The Connection of Chukim and Torah
Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic
In this week’s Torah reading, the first verse of Bechukosay states: “if you will go in my Chukim/statutes and keep my commandments and do them”. Rashi there states that, although chukim/statutes usually refer to a certain type of Mitzvoth- i.e. the Mitzvoth which are not well understood and kind of transcend reason- in this case it refers to the study of Torah in a very laborious manner, whereby one really exerts himself copiously in his Torah study. It is well-known that there are three categories of Mitzvoth. The word “Mitzvah” is a general word which means “command” and is applicable to any of the Torah commandments, both negative and positive, the don’ts and the do’s. It also serves as a means of connection to the One Who gave the command. The word “mitzvah” is actually connected to the Aramaic word “tzavta” which means “connection”. The three categories are:
Mishpatim, the Mitzvoth which are so logical that we would tend to observe them even if not actually commanded to observe them, such as the prohibitions to steal, murder and commit adultery.
Eidoth/testimonies, testifying to various holidays and the three Yom Tovs. Once commanded to observe them, it then makes sense to eat matza, shake the Lulav and sit in the sukka.
The Chukim/statutes, the Mitzvoth which don’t seem logical even after being commanded to observe them: i.e. keeping away from the non-kosher species and not wearing the Shatnez combination of wool and linen—especially in view of the fact that many priestly garments of the Kohanim in the Beit Hamikdash were shatnez!!
The Deeper Aspect of Chukim
In Hebrew, the holy tongue, all homonyms sharing similar consonants have some kind of linguistic connection. This applies to the case in point, the word Chukim. The singular of Chukim is Chuka, which shares similar consonants with the word chakika, which means “to carve”. The letters of a Sefer Torah are written and superimposed on it, while the letters of the 10 Commandments on the two tablets were carved out, as part and parcel of the stone tablets. This refers to the deeper dimension of Torah study, whereby the Torah letters and words become carved into the human brain in a deeper way.
Of all the three words used to define Mitzvoth, therefore, the word Chukim is the one which lends itself to also refer to Torah study. What remains to be understood is the connection between both meanings: (a) chukim as the suprarational Mitzvoth (b) Chukim as the deeper, carving dimension of Torah study.
As rational as many parts of Torah and the Talmud are—we have to remember that there is also the suprarational, esoteric dimension of Torah, sometimes referred to as the “soul of Torah”. This dimension is more reachable when the Torah is studied laboriously, with great effort, in a sense carving in the words of Torah into our brain. This is because Torah is G-d’s wisdom and totally united within G-d, as G-d is One. Ascribing specific separate parameters to the Divine wisdom, kindness etc… in effect takes away from the Divine Unity. Hence, as these Divine attributes of wisdom, kindness, severity, compassion etc…are totally included within the Divine unity, they too possess the Infinite Divine dimension.
This is also reflected in Lag B’Omer. where we find that intensity in one direction only sometimes creates problems:
The Talmud (Yevamot 62b) states that the reason for the plague raging in the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva was that “they did not conduct respectfully with one another”. This requires explanation, for it was their teacher Rabbi Akiva who stressed so much the Mitzva of “you shall love your fellow as yourself”. The explanation lies in their personal conviction that each one of them had that his understanding of their teacher’s instruction was the right one. And not wanting himself nor others to veer from that view!!! Consequently, in view of the diversity of so many opinions, each one convinced that his understanding was the true one, there resulted a lack of true respect for one another. In the world at large , differences of opinion can result in criminal rampages, but here what happened was that their each adhering so strongly to “love of your fellow”, they each wanted his fellow-students to have the right understanding and not veer from it—heaven forbid that their personal view would direct them to hatred and its results!
The students did however miss an important point, actually conveyed by Rabbi Akiva himself and further reinforced by his student Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai. As much as one may be rising towards spiritual heights in a certain direction , one has to eventually bring these lofty heights down to the finite, earthly plane. Doing so tones down the intensity of the ascent and facilitates r making room for divergent opinions of others, respecting their views (as long as they are within the accepted framework of Torah) and giving them proper honor. Thus, on Lag B’Omer. what we are celebrating is not so much the service of the lifetime journey of Rashbi reaching its zenith and shining openly---but more so, we are celebrating the all-encompassing lessons of his life journeys, coinciding precisely with the example of his teacher Rabbi Akiva. It encourages us to likewise combine the heightened spiritual enthusiasm generated by Torah-Chassidic teachings with bringing it down within ourselves into practical application, and bringing it to our fellow Jews wherever and at whatever level they may be at, and thereby making this world as the desirable dira/habitation that G-d desired it to be since the beginning of Creation—speedily in our days.
Based on Likutei Sichos vol.22 pp.138-142 and vol. 17 pp.313-320