Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 12 May 2018 / 27 Iyyar 5778

Parshat Bechukotai

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
Artscroll Library

Triple Covenant

At the end of the difficult description of the tragedies that will befall the Jewish People in exile, the Jewish heart is reawakened and is humbled before G-d. When this happens, G-d says He will remember “My ‘covenant Yaakov’ and also My ‘covenant Yitzchak’ and also My ‘covenant Avraham.’” These are not the covenants that G-d established with each of the Patriarchs, but rather the covenant named Yaakov, the covenant named Yitzchak and the covenant named Avraham.

These covenants are covenants of historical destiny, rooted in the lives and personalities of the Patriarchs. They represent the periods which mark our emergence from exile, and are recorded in that order — first Yaakov, then Yitzchak, then Avraham.

Our Sages teach that the three Patriarchs established the three daily prayers: Avraham instituted the morning shacharit prayer, Yitzchak the afternoon mincha prayer, and Yaakov the evening ma’ariv prayer. Correspondingly, the lot in life of each accorded with one of these three times of day.

Avraham’s lot was illuminated with increasing brightness. While he challenged the beliefs of those around him, and forged a new path, he was treated with great respect and honored as a “prince of G-d” by his neighbors.

Yitzchak’s lot was clouded with declining light. While he was blessed with the material wealth of Avraham, he did not enjoy the favor of his fellow men. Instead, they envied his blessings, and he was forced to seclude himself and his household.

Yaakov’s lot was enshrouded in the darkness of night. His life was a string of trials and tribulations, including being swindled by his father-in-law, nearly killed by his brother, the early loss of his beloved wife, violation of his daughter by Shechem, and the loss of his most precious child.

All three, despite the vast differences in their lots, represent the nearness of G-d and the destiny of the Jewish People. Our destiny as a nation has already, and will continue to, reflect similar changes in fortune, albeit in the reverse order.

The covenant “Yaakov” is written first, and is emphasized by means of an extra letter (ktiv malei). The galut will define Jewish destiny for a long time. But when it is finally perceived and experienced as the rectification it is meant to be, the Jewish heart will find its way back. When the Jewish star transforms even the darkest night into a shining revelation of devotion and loyalty, the suffering and blood will not be in vain; after being the object of hatred, the Jewish People will have become an example for the nations.

The night of exile will begin to wane, and the covenant “Yitzchak” will begin. No longer the object of hatred, the Jew is the object of envy. In the midst of growing prosperity, living among nations wavering between humaneness and envy, the Jewish people will have to preserve their unique character, just as Yitzchak did.

When they have passed the second test of exile, fulfilling Torah amidst prosperity and envy, then they will enter the covenant “Avraham.” They will devote themselves to G-d and His Torah in the midst of the nay-saying nations. Actualizing the full goodness and truth of Torah, they will earn first the respect of the nations, and then and the Land I will remember — a return forever to Eretz Yisrael.

  • Sources: Commentary, Vayikra 26:42

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