Be respectful – it’s a mitzvah

  • ParshaRabbiRichard
The portion of Bechukotai contains the warnings of the tragedies that may befall the Jewish people if they stray from the ways of the Torah. The section begins with the words, “Im bechukotai timasu (If you consider my laws loathsome).
by Rabbi Rodney Richard, Emmarentia Shul | May 14, 2020

The obvious question is, does anyone really consider the mitzvot “loathsome”? Understandably, there are those less committed to the dictates of the Torah and less religiously observant, but do they despise Torah and mitzvot?

Perhaps the verse isn’t referring to the hatred of mitzvot. Perhaps it refers to the cynicism that some may have towards more observant members of the community.

We can be proud of our strong ba’al teshuva community in South Africa (the return of secular Jews to religious Judaism). I, too, am a ba’al teshuva, and, like me, you may have encountered a degree of hostility, scorn, and derision from friends or family members when you embarked on your journey of self-growth. Thank G-d, my immediate family was supportive.

All too often, when people choose to become more observant or to take on additional stringencies in their Torah observance, they are met with contempt. You may have chosen to dress more modestly or refrain from listening to certain types of music. Rather than being shown respect and admiration, you may have been ridiculed and accused of fanaticism. You have probably even been asked, “Are we no longer good enough for you?” or “Do you think you’re better than us?”

The Torah is telling us to be more tolerant and respectful towards each other.

And, of course, it works both ways. Those who have chosen a more religious lifestyle must show tolerance and understanding of those who haven’t embraced such a lifestyle.

Thus, when Hashem speaks of a time when you “consider my laws loathsome”, perhaps He doesn’t refer to direct hatred of the mitzvot but rather contempt of those who adhere to a religious lifestyle. However, if we really think about it, such an interpretation doesn’t veer dramatically away from the simple explanation of the verse. You see, if we despise people for their diligent observance of mitzvot, we are effectively despising Hashem, who gave us the Torah and commanded us to observe mitzvot. Surely none of us want to be defined in such terms?

If you aren’t perhaps as religious as your fellow person, don’t despair. By respecting his ways, you are according the greatest respect to Hashem and His Torah.

We have just celebrated Lag Ba’Omer, a day that symbolises Jewish unity. Unity doesn’t denote sameness. However, we need to realise that we are all the children of Hashem and, thus, one big family.

Let’s draw inspiration from this reading and from Lag Ba’Omer, and be more respectful and tolerant towards our brothers and sisters.

Shabbat Shalom!

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