Parshat Bechukotai

Parshat Bechukotai begins with great promise for those who observe God’s commandments:

If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments, I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit. (Vayikra 26:3-4)

In an agricultural society, rain is the greatest gift that God can provide, and thus a reward of the highest caliber. But what specifically does “in their season (be’itam)” add? On a simple level it would seem to suggest that God will provide the rain during the proper growing season. If there is a drought during the planting season and a downpour during the harvest season, that is not all too helpful. Rather, God will reward us by providing rain at the right time.

Rashi, drawing from the Gemara in Taanit 23a, has a different approach. The word Be’itam means that the rain will come at the best appointed time for the people. This is when people are not generally traveling on the roads, specifically Tuesday evenings and Friday evenings. The Gemara explains that travelers tended to stay indoors on those evenings. On Tuesday evenings people were scared of the demons that lurked the roads, and on Friday evenings people were inside because it was Shabbat. Therefore, as reward for observing the commandments, it will rain on those evenings. The crops will get wet and the people will not.

For Rashi, the rain will manifest itself in a supernatural way to reward the Jewish people. It is not normal for rain to consistently appear on only Tuesday and Friday nights. That is what God will do for His people, He will change nature when we do mitzvot. The Bechor Shor disagrees and argues that in fact God changes nature when we don’t do mitzvot.

The Bechor Shor writes that “in the season (be’itam)” means that the rain will fall when it normally should. God created the world in such a way that the natural, normal course of events is that rain falls when it is needed to irrigate the fields and water the vegetation. When the world operates as it was originally intended, there is no shortage of water. When mankind observes the commandments, the world is in harmony and the rain comes at it’s natural set time.

However, when we do not observe the commandments, then the world loses its equilibrium and the rain no longer falls at the proper time. Therefore, according to the Bechor Shor, the promise of rain at the proper time is a not a supernatural phenomenon but rather a restoration of nature and the way the world was originally intended to be.

Accordingly, our performance of the commandments should not be viewed as exceptional and out of the ordinary but rather as a fulfillment of the way that God made us!