Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Bechukosai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34) 

The Familiar and Predictable Pattern We Seem to Forget  In1927, Meshech Chochma¸ one of the original Torah commentaries in the modern era was published. In this piece, the familiar cycle of Jews excelling in their host country and then the ensuing persecution is explained. It is remarkable—if not prophetic—that, years before the Holocaust, this commentary used Germany as the ultimate example of where a prominent Jewish culture and civilization seemed to be heading, even though at the time of its writing, Germany had granted Jewish men and women equal rights and freedom in a way unprecedented in our history. The words below are an analysis and rough translation of the text of the Mechech Chochmah interpreted by Rabbi Emanuel Bernstein of Jerusalem.]    If we survey the history of our exile, we can perceive a pattern. The Jewish People arrive at a certain country as refugees, they band together and establish communities, developing themselves both in temporal and spiritual spheres. This leads them to a feeling that they fully belong to that host country, at which point winds of hostility begin to blow, erupting into a storm which forces them out of that country in search of safer shores. The upheaval of exile brings about a decline in terms of their physical, financial and political stability, as well as in spiritual stature, so that when they arrive at their new location, they need to start from the beginning in all of these areas – whereupon the cycle begins anew. What is the meaning of this cycle and what goal does it serve? G-d has embedded in human nature the drive for each generation to advance newer ideas than the one which preceded it. In the historical realm, this leads to advances in areas of technology, commerce etc. In the spiritual realm, the positive effects of this attitude are predominantly felt, and its value primarily realized, when the Jewish People are in the land of Israel. There, the sanctity of the land enables the right people to join together to form the Sanhedrin (Jewish High Court) which acts with full authority to enact measures to develop and safeguard Jewish living appropriate to that generation. Additionally, the spirit of prophecy and Divine inspiration which prevails in the Temple helps inform and guide any legislative innovation towards bringing the Jewish People closer to G-d and His Torah – not further away.
When the Jewish People are in exile, all of this changes. Without the above-mentioned conditions in place, new enactments are no longer safeguarded, and their positive effect is not assured. As a result, each new generation will seek a different outlet through which to introduce ideas that did not exist in the previous one. When they first arrive in a country, spiritually and financially depleted, this creativity will have ample scope for positive expression, taking the form of establishing new communities and infrastructures, including religious ones. However, once these institutions are in place, subsequent generations will seek to develop newer ideas still. This may then take the form of rejecting the existing notions and values of their parents and adopting what are for them new ideas – those of the surrounding culture. In rejecting their parents’ ideas, they will forsake their own heritage and will seek to insinuate themselves into the host culture. At this point, their very identity as a nation is in jeopardy. But G-d’s eternal covenant with His people and the exalted role with which He has endowed them in world history will not allow for their dissolution. Hence, at this stage, winds of exile begin to blow, uprooting the Jewish people to yet more distant lands, where they begin again and as long as they are in exile, this cycle will accompany them. The tragedy of these events repeating themselves is that the younger generation, in its infatuation with the novelty of the prevailing host culture, will lose sight of the fact that such an attitude precipitated earlier exiles. But for centuries, the younger generation has repeated the same mistake claiming that these ideas are new, and somehow different. Addressing himself to the situation in his own time, the first part of the 20th century, Meshech Chochmah prophetically comments: The Jew forgets his roots and sees himself as a natural citizen [of the host population]. He forsakes the study of his own religion in order to study foreign languages… he thinks that Berlin is Jerusalem, learning [moreover] from the corrupt among his neighbors, not even from the upright among them… Then, a stormy and tempestuous wind will blow, uprooting him and placing him among a distant nation whose language he has not learned. There, he will know he is a stranger, that his [true] language is our holy tongue, while other languages are of passing value for him. He will know that his roots are those of the People of Israel…  The covenant between the Jewish People and G-d – as well as their historic mission representing Him in this world – are too important for them to be allowed simply to dissolve into surrounding cultures. Accordingly, even in the most trying and turbulent episodes of our exile, the eye is on maintaining our unique connection with the Almighty moving us forward towards our ultimate destiny as His People—settling in the Land of Israel and living there in the way we were meant to. At that time, we will live in peace and be able to fulfill our mission of being a light to the nations. Good Shabbos 
Got a question?