by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – May 17, 2011
The Torah section of Bechukotai begins with an account of the blessings that await the people of Israel if they fulfill their covenant with G-d. We then read the tokhocha (admonition), a sobering report of punishments, frustrations and curses that G-d promises those who undermine His covenant. The main thrust in G-d’s admonition to His chosen nation can be summed up in one of the verses (Vayikra 26:17): “I will turn My attention against you, you will be struck down before your enemies; those who hate you will subjugate you, and you will run when no one is chasing you.”
An intriguing insight to the above verse can be garnered from an account of a personal admonition to a student by the renown rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Ohel Torah in Baranovich, R. Elchanan Wasserman (1875 – 1941), killed by the cruel hands of the Nazi murderers during World War II.
It is related by an eyewitness (Paysach Krohn, In the Footsteps of the Maggid, p. 137) that one evening, when R. Wasserman was not feeling well, he asked that a group of his students come from the yeshiva to form a minyan (quorum) in his home for the daily ma’ariv services. A newcomer to the yeshiva was asked to lead the services. In contrast to the steady and deliberate pace to which the students were accustomed in their prayer, the young man launched into a quick-paced recitation of the services – to the apparent consternation of the rosh yeshiva. Once the accelerated version of the evening’s prayer was completed, R. Wasserman called over the newcomer who led the services. After first chatting with the young man for a little while, the rosh yeshiva gently remarked, “Young man, I want you to know that the verse, ‘You will run when no one is chasing you’ is part of the tokhocha.” The young man was being admonished for running through the prayer without any tangible sign of any justifiable cause that was chasing him to do so.
R. Wasserman’s gentle criticism made a long-lasting impression upon all his students. Thoughtlessly racing through prayer is a dreadful act. When engaged in duty to the Al-Mighty G-d, we must do so with thought and deliberation. Doing otherwise shows a dreadful lack of understanding of our position in life. By approaching G-d thoughtlessly we are in fact heaping evil upon ourselves as we are admonished in the tokhocha.
G-d’s admonition, “You will run when no one is chasing you”, should remind us that we can run but we cannot hide. We can thoughtlessly run through our obligations to G-d – or run away from them completely – but we cannot hide from His watchful eye. As is attested to in the tokhocha, G-d will hold us accountable for our decisions and our actions.