Topic: Personal Transformation | Posted:May 14, 2014
This week’s portion, Bechukotai, begins in a very unique way. Usually in the beginning of every portion it either says Vayedaber Hashem el Moshe lemor, “the Creator speaks to Moses,” or Vayedaber Moshe el B’nai Yisrael, “Moses speaks to the Israelites.” There’s always an explanation of who is speaking to whom, and for what purpose. However, this Shabbat, and this reading, is unique in that it does not begin with any of these statements, but rather it goes straight into a quote, Im bechukotai telechu. “If, in My ways you go,” ve’natati gishmeikhem beitam, “then you will merit all the blessings that the Light of the Creator can give us.”
So, why doesn’t this portion begin with either of those statements? Why does it begin as if in the middle of a thought or in the middle of a statement? The kabbalists teach a very beautiful understanding of this Shabbat, of this reading, which is that unlike every other portion, this reading was never given by the Creator to Moses as a teaching to give over. But rather, it was as if Moses was eavesdropping on the Creator’s thoughts, on the Creator’s prayer. The kabbalists teach that Moses went into a place of silence - where he silenced all of his physicality, all of his Desire to Receive for the Self-Alone - and was able to hear the thoughts that the Creator thinks and the prayers that the Creator prays when nobody is listening.
This Shabbat, therefore, is really in essence a prayer of the Creator overheard by Moses, which Moses then told to the Israelites. And clearly, if this is what the Creator prays for us, it must be the most important message; so, what is the prayer?
The great kabbalist and commentator Rashi says that the words im bechukotai telechu, which translate as “if you go in My path,” actually mean - if you do the difficult spiritual work. One can say there are two categories of spiritual work. There is the easy or comfortable, and then there is the uncomfortable. Most of us live our spiritual lives within that comfortable realm. And we think we are okay because even if we fail in, let’s say, 15% of our work, we look at the other 85% and say we’re pretty good. When we want to do things that are easy for us, we do them all, saying to ourselves that, by doing so, 85% of our spiritual work is great. So maybe we don’t grab the difficult opportunities of the other 15%... but, what’s the big deal?
Well, it is a big deal. Because the Creator, when He prays for us, His one request is that we do that difficult work. But, why is it so important that we do it?
The Zohar, in Vayechi, reveals to us a very important secret. The discussion begins with a verse from King Solomon. It says, “What good comes to man from all the work that he does?” King Solomon is basically saying that nothing comes from most of the work that people do in their lives. On a literal level, people think that he's only referring here to work that one does for the purpose of self-aggrandizement, where he is only thinking of himself, his Desire to Receive for the Self-Alone, and that type of work brings him ultimately no good. However, King Solomon is telling us that no good comes to humanity or the individual from most of the work that we do. That it is not just people who are too involved in physicality and the Desire to Receive for the Self-Alone whose work brings no good, but that it can also be true of those who are involved in a spiritual pursuit, in spiritual work.
How so? The end of the verse says, “no good comes from the work of man that is done under the sun.” And the Zohar teaches that those words, takhat hashamesh, “under the sun,” do not just represent where we live, under the influence of the sun, but rather the two types of work. There is work that is done below the sun, which is the work that King Solomon is referring to, and then there is work that is done above the sun. And basically what King Solomon is teaching us, what the Zohar is telling us, is that no good comes from work that is done below the sun, which is the spiritual work that is done in the realm of Malchut, or the Desire to Receive for the Self-Alone – or what we know as our comfort level. Therefore, Rav Chiya in the Zohar tells us that even spiritual work that a person does within his realm of comfort is within the realm of work done below the sun. And that work does not elevate, does not reveal Light.
Now we can understand why the Creator is praying for us to do the difficult work. Because the 85% of work that we do in our realm of comfort basically does nothing. It does not elevate to the Upper Worlds or reveal Light. If we truly understand this, it changes everything. We have to take the time to look inside and really assess how much of our work actually elevates or reveals Light. And the way to assess it is by asking ourselves how much of the spiritual work we do is when we want to do it versus when we don’t want to do it.
On this Shabbat, we have to listen and receive strength from the Creator’s prayer for us. We can to come to understand that 85% of work that we do does not reveal Light; that all the work that we desire to do, that we do when we’re comfortable, that we understand why we should do, that we are inspired to do - that is not where the Light comes from. The Light comes from the 15%. We are not meant to be perfect in that 15%, but that is where our spiritual work and spiritual growth is. That is where blessings come from. No blessing comes to man from the work that he does below the sun, from the work that he does within the comfort of the physicality. We have to start pushing ourselves and grabbing those things we don't want to do, grabbing those moments that are just too difficult and overwhelming, because in doing the work during all the times we have the reasons not to is where the Light is.
This Shabbat, the Creator prays for us. He prays for the most important understanding and for the most important work. As we attach ourselves to the Creator’s prayers for us - and this is one of the beautiful gifts of this Shabbat - we are given the ability to not just hear or understand, but to actually make it part of who we are, and change the way we view our spiritual work. Disease can become healing. Difficulty can become solution. On this Shabbat of Bechukotai, we have the opportunity to hear the prayer of the Creator and gain the strength to change the focus of our spiritual work; and through that, receive all the blessings that come through that transformed work.