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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Tzvi Abrahams

Bechukotai: The River of Light Illuminating the Eyes ~ Tzvi Abrahams


Parshas בְּחֻקֹתַי

The River of Light Illuminating the Eyes

יוֹרֶה: cast down

יוֹרֶה: satisfies

יוֹרֶה: instruct, teach, to show

תּוֹרָה: to give light, to flow like a river, to satisfy like the rains, to come down from a higher place

מוֹרֶה: teacher

הוֹרֶה: parent

הַר המוֹרִיָה: Har HaMoriah

אִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ וְאֶת מִצְוֹתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם וְנָתַתִּי גִשְׁמֵיכֶם בְּעִתָּם וְנָתְנָה הָאָרֶץיְבוּלָהּ…וַאַכַלְתֶּם לַחְמְכֶם לָשֹבַע If you will go in my statutes and you will guard and do them, I will give you your rains in their time and the earth will give forth her produce…and you will eat your bread to satisfaction.1

Rashi explains the words אִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּto mean עַמֵלִים בְּתּוֹרָה/toiling in the Torah.

And later in the parshahit says:

אֵלֶּה הַחֻקִּים וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִים וְהַתּוֹרֹת אֲשֶׁר נָתַן ה’בֵּינוֹ וּבֵין בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּהַר סִינַי בְּיַד מֹשֶׁה These are the statutes and the judgements and the “Torahs” that Hashem gave between Him and between the Bnei Yisrael on Har Sinai by the hand of Moshe.2

Rashi explains that the word “Torahs” in the plural form refers to both the Written Law and the Oral Law, and that both were given to Moshe at Sinai.

But what exactly is the meaning of the word תּוֹרָה/Torah?

תּורָה/Torah comes from the root ירה/yoreh, which has three meanings: to cast down, to satisfy, and to instruct. By exploring these different meanings, we will have a better understanding of our subject matter, “the holy Torah,” and why Hashem wants us to toil in it.

יָרָה: Cast Down

When referring to the Egyptians being drowned in the sea, the Torah uses the lashonof יָרָה בַיָּם/being cast down into the sea. When referring to the punishment for drawing too close to the mountain at Har Sinai, it similarly says: יָרֹהיִיָּרֶה/ you will be cast down and stoned. Elsewhere it refers to being cast down like arrows.

יוֹרֶה: Satisfies

With regards to the rains, the earlier rains are called יוֹרֶה(as we say in the Shema, יוֹרֶה וּמַלְקֹשׁ/the earlier and the later rains). Not only are the rains cast down from above, they also quench the earth and have the potential to satisfy man. The verse in Yeshayahsays:וְהָיוּ עֵינֶיךָ רֹאוֹת אֶת מוֹרֶיךָ/and your eyes will see your מוֹרֶה/teacher,3meaning that by feasting one’s eyes on one’s rebbi, one will cause himself to be satisfied with his learning, because by being up close, one can better see the expression on his teacher’s face and thereby get a greater understanding. This verse is also brought down in the Gemara, where Rebbi said that he only merited seeing the back of Rebbi Meir, but had he seen his face, he would have benefitted so much more.4

יוֹרֶה: Instruct, Teach, to Show

Torah is toras hachaim/the instructions for living. If you were to buy the latest state-of-the-art digital camera and instead of reading the instructions just learned how to use the camera as you went along (which the vast majority of us do because we are too lazy to read the instructions), we would probably only realize about 10 percent of the effectiveness of the camera. If only we would take the time to read the instruction manual, we could end up taking amazing pictures, for this is what it was designed to do. It sounds foolish, but this is exactly what most of us do with our lives! Hashem has given us a clear set of instructions that teaches us how to get the maximum out of life, so doesn’t it make more sense to read them instead of ending up fools?

מוֹרֶה: Teacher, הוֹרֶה: Parent

The instructor takes on various forms. Related to the word יֹרֶה, we have מוֹרֶהandהוֹרֶה/teacher and parent, respectively. The instructor hands us down themesorah/tradition, which comes from a higher source. Our teachers connect us to the source of life, so much so that the Gemara says that if our rebbiand our father are drowning, we must first rescue our rebbi, because although our father has brought us into this world, our rebbiwill bring us into the World to Come. This does not apply if our father is our teacher, which is why we should address our parents as אָבִי מוֹרִי וְאִמִי מוֹרָתִי/my father my teacher, my mother my teacher. Hashem is אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּינוּ/our Father our King, where our father should take on the role of teacher, teaching us the will and the law of the King. Avraham was known asאָבהַמוֹן גוֹיִם/the father among nations, where the Targum Yonasanexplains that he earned this title שֶׁאַבְרָהָם הוֹרֶה לְבְּרִיוֹת דַעַת ה’/ because Avraham instructed the people regarding the knowledge of Hashem.

הַר הַמוֹרִיָה: Har HaMoriah

Har HaMoriah is first mentioned in reference to the binding of Yitzchak, where Hashem instructs Avraham to go to one of the mountains in the land of Moriah. The Gemara explains that the place was called Moriah because from that place instruction came to the world.5On this place stood the Beis HaMikdash, and from this place the Sanhedrin sat and issued their instructions to Am Yisrael. And we also say כִּי מִצִּיּוֹן תֵּצֵא תוֹרָה וּדְבַר יְהוָה מִירוּשָׁלִָם/that from Zion came the Torah and the word of Hashem from Yerushalayim.

Avraham names the place ה’יִרְאֶה, meaning “Hashem will be seen,” and it also means, “from there we will be seen by Hashem.” The Kli Yakar says that the idea is that when man comes to the Beis HaMikdash, at the same time as he is seen by the Shechinah/Divine Presence, he too sees the Shechinah and immediately feels an abundance of light, causing him to cleave to the Divine Presence and reach a state of shleimus/completion.

When Yaakov came to “The Place,” it says that the sun set two hours early. The Kli Yakar explains that since this place was the very source of all the שֶׁפַע/abundance in the world, there was no real need for the light of the sun; in fact, the very light of the sun is dependent on the source. He quotes a Midrash that says that although normally houses are built with windows that are narrow on the outside and become wider on the inside to maximize the light shining in, the windows of the Beis HaMikdash were narrow on the inside and wider on the outside. This was because its light shone out and lit up the world. This light is referred to as the אוֹר הָעֶלְיוֹן/the light from above, and so we see that there was no need for the light of the sun in this place.

From our definitions so far, we see that the Torah is cast down from a higher source; like an arrow, it is directed in order to reach its target.

It has the ability to satisfy us.

It instructs us on how to live.

Interestingly, the Aramiac words for נַהַרָא/river and נְהוֹרָא/light are very similar, hinting to us that there is a connection. So too, in Hebrew the words אוֹר/light and יְאוֹר/river are connected in that they both come from the root אוֹר. Indeed, the Ramban makes this connection to which he adds that the rain is also called אוֹר, where he explains that perhaps it is because the light, namely the sunlight, causes the water to evaporate, rise up, and then fall down as rain, which then forms rivers.6The first cause of the יְאוֹר/river is therefore the luminary of the מְאוֹר/sun that makes the אוֹר/rain. Everything is connected.

But more than this, the Torah is light — Torah Ohr. Torah in Aramaic is called אוֹרַייתָא, coming from the word אוֹר/light, so we can also connect the river, which is אוֹר/light, to the Torah, which is אוֹר/light. Just like a river flows and quenches the earth (like with the Nile), so too the Torah, which is compared to water, quenches the spiritual thirst within man, as the verse says: כָּל צָמֵא לְכוּ לַמַיִם/all who are thirsty go to the waters.7

Since through אוֹרthe rains, the rivers, and the Torah are all intrinsically connected, it therefore fits very nicely with the pasukabove, אִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ, that if we toil in the Torah, the rains will fall in their times. The way it works is that since we are toiling in the Torah, we will bezocheh/merit that the light will do its job of evaporating the waters, which in turn produces the rains, which flow into the rivers andמַשְׁקֶה/quench the land, as it says, וְנָתְנָה הָאָרֶץיְבוּלָהּ/and the Earth will give its produce. But if we do not involve ourselves in toiling with the Torah, then the light will lose its power to evaporate the waters, then there will be no rain, the rivers will dry up, the land will not produce, and the land will lie desolate. This is the message of אִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ.

The Kli Yakar, in his commentary to the pasukin Bereishis,וַיֹּאמֶר אֱ-לֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר/And Hashem said “Let there be light,” that five times on the first day of the Creation the word אוֹר/light is used, whereas on the fourth day, when the luminaries were created, five times the word מְאוֹרis used — with an extra letter מ. He also quotes the Midrash that says that the original light created on the first day was hidden away for the tzaddikim, which is referred to as “the great light,” whereas the luminaries known as the מְאוֹרוֹתessentially do not give off their own light, but rather receive their light from the sparks of the higher-grade light that was created on this first day, this being the original אוֹר.

For this reason, the pagans who worship the sun are in fact deluding themselves into thinking that the sun is the source of light. The Torah, however, is coming to teach us from the extra letter מthat in essence the light is coming from a much greater source. We can learn an important lesson from this: that however much time we may spend lying on a beach or sunbathing around the pool, it will never truly warm us up and give us long-term satisfaction. (The fact that the tan disappears after a few days testifies to this!) So why settle for something fake? We can only truly get long-term satisfaction by toiling in the heat and the original light of the Torah. Only with great effort comes great reward.

For this reason, Hashem hid the light within the Torah so that only the eyes of the tzaddikimwill be illuminated by it. This is the meaning of the verse מְאִירַת עֵינָיִם/[the Torah] illuminates the eyes,8and also the verse mentioned above: וְהָיוּ עֵינֶיךָ רֹאוֹת אֶת מוֹרֶיךָ/and your eyes will see your teacher, namely that through being enlightened we become satisfied. Only through the light of the Torah can man reach his shleimus/completion, as the parshahcontinues to say: וְנָתַתִּי שָׁלוֹם בָּאָרֶץ/and I will give peace in the land, where Rashi says, אִם אֵין שָׁלוֹם אֵין כְּלוּם/ if one does not have shalom he has nothing. This means that we will always be lacking and searching for that missing component. Money can’t buy love, and it certainly can’t buy shleimus/completion, which only comes from having a deep connection with Hashem. And this can only be achieved by being עַמֵלִים בְּתּורָה/toiling in the Torah.

In conclusion, when the Jewish People fulfill their tachlis/purpose of toiling in the Torah, then the rains will fall and the land will produce. On the other side of the coin, if we do not immerse ourselves in the Torah, then the rains will not fall and the land will be desolate. For the rest of the nations, who are governed by nature, there are no spiritual rules for why the rain falls, as they live under the מְאוֹר/sun, which is only the reflective light. Yet the Jewish People and Eretz Yisrael are governed by a higher system — this being the Torah — which connects us to the אוֹר הָעֶלְיוֹן/the original light, which is the true cause of the rains. Hashem gives us the power to be in control of nature; we literally have the power to form rivers of light, and in return Hashem reciprocates with rivers of rain.

Having passed through Lag B’Omer on our way to kabbalas haTorah, may the heat of the fires warm our souls and draw us close. May the light of the Torah מְאִירָה/shine and be a מְאִירַת עֵינַיִם/illumination of the eyes, giving us a clarity of vision so that we can make our way through the darkness.

My youngest daughter מְאִירָה/Meira was born on the twenty-fifth day of the counting of the Omer, which is represented by the sefirahof שֶׁבְּנֶצַח נֶצַח.Netzachis the sefirahrepresented by Moshe Rabbeinu. We are told that when Moshe Rabeinu was born, a great light shone out from the house of Yocheved. On the following Shabbos, we lit an extra candle for Meira. In the zechusof that extra light, may we merit to see a great light shine out from the house of Yocheved (my wife),and, just like the Beis HaMikdash, we too should merit the instruction and satisfaction of the Torah Ohrand be able to direct it to מְאִירָה/illuminate the world.

Dedicatedl’illui nishmasRav Meir Baal Haneis on his yahrtzeit, the fourteenth of Iyar,

and in celebration of the birth of Meira Malka, the tenth of Iyar 5774.

1Vayikra 26:3.

2Ibid., v. 46.

3Yeshayah 30:20.

4Eruvin 13b.

5Taanis 16a.

6Ramban to Bereishis 41:1.

7Yeshayah 55a.

8Tehillim 19:9.


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