SALT - Wednesday, 17 Iyar 5776, Omer 32 - May 25, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

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This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of
David Moshe ben Harav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l,
whose yahrzeit is Thursday 18 Iyar, May 26
.

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            The Torah in the beginning of Parashat Bechukotai describes the rewards God promises to grant His nation “im be-chukotai teileikhu” – literally, if we “walk” in accordance with His statutes. 

            In explaining this verse, the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 35:1) cites a verse written by King David in Sefer Tehillim (119:59), in which he proclaims, “I calculated my ways and I turned my feet toward Your testaments.”  The Midrash explains: “Each and every day, I would calculate [where I should go] and say, ‘I will go to such-and-such place and to such-and-such residence,’ but my feet would bring me to synagogues and study halls.”  This comment is generally understood to mean that regardless of where King David would decide to go, his feet naturally led him to institutions of prayer and study.  Although he made calculated decisions of what he would do each day, he ended up learning and praying, as he was instinctively drawn to these activities.  The verse “Im be-chukotai teileikhu” thus speaks of a level where we naturally “walk” toward God’s laws, when we are instinctively drawn to Torah study and observance even when we consider doing something else.

            Alternatively, however, it might be suggested that the Midrash here says just the opposite.  In the aforementioned verse in Tehillim, David says, “ve-ashiva raglai el eidotekha” – “I turned my feet toward Your testaments.”  The implication, clearly, is not that David’s feet directed him to the houses of prayer and study, but rather that David directed his feet towards these sacred acts.  Accordingly, it would seem that Chazal here describe David as making a calculated decision and then directing his steps based on his decision.  He is saying that he had many different options of where to go and what to do, and proceeded to the houses of prayer and study only after a process of “chishavti,” of careful consideration to determine what his priority ought to be each day.

            According to this reading, the Midrash is specifically warning against living by force of habit and inertia.  It is teaching us that each day requires a new process of “chishavti derakhai,” a fresh calculation to determine what our priorities ought to be and which areas deserve the bulk of our attention.  David “walked” only after a thorough process of “chishavti,” of careful thought and planning, because the urgent goals and needs of one era are not necessarily those of today.  The Midrash urges us not to follow our instinctive, habitual routine, but rather to carefully think to determine what our priorities should be and act accordingly.