- Tehillim 119:105
- Mishlei 4:19