SALT - Tuesday, 23 Iyar 5778 - May 8, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
Parashat Bechukotai begins with God’s promise to reward Benei Yisrael for their observance of His commands.  The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 35:1), commenting on the opening verse of this parasha – “If you follow My statutes and observe My commands” – cites King David’s proclamation in Sefer Tehillim (119:59), “I calculated my ways, and then returned my legs toward Your testimonies.”  The Midrash explains the intent of this proclamation as follows: “Master of the world!  Each and every day I would make plans and say, ‘I will go to such-and-such place and such-and-such residence,’ but my legs would bring me to the synagogues and study halls.”  According to the Midrash, David’s legs carried him on their own, against his will, to the synagogue and study hall, even when he planned to go elsewhere.
What exactly does the Midrash intend to teach us through this peculiar image, of King David’s feet “overruling” his decisions of where to go, and how does this relate to the opening verse of Parashat Bechukotai, in the context of which this remark was made?
A novel reading of the Midrash was suggested by Rav Dov Weinberger, in his Shemen Ha-tov (vol. 1).  He explains that the Midrash does not actually refer to King David being taken by his legs against his will to houses of study and prayer.  Rather, King David avows that no matter where he went, he brought with him the sanctity, the values, the ideals and the principles embodied by the synagogue and study hall.  Even when conducting his ordinary affairs, it was as though he was in the synagogue or study hall, because he infused every activity, every experience and every setting with meaning and holiness.  By applying the Torah’s laws and ideals in all areas of life, it was as though he ended up in a synagogue or yeshiva wherever he went and with whatever he involved himself.
The Midrash makes this remark in reference to the opening words of Parashat Bechukotai – “Im be-chukotai teileikhu,” which literally mean, “If you walk with My statutes.”  The deeper meaning of these words, according to the Midrash, is that it speaks not simply of meticulous observance, but of carrying and applying the Torah’s laws wherever we “walk,” wherever we end up, in any situation or circumstance in which we find ourselves.  To illustrate this idea of “im be-chukotai teileikhu,” the concept of carrying the Torah wherever one goes and wherever one happens to be, the Midrash points to King David who describes himself as having transformed everything he did into a religious experience.
According to this reading, then, the Midrash does describe David as instinctively taking time away from his ordinary, mundane affairs for the sake of engagement in prayer and study.  To the contrary, it describes David as infusing all his ordinary, mundane affairs with meaning, purpose and significance, transforming everything he did into a religious experience by applying the Torah’s values and ideals to every situation and every area of life.