Parshas Bechukosai - Purpose of Life - Torah Toil

By Rabbi Yosef Tropper
Posted on 05/30/19

1) Living the Torah

We know the famous, “Im b’chukosai teileichu”, which there are many beautiful p’shatim regarding Rashi’s comment that it means that a person has to be amel ba’Torah, toil in Torah learning. Gra brings down this idea of ameilus ba’Torah quoting Midrash Tanchuma (Parshas Eikev): If you learn Torah, but you don’t keep it, then it’s better “sh’nehepcha”, you’re better off that you should have pulled your birth sac on top of your face and not have been born because it says, “tishmiru la’asos (Devafrim 8:1)”. The purpose of the Torah is to fulfill it.  What’s the p’shat in this gemara’s choice of parable?

What’s the point of learning it if you’re going to forget it all?

Gra explains a beautiful pshat and it’s actually quoted b’sheim the Gra’s brother as well. The gemara in Nidda (30b) says that when a child is in its mother’s womb, they teach it the entire Torah, but once he or she comes out, the malach comes and hits him on his mouth, which, by the way, is that area on top of your upper lip called the philtrum. It’s that indentation underneath your nose, and he forgets everything. So Gra and many of the mefarshim ask:  So, what’s the point of learning it if you’re going to forget it all?  What’s going on?

Every person has a cheilek in Torah

They explain that we each have a cheilek in Torah and he lies the foundation for our future learning. That is what wse learn in the mother’s womb. That’s why it says in the gemara in Megillah 6b, “Yagati u’matzasi ta’amin.”  If someone says: I worked hard in Torah and matzasi, I found understanding. I found success which literally means that he found something surprising, taamin, you could believe that.  But, if someone says: I worked hard and I didn’t find, then you don’t believe him because it’s impossible that a person that works hard will succeed.  But, what’s the p’shat “u’matzasi”?  It should be that I learned Torah, yagati, I worked hard, and I achieved it.  What’s “u’matzasi”?  I found it. 

The answer’s that it’s an aveidah.  Everyone has their own cheilek.  And, so that’s what the malach was teaching you. The malach was teaching you: Here’s your cheilek of Torah.  Bring it out.  And so, that’s the p’shat in this gemara, in this Midrash Tanchuma, this Chazal that if he learns Torah, but he doesn’t fulfill it, then he should have put his birth sac back on his face because in there he already learned the Torah, so there, if you’re just going to have the Torah and not bring it out, and not fulfill it, there’s no point in being born.  The whole purpose of being born is for the person to come into this world and to bring out his actions in olam ha’asiya and become the best person he could be, and so, that’s the p’shat.

2) Three parts of Torah compare to three parts of the korban

Another p’shat in ameilus ba’Torah is a very fascinating thing that the Gra brings down that there are three things when it comes to a korban. The first thing is the blood of a korban which is sprinkled. The second thing is the cheilev, the fats which are burned, and those are very good.  We know that people like fat as flavoring for food.  Certain fats are considered good parts. And, finally, there’s one korban which is the olah which is totally burnt for G-d.  So, what does that mean? 

There’s three aspects of Torah says the Gra.  One of them is mikra, the actual Chumash.  That’s the blood.  That’s the life blood what Torah is all about.  And, that’s k’neged the korban that when a person learns he’s moser nefesh to connect to the Torah.  The mishna is considered the Olah which is totally burnt because the mishna is filled with all the laws and tehre’s nothing extra in the mishna.  The mishna is all the very simple, most basic laws.  It’s kalul laHashem.  There’s no extra conversations.  There’s just halacha after halacha, just teaching us the laws of the Torah.  And, finally, the gemara which is the pilpul, that’s the cheilev, that’s the extra part.  The fat that comes out of the mishna that helps extrapolate it that is the richness that teaches us stuff.  And, so that’s the p’shat that Hashem says: I want your korbanos, I want.  “Lama li rov zivcheichem”.  Hashem says: You’re learning, but that’s only a zevach.  I want to make sure that when you’re learning the pilpul you’re not overdoing it, says the Gra, and you’re learning it properly. 

The pasuk goes through the other things also.  The cheilev me’rei’im, but I’m not going to go into that part.  So, the p’shat is that when a person learns Torah, he’s being moser nefesh for Hashem, and that’s the p’shat in the first pasuk that b’Chukosai teileichu, like Rashi says, “Sh’tihiyu ameilim baTorah”, you’re following the Torah.  That means that you’re putting an effort into the Torah.  You’re making the Torah part of your life.  You’re making the Torah the most important priority of your entire life.  That’s what it means to sacrifice for Hashem.

3) Yissurrim bring kaparah

“V’yasarti eschem af ani sheva al chatoseichem.” (Vayikrah 26:28) The Rebono Shel Olam says that if a person doesn’t keep the Torah, rachmana l’tzlan, he’s going to be punished with yisurim, and the Gra has a very famous thing that the Gra says that when a person passes away out of this world, so he sees all of his mitzvos are way out in front of him, and he gets very nervous because he realizes: he didn’t do enough.  He’s dead.  It’s too late.  He can’t add to it.  And, then all of his chovos, all of his aveiros come, and he starts to come to recognition, every person starts to come to recognition, “Oh no.  My aveiros are going to outweigh my mitzvos.”  My aveiros are so much more. 

But, says the Gra: What saves him?  What saves him is his yisurim.  The paint hat he goes through in this world, yisurim that he goes through in this world, those are what comes afterwards and it brushes out all of his aveiros and it excuses some of the fact that he didn’t do some of the mitzvos.  He wasn’t in pain.  But, more importantly, the amount of kapparah that it brings is the most eye opening and saving thing for this man.  And, so that’s what the Gra says: That when a person should look at yisurrim, he should recognize that the Rebono Shel Olam is giving him his punishment in this world, so he could have a better world in the next.

4) Yissurrim give a message to repent

I say often that the pasuk says, we say it on Shabbos davening, “Tashiv enosh ad daka vatomer shuvu bnei adam.”  Hashem pushes a person to his crushing point and he says: repent.  When a person has yisurrim, when a person has challenges that come his way he could look at it two ways.  One, he could say: Hashem, come on, why are You doing this to me again.  I’m such a good person.  I do so much hard work, and I’m following Your Torah and Your mitzvos.  Why are you doing this to me.  You could get angry.  “Lama ta’aseh koh la’avadecha”, like Moshe said.  He was punished for it.  Hashem said, “Chaval al d’avdin v’lo mistach’chin.” Where are the Avos who never questioned me?!

When a person has yissurrin he could do the other thing.  He could say: Rebono Shel Olam, You’re crushing me.  You’re pushing me to the breaking point.  You’re helping break me to the point where I recognize what’s important in life.  These yissurrin they hurt.  They make me recognize that it’s not my pursuit of Olam Hazeh that matters because if it was, this isn’t very fair, but rather, it’s my pursuit of ruchniyos that turns me into the best person that I could be.  That’s what it means that Hashem pushes you to your crushing point.  Vatomar, and those yissurrim are, it’s not that “and He says”; it’s “vatomar”, those yissurrim that are crushing you, are giving you a message, “Shuvu bnei adam”.  They’re telling you to repent.

The baal teshuva who was killed two years after being chozeir b’teshuva

I read a very interesting story that Rav Chaim Kanievsky was consulted by a rav.  The rav said the following.  He said there’s a man that joined my kehillah.  His parents were not religious.  He became a ba’al teshuva.  He was chozeir b’teshuva two years ago, and he turned around his entire life, started becoming a shomer Torah u’mitzvos, was learning, was doing amazing things, and all of a sudden he was in a car accident.  Tragic car accident and he died.  And, he said: I’m about to go to the family and they’re not religious and they were against what he was doing, but this is the worst because at this time of his life, when he was acting, doing all types of horrific things, he was fine, but now he did teshuva and he did such great things and the family is going to look at me and is going to say: Come on.  How do you explain this?  This is crazy.  He was at the peak of his teshuva.  He was doing so well, and now Hashem took him, and it’s going to backfire, and I’m afraid that I don’t know what to answer them.  What should I say?

The zechus of teshuva

So, Rav Chaim Kanievsky heard the story.  He didn’t know the situation.  He heard the story and he looked at the rav and he said: Tell them: He should have died two years ago, and it was only in the zechus of his teshuva that Hashem gave him two extra years.  So, the rav looked at Rav Chaim Kanievsky and said: Okay, that’s an interesting idea, but what?  What does that mean?!  That’s it.  Rav Chaim Kanievsky says something, he’s one of the gedolei hador and he has a tremendous siyata d’Shmaya.  So, he went to the shiva house, and low and behold he was talking to the family about what a great person their son was, and their brother and their relative and they asked him the question: Come on, rabbi, what’s going on?  This doesn’t make sense.  He was convincing us to do teshuva, but this is a big turnoff.  Here he was at the peak of his teshuva and the peak of his repentance, and Hashem took him.  SO, what’s going on.  So, the rav said: I had the same question.  I didn’t know what to answer, and I went to Rav Chaim Kanievsky and this is what he told me to tell you.  He said I should tell you that your son should have died two years ago, and it was only in the merit of his teshuva that he lived longer.  The family burst out crying.  All the members burst out crying.  He thought maybe they didn’t like what he said or he hurt them, they were insulted.  When they calmed down, which took a while, they said to him: How did you know that.  Two years ago he was deathly ill and the doctors told us he was going to die, and he knew he was going to die, and somehow through that illness he survived and he literally should have been dead, but after that illness he did a full teshuva and he came back to Hashem, and he said that Hashem only gave him life so that he could repent.  So, you are a hundred percent right.  Meaning, his life would have ended then.  But, it was just Hashem gave him a zechus that he was going to do teshuva and he took advantage of that opportunity and he did teshuva and look what kind of person he made himself.  That’s the end of the story.  I don’t know what the family did about it.  I don’t know if it inspired them or it didn’t.

We need to take the opportunity that we are given to become better

But, I know that it’s not the end of the story for us because when you hear a story like that it should make an impact.  Think about that.  It’s an amazing thing.  This person had an opportunity to do teshuva, and that’s why it says in Chazal: Shuv Yom echad lifnei misascha.  It’s a moment of teshuva.  When we talk about brain-dead and we talk about heart-dead, and all of these other halachos, one of the most important factors in determining the value of life is that a person might have some stream of consciousness to be able to do teshuva in that moment.  What an opportunity we have.  “Yaffeh sha’ah achas” in this world to be able to say: Rebono Shel Olam, I want to be a better person.

A hirhur teshuva could change a person

It says if someone is a rasha and they’re mekadeish an isha and they say it’s al menas that I’m a tzaddik, the kedushin are chal.  IT’s a safeik because maybe he had a hirhur teshuva.  Maybe he had a thought of teshuva.  That means that this guy went around and he lived his life as a rasha and all of a sudden, in that moment, he says: I want to be married to you on condition I’m a tzaddik and we consider him married.  Now, obviously, no woman is going to marry him unless she knows who he is, and, hopefully, he probably marrying someone who is a match towards him and that’s probably not going to help with his teshuva, but let’s say, it could be, halachicly, she is a good person and she’s a growing person.  Now, of course, no one should marry someone expecting to change them like them.  But, it’s a fascinating halacha.  That means that with one hirhur teshuva a person could change.  A person could become the best person they could be.

The teshuva of the eidim at the chasuna where Rav Beinish FInkel was mesadeir kiddushin

Leave you off with one last story.  Rav Beinish FInkel was known to be a tremendous anav, but also had a great sense of humor, but, more importantly, he was very scary man.  People were scared of him.  And, Rav Ushe Rubenstien, my rebbe, zt”l, once told me a very funny story.  He was at a wedding and he was called up to be an eid kiddushin and Rav Beinish Finkel was the mesadeir kiddushin.  Rav Beinish was a tremendous tzaddik.  He was Rosh Yeshiva of mir, the father-in-law of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l, and a tremendous, tremendous illui and talmid chacham, a big anav as well.  And, Rav Beinish said to the two witnesses, Rav Usher and his friend who was up there, there’s a halacha that if someone is a rasha, he’s pasul l’eidus, so the eidim are supposed to do teshuva, so this is your opportunity right now, so you don’t mess up the kiddushin, do teshuva, and Rav Usher said that he was shaking in his pants.  He doesn’t know if he did such a teshuva in his life any other time.  He said it was a better teshuva than Yom Kippur because it’s an achrayus.  You’re going to be an eid for someone, you want to make sure that you’re kasher.  And, so that’s “tashiv enosh ad dakka”.  The Rebono Shel Olam is telling us: Come on, repent.  What a beautiful lesson.  That’s what it means we’re amal ba’Torah.  That we’re returning to Hashem, and we’re enhancing our life, becoming the best people we could be.  WE should all be zocheh to do that.


Rabbi Yosef Tropper is a rabbi and psychotherapist. Subscribe at