top of page

Bekuchotai, Parashat HaShavua

By Dan Cohen

(31 May, 2024) Parsha Bekuchotai 2024 - Breaking Up with Hashem

Can you break up with Gd?  If you do, how might one go about it? Would you even notice you were doing it?

The parsha this week teaches what will happen if we don't follow Hashem’s mitzvot. Many commentators focus on this lack of engagement and performing mitzvot as a gateway to separating oneself from Hashem.

My journey to and through a life of Judaism and a relationship with Hashem has been long and windy.  At times, mitzvot mattered to me. At other times, mitzvot mattered much less.  

But when I think about what was going on deep down, my Emunah in Hashem didn’t waver much. I always knew he was there, but I needed a break.  Or, in dating terminology, it wasn’t him; it was me.

Rav Hirsch lived at a fascinating time. Jews across Europe weren’t just rejecting their tradition and their mitzvot; many were looking to a life without Hashem—or at least a life that radically changed our national notion of Gd and his role in our lives. 

How can an individual or a section of society move in that direction? After all, our faith in Hashem sustained us through millennia and various exiles. It bonded us as a community and strengthened us when things were bleak.

In Chapter 26, Verse 14-16, we read, “But if you do not listen to Me and do not perform all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes and reject My ordinances, not performing any of My commandments, thereby breaking My covenant then I too, will do the same to you;”

This is heavy stuff. Measure for measure, as we often describe the reward/punishment scale with Hashem. If we ignore him, he ignores us. If we reject, he rejects. 

So, what is the path to this rejection? Here’s how Hirsch describes it. 

If we begin with the idea that our faith in Hashem makes us whole, what kind of mental and spiritual gymnastics does it take to decide if his rules don’t apply or if he may not exist?

First, he says, “hearken” in our verse doesn't just mean to heed or obey. It implies something more profound: a failure to listen to the Word of God. This manifests itself when one must first neglect the study and knowledge of the Torah.  Rashi describes the cause and effect as saying when a man does not learn, he then does not do. Therefore, the first outcome is the byproduct that we don’t practice mitzvot, partially because we don’t know them.

Second, the gradual and intentional departure from Hashem continues when one who doesn’t know or observe is still bothered by his conscience. Hirsch says that the individual will justify this rejection of mitzvot and Hashem in the name of “progress.” He will look down on mitzvot as antiquated. 

This is starting to feel like the wicked child all over again. What does this mean to you? To me?

Third, since others are observing mitzvot around the individual who is not, he might feel like their behavior is indicting him. He then has two choices. To accept that indictment or to recast himself as superior to the others and look upon them with contempt.  

I recognize this behavior, have seen it in others, and even fought it in my reactions to Jewish life. It's so easy to project whatever unease we may have about our choices and behaviors onto the actions and choices of others. This is true across every facet of our lives and choices. 

Rav Taragin at the Gush shared an analysis by the Sfas Emes on the parsha that discusses this behavior in detail. After all, the world offers us many options, choices, and behaviors that do not align with Gd's expectations and mitzvot. It's easy to imagine a person thinking that a world of pleasure and possibilities awaits him if he throws off the shackles of ethical and divinely directed behavior. 

This plays out, especially among mitzvot, which take more work to understand. It's so easy to dismiss these mitzvot flippantly, especially if one is inclined to want distance from mitzvot. Hirsch adds that these same people think the mitzvot limit the “sensual” opportunities in our lives - food, human interactions, and freedom of movement. He may feel that he’s “liberated” himself from these strictures.

The rejections and defections continue.  In verse 15, we read, “if you will despise my statutes…” 

After one journeys through ignorance and contempt, the detractor must project his displeasure onto the institutions that bind us together in communal life. These are the Torah scholars, educational institutions, and others charged with helping keep us faithful. His hate for the Torah turns into hatred for teachers and leaders of the Torah.

After rejection comes intolerance; these same individuals may lean on this hatred to become radically intolerant at every opportunity. After all, he does not respect the Torah or those who adhere to it. Therefore, he might actively obstruct its observance, thinking he is acting for the good of mankind. His dislike of mitzvot now demands that he no longer considers the observance by others as valid.

The final step requires the individual to break what binds him to the covenant with Hashem. He must deny Hashem’s very existence. He must choose to dim the same light of Hashem or his Gd-awareness must be extinguished. Only then can he find any rest and peace. 

According to Hirsch, the journey an individual must take goes from ignorance to rejection to indictment to missing out to contempt to breaking, once and for all, with Hashem. 

Rashi says these steps follow each other. (There are) “seven sins, the first leading to the second, and so on, until the seventh, [and the process of degeneration is] as follows: [First, a person] does not learn [the Torah]; then, he [subsequently] does not fulfill [the commandments]; he then despises others who do [fulfill them]; then, he hates the Sages, prevents others from fulfilling [the commandments], denies the [authenticity of the] commandments and [finally] denies the very omnipotence of God. 

To me, this holds two lessons for each of you.  

As you find yourself along this path, pay attention. Instead of sliding along frictionlessly, choosing one of these steps (sins) after the other, stop and notice that you are on this path and ask yourself why. Noticing may be the best tool to understand any feelings of contempt or rejection you might be experiencing.

I’d also encourage you to apply these tools to notice and understand everything else in your life. This may mean investing, on purpose, in relationships with people, your job, the government, or even yourself.  

If we aren’t careful, our minds can quickly take us through the seven steps of rejection that Rashi outlined. If we don’t stop and pay attention, we may reject things we love in the name of progress we don’t believe in.


Add reaction



bottom of page