Parashat B'hukotai

Stubbornness And Chance

The two interpretations of the word keri illustrate different understandings of the reasons for the punishments listed in parashat B'hukotai.

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· Rashbam (Samuel ben Meir, 12th century France) enthusiastically endorses this reading. It means that Hashem is displeased that the people obey Him only casually, intermittently, inconsistently. His punishment is to treat them in the same way, exposing them to the dangers of nature and their enemies.

· Ibn Ezra (12th century Spanish commentator), following this view, quotes the Philistines who considered whether the suffering they endured was by the Hand of G-d:

For it is not His Hand that has touched us; it is an incident (mikreh, also from k-r-h) that has happened to us (Samuel I 6:9).

Employing this reading, Ibn Ezra hints that if the people of Israel regard the misfortunes that have befallen them as mere coincidences, they will not absorb the intended lessons of repentance.

We might return here to Malbim's earlier comment: After two onslaughts of catastrophes (disease in verses 16-17 and famine in verses 18-20), you must not attribute them to natural forces. They are the result of Divine Providence. If you refuse to repent, Hashem will bring even worse devastation.

Rambam develops this idea in the Laws of Fast Days (chapter 1):

1: It is a positive commandment from the Torah to cry out and to blow the trumpets for any trouble that befalls the community . . .

2: And this matter is of the ways of repentance, that at the time when a trouble comes, and they cry out over it and trumpet, all will know that it is because of their bad deeds that they have suffered . . . and that will bring about the removal of the trouble from upon them.

3: However, if they do not cry out nor trumpet, but rather say, "This event is of the way of the world that happened to us, and this trouble is a mere occurrence," behold this is the way of cruelty, and causes them to become attached to their evil deeds. The trouble leads to other troubles. This is what is written in the Torah: and if you walk with me b’keri; then I too will walk with you with the fury of keri. That is to say, when I will bring trouble upon you so that you will repent, if you say that it is an occurrence, I will add to you the fury of that occurrence.

As Rambam further explains in The Guide of the Perplexed (3:36), the Torah imbues within us the idea that, as Hashem has complete control over all, He directs events in accordance with our deeds.

Now as much as ever, we must remember that calamity must be fought on two fronts: We must defend ourselves against threats from without, while at the same time improve our ways so as to deserve Hashem's salvation.

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Rabbi Avraham Fischer

Avraham Fischer is a rabbi at Darche Noam Institutions.