A Tidbit of Torah – Parshat B’chukkotai 5784

The second of our two parshiyot designated for this Shabbat opens with the words, “If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments” (Vayikra/Leviticus 26:3) prompting the great medieval commentator Rashi1 living in 11th century France to state, “Be diligent and dutiful in your engagement with Torah so that you might observe and fulfill it.” Centuries later in 18th century Poland our teacher Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk2 would expand on why Rashi felt the need to add what seems obvious.

The Kotsker shares the story of a Hasid who came to him bemoaning the fact that despite devoting a tremendous amount of time and effort to his study of Torah he was not being successful in becoming a great scholar. In response the Kotsker reminds the Hasid that nowhere in the Torah is there a mitzvah to become a great scholar.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel goes on to point out another of Rashi’s commentaries, this one on Isaiah 1:17 wherein the text says, “Limdu heytev” which could be understood as “learn well” moves Rashi to assert that both in essence and in context the prophet is demanding that the people “learn to act well”. The Kotsker emphasizes that the true purpose of studying Torah is not to become erudite and scholarly, the ultimate purpose is to guide us to become better versions of ourselves and to perform acts of goodness and kindness in the world thereby reflecting that we are true students of Torah.

Shabbat Shalom –

Rabbi David M. Eligberg

1 Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, (22 February 1040 – 13 July 1105), was born in Troyes, Champagne in northern France. A medieval French rabbi, Rashi was the author of a comprehensive commentary on most of both the Tanakh (Bible) and the Talmud in which he presented the basic meaning of the text in a concise and lucid fashion.

Rashi’s commentary on the  Tanakh , especially on the  Chumash  (Five Books of Moses) has inspired over 300 super-commentaries analyzing Rashi’s choice of language, references, and interpretations. Rashi’s commentary remains the one most learned by people and the one studied first by virtually all students of the Talmud.

Rashi’s commentary on the Babylonian Talmud, covering 30 out of 39 tractates, has been included in every edition of the Talmud since its first printing by Daniel Bomberg in the 1520s.

2 Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgensztern of  Kotzk (1787–1859) was born in Goraj, a town near Lublin, Poland. Most often called the Kotzker Rebbe, he was drawn to Hasidic teachings as a youth and became a student of Reb Bunim  of  Peshischa . Menachem Mendel was already known for having acquired a vast knowledge of Talmud and even Kabbalistic teachings despite his youth.

As a Hasidic rabbi and leader, the Kotsker was well known for his incisive and down-to-earth philosophy and sharp-witted sayings. The Kotsker’s teachings were preserved by his students and suggest that he had little patience for false piety or stupidity.