I write to you this week as our NEAT high school seniors prepare for their graduation this Sunday. Our seniors reflect on years of hard work, science experiments, Shabbatonim, retreats, Mishmeres, Chessed, productions, Chagiga, and so much more. Their toil and hard work served as an inspiration to their underclassmen, and they all served as leaders for others to follow.
Rabbi Berel Wein discusses the conclusion of Sefer Vayikra with this week’s Torah reading of Bechukosai. It presents rather stark choices to us. Blessings and disasters are described, and it is apparently our behavior, actions, and lifestyles – all of which are within our range of choice – that will determine our individual fates and national future. It appears to be an all or nothing scenario, with the Torah providing us with little or no wiggle room. And since the stakes are so high and the consequences of failure are so dire, the challenge before us is doubly daunting and even frightening.
Yet, the Torah also assures us that the Jewish people as an entity, if not all individual Jews, will somehow survive and prosper in the end, and inherit all the blessings described in this week’s Torah reading. The Jewish people will experience many defeats in the long history of civilization, in our relationship with the non-Jewish world. But none of these defeats will be of a permanent and eternal nature. Somehow, the seeming victors and will be vanquished, while the Jewish people will continue to show resilience and fortitude.
After several millennia of history and all types of human and national events, it is difficult to view the Jewish story in any other light. So, the true message that shines forth from this week’s Torah reading is that of the eternal strength of the Jewish people. Not only have we survived all the disasters outlined in this Torah reading, but we have the uncanny ability to eventually triumph and succeed, no matter how great the odds against us are.
Rashi emphasizes the requirement to “toil in Torah” in his interpretation of the first verse in Bechukosai. The idea of toiling in Torah has many subtleties, aside from its simple meaning of hard and consistent study. In a broader sense, one can say that the Jew who toils, in no matter what field, must always do so by shaping his or her behavior in accordance with Torah values.
The life of the Jew and survival of the Jewish people depend on the presence of Torah values in all aspects of our lives. Toil, in the spiritual sense, is not restricted to the study hall or to the scholar.
NEAT has provided our seniors and the entire school with the Torah values of ahavas Yisrael, a love of the Jewish people; ahavas chessed, a love of kindness; and most of all, ahavas haTorah, a love of Torah. Under the tutelage of tremendous rebbeim, moros, and a dedicated administration, they learned the value of ameilus baTorah, working hard at the study of Torah. “Toil in Torah” also refers to a person who appreciates and lives a life of Torah values, no matter his work or profession. A person who feels that the Torah accompanies him everywhere will always be reckoned among those who toil in, with, and for the Torah.
We wish our senior class and their parents much nachas from the graduates. May Hashem bless every one of you as you begin your journey of life, using the lessons of Torah as your guiding light.
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman