The truth is sometimes unpopular or uncomfortable. Thus, people who wish to dismiss the Hand of Hashem from history and human affairs may be taken aback by the assertion of Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, based on the beginning of this parshah, that the suffering that befalls Israel comes for a Divine purpose. Rabbi Miller finds this purpose explicit in the opening words of Bechukosai, and observes that this “wish” (to dismiss the Hand of Hashem from history) is not a Jewish way of thinking.
“If you shall walk in My statutes” (26:3). The following promises and admonitions are called a “covenant” (bris). At the end of the Tochechah in Devarim it is stated: “These are the words of the Covenant which Hashem commanded Moshe to cut [i.e. to make] with the sons of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the Covenant which He cut with them at Horeb” (Devarim 28:69).
The Covenant at Horeb is this Tochechah of the book of Vayikra. The Covenant was made not only for the episodes of the First Destruction and of the Second Destruction. The purpose of Hashem in these portions of the Torah is clear: whenever any calamities have come upon the nation, or upon some part of the nation, the people of Hashem’s Torah must attribute these misfortunes to the disapproval of Hashem: “If you will not hearken to Me, and you shall not fulfill all of these commandments” (26:14).
Certainly if the nations of the world are the messengers of misfortune they are held guilty; but to attribute the calamity to our enemies and to ignore the Ruler of the World as the sole true author of all that transpires is a breach of the Covenant and a contradiction of the Torah. We today are not capable of discerning the sins of our ancestors, but our ancestors themselves declared in the Scriptures and in the Talmud the misdeeds for which these disasters were visited upon them.
The tendency today to omit the Hand of Hashem and to dwell solely on the guilt of the enemies of Israel is a direct contradiction to these two very prominently stated Covenants. To shrug off the very great calamities of our time by saying “We cannot understand the ways of Hashem” is actually a concealed form of the atheistic attitudes that have seeped in from the outside world. “And it shall be, when all these matters shall come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I have put before you, and you put this to your heart, among all the nations where Hashem your G-d has driven you” (Devarim 30:1).
“And many evils and troubles will come upon them; and he shall say on that day: ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our G-d is not in our midst?’ ” (ibid. 31:17). “Take this book of the Torah… that it be there a witness against you” (ibid. 31:26). In addition to this purpose of the ensuing parshah as a post- facto testimony, it is certainly intended also as a stimulus to virtue and to Fear of Hashem. “I said: surely you will fear Me; you will take correction” (Zefaniah 3:7). By reading this parshah properly, we can be spared the experiences which are there foretold.
It is noteworthy that all the rewards for compliance with the Torah are solely in this life. The Rambam (Teshuvah 9:1) explains that the promises of happiness in this life are not intended as the ultimate reward but are promises of opportunity to accomplish more good deeds and to gain more merit. Similarly, the retribution of unhappiness which is foretold for transgression of virtue is not the ultimate punishment, which is in the Afterlife; but Hashem foretells the loss of opportunity to accomplish righteous deeds due to various forms of suffering.
Thus it is said: “The reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah, and the reward for a transgression is [another] transgression” (Avos 4:2), because he who seeks to do mitzvos is rewarded with opportunity to do more; and this is the greatest of rewards, as is said: ” Better one moment of Torah and good deeds in this world more than all the life of the World to Come” (ibid. 4:17).