There is Only One Way Out

The American anthropologist, Margaret Mead, was one asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture.

Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food.

You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal. A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts.

With Broken Legs

Parshas Bechukosai begins with the condition: אם בחקתי תלכו –“If you will walk in my laws...” The Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh explains that this directive is quite simply, that we make Hashem an important and relevant constant presence in our lives.

What do we get in return for such a life? The Torah continues: Children, health, safety, stability, peace and prosperity. A good life is possible. A good life attainable. And it all begins with what or rather, Who, was are walking with.

But the Torah describes the opposite as well; the world in which things don't go as planned. It happens a personal and national levels. Often without ill intent or malevolence, butn the stress and exhaustion of a daily life it get difficult to push ourselves to walk with Hashem. Our legs begin to tire. Not to mention that the places we have sometimes been going are not exactly the places that we wanted to bring Him along.

This life leads to the קללות, the curses of this weeks Parsha. They detail the end of sovereignty, of security, of peace and prosperity.

We know these curses too well. We have lived them for millennia, and we have experienced them all too palpably this year. The uncertainty, the fear and anti-semitism since October 7th are all part of the curse of living in this broken world.

Putting the Curses Behind Us

One of the lesser known rules of our Torah Reading Calendar, is that Parshas Bechukosai must always be read before Shavuos. (Which is the reason for the many double-parshiyos in Vayikra.) This Halacha originates in the Talmud (Megillah 31), and quite simply, it means that we cannot proceed to receive the Torah on Shavuos without putting these curses behind us.

But how?

We cannot miraculously fix this world. How can we put it behind us with our brave Chayalim still on the front lines, and the hostages still in horrific captivity?

How are we to finish this parsha, yet another Sefer since Simchas Torah, exclaiming חזק חזק ונתחזק – we should be stronger!? How?

We are Worth Saving

The Rebbe of Izbitz, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner in the Mei HaShiloach (ח”א סוף בחקותי) teaches that our answer is found at the very end of the parsha. It's the lesson of the obscure mitzvah of Erchin:

היינו אחר פרשות התוכחה נתן הש”י מבטח עוז לישראל ונתן להם פ' ערכין, היינו שיוכל האדם לפדות עצמו מכל דבר

After the rebuke and the curses, Hashem gives us powerful confidence in the mitzvah of Erchin; to know that a person can rescue themselves from anything and everything.

After we read of the tragedies that will befall the Jewish people. Every curse and calamity that we might suffer; that we have suffered, that we are suffering, the Torah teaches us about Erchin.

What is Erchin? It’s the service by which a person donates their own value, their fields, or animals to the Beis HaMikdash. The Mei HaShiloach explains: No matter what happens us, we never lose our intrinsic worth. Each person is inherently valuable to Hashem and to the world.

The Rebbe continues: The Torah is also declaring here that one person can donate the value of another person to the Beis HaMikdash. Which means that even if one Jew is struggling to find their value, another Jew can help them, elevate them and value them.

The clearest way out of the curses is to look at ourselves and each other, wounded, broken, exiled and in pain, and say: “I will stay here with you. You are worth saving.”

In Crown Heights, there was a Jew, Yankel, who owned a bakery. He survived the camps. He once told the story, You know why it is that I’m alive today?

I was a kid, just a teenager at the time. We were on the train, in a boxcar, being taken to Auschwitz. Night came and it was freezing, deathly cold, in that boxcar. The Germans would leave the cars on the side of the tracks overnight, sometimes for days on end without any food, and of course, no blankets to keep us warm, he said.

Sitting next to me was an older Jew this beloved elderly Jew – from my hometown I recognized, but I had never seen him like this. He was shivering from head to toe and looked terrible. So I wrapped my arms around him and began rubbing him, to warm him up. I rubbed his arms, his legs, his face, his neck. I begged him to hang on.

All night long; I kept the man warm this way. I was tired, I was freezing cold myself, my fingers were numb, but I didn’t stop rubbing the heat on to this mans body. Hours and hours went by this way.

Finally, the night passed, morning came, and the sun began to shine. There was some warmth in the cabin, and then I looked around the car to see some of the other Jews in the car. To my horror, all I could see were frozen bodies, and all I could hear was a deathly silence.

Nobody else in that cabin made it through the night they died from the frost. Only two people survived: the old man and me. The old man survived because somebody kept him warm; I survived because I was warming somebody else.

When you warm other peoples hearts, you remain warm yourself. When you seek to support, encourage and inspire others; then you discover support, encouragement and inspiration in your own life as well.

As the summer arrives, Hashem is asking us to ensure that we spend our time resting, recovering, and taking care ourselves. But not to the exclusion of walking with Him. Not to the exclusion of walking with each other.

And so long as we do, He promises that He’ll walk with us as well.