Bechukosai – The Gentiles and the Captured Baby

There is a very penetrating Medrish Tanchuma towards the beginning of the last Torah Portion in the Book of Vayikra, the Torah portion of Bechukosai: “Another understanding of ‘If you follow my decrees…then I will provide you rain in their time… But if you will not listen to me…I will make your sky like iron’ (Vayikra 26:3, 4, 14, 19).  It also says ‘Therefore because of you the heavens have kept back, so that there is no dew, and the earth has kept back its produce’ (Chagai 1:10). For because of your iniquities even the gentiles are smitten. Rebbe Yehoshua ben Levi said, ‘If the gentiles would know that because of Jewish sins they are smitten, they would appoint two soldiers for each Jew in order to be sure they listen to the Torah and not sin. And not only do the gentiles not guard the Jews but they further stop us from performing mitzvos that if they sin the hold world is smitten as it says, ‘Therefore because of you the heavens have kept back, so that there is no dew.’ And if they don’t sin the whole world is blessed because of them as it says, ‘and all the nations of the earth will bless themselves by your seed,’ (Breishis 26:4)” (Medrish Tanchuma, parshas Bichukosai, paragraph 2). (Click here for the Hebrew text.)
If the gentiles only knew that the Jews were the cause of all the problems in the world, droughts, floods, earthquakes, etc. the medrish does not say they would attack the Jews for causing so much trouble, rather they would appoint two soldiers to every Jew. One to make sure he or she follows and performs the positive mitzvos of the Torah and the other to be sure he or she does not transgress the negative mitzvos of the Torah. If that is the case, then why don’t we just tell them? Word should have spread throughout the world so that everyone would know and take proper precautions to be sure the Jews are observing the Torah properly. It is even easier now a day with social media to get the word out!

However it does not seem as simple as that. If you look closely into the words of the medrish, the medrish faults the gentiles for not only the lack of guarding us but inciting us to sin, for example what happened in the times of the Greeks and Hellenism. The Medrish says, “But they further stop us from performing mitzvos that if they sin the whole world is smitten as it says, ‘Therefore because of you the heavens have kept back, so that there is no dew.’ Why does the medrish repeat the fact that the whole world is affected by the sin of the Jews and the verse that proves it? It would seem by the connection that the medrish makes between the gentiles stopping us “from performing mitzvos that if they sin the whole world will be smitten,” that there is a message the medrish is trying to tell us. The Medrish is saying that they don’t really know, or to be precise they don’t appreciate or believe that it is because of a Jewish sin that all the problems come to the world and vice versa if the Jews do what they are supposed to blessing comes into the world. If they truly appreciated and believed it they would not try to dissuade us from doing mitzvos but on the contrary they would make sure we all perform them. It comes out that one does not truly know something unless he actually appreciates and believes something about it.

In a similar vein, I have heard from my rebbeim that a tinok shenishba, literally a baby who was captured, not only refers to any Jew who was not given a chance to be brought up Torah observant but even refers to a Jew who might have heard about mitzvos, the example they gave was a secular Israeli who is surrounded by the Holiness of the Land, has all the archeological evidence about Tanach and the Talmudic scholars, as well as plenty of yeshivas all around them, so how can they be considered ignorant, without any chance of learning?  The answer they gave was that a Jew is considered a tinok shenishba even if one might know or is able to know about halacha, Jewish law, but doesn’t appreciate or never had a chance to believe in the severity of reward and punishment and it’s ramifications.

This doesn’t mean those less privileged get an easy pass, and are absolved from being Torah observant. Ultimately, Hashem looks into the inner most depths of one’s heart and knows if he or she had a chance and took advantage of growing in Torah and mitzvos. If they had the potential then there are little to no excuses, however if there was no chance or potential of knowing or appreciating the severity and advantages of being Torah observant with all its halachic standards then that person will get a pass in Heaven.

Unfortunately nowadays even with all the technology to put knowledge at our fingertips many people do not grasp what living a Torah way of life is all about. They are virtually clueless of how to begin to know what it means no less to appreciate the beauty and profundity of Hashem’s Torah and to walk in His ways. This should charge those that do follow Hashem’s will with the impetus to continue to strive to make this world a better place.

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