Monday, May 16, 2011

Bechukotai: Exiled from Their Land

The Young Guest

There was once a fabulously wealthy man. He was famous for his tremendous hachnasat orchim - warm and generous hospitality.

The wealthy man was not satisfied with setting up just one table to feed his many guests. Rather, he arranged for several tables at each meal – and each table offered a completely different menu! Every guest was seated at the table that served food appropriate to his station in life. This way, every guest felt welcome and comfortable.

High-ranking ministers and affluent guests were seated at an elegant table fit for kings and princes, where gourmet dishes and rare delicacies were served. There one could find roasted duck and grilled pheasant, fine wines and extravagant deserts. 

Visitors with more plebeian tastes were seated at a table filled with more popular fare - hotdogs and hamburgers, french fries and fried chicken - so that they could eat heartily of their favorite foods.

One day a finely-dressed young man with noble features arrived at the wealthy man's home. Sensing the guest's refined qualities, the host placed him at the finest table, where the greatest delicacies were served.

The new guest, however, showed little interest in the exotic dishes placed before him. On the 
contrary, his appetite was only aroused when he spied the hotdogs served at the table for simpler guests. Stretching over the other guests, the young man used his fork to spear a juicy hotdog and began to happily chew away.

Then he spotted a waiter carrying a large platter of fried chicken to the far table. Once again, he lashed out with his trusty fork, exuberantly stabbing a piece of chicken.

This time the host spoke up. "My friend, please leave the place where you are seated."

The young man's cheeks turned red. "Is it possible that you, so well-known for your gracious hospitality, would embarrass a guest, sending him away from your table?"

The host looked kindly at his guest. "Heaven forbid! I had no intention of embarrassing anyone. My only desire is that my guests should feel at home. I mistakenly thought that your place was here, at the head table with the finest dishes. But now I realize my mistake. If your preference is for the popular fair of hotdogs and hamburgers, please relocate yourself to that table. Then the foods that you enjoy so much will be close at hand."

Exiled from the Land of Israel

It is written that "God stood and measured the land" (Habakkuk 3:6). What was the meaning of this measuring? The Midrash explains that God evaluated each land and each nation. He then apportioned the land best suited for each nation. For example, some lands are well-suited for raising horses; others for vineyards and wine production; and others have difficult terrain, suitable for rugged and hardy peoples.

God noted the special traits of the Jewish people, and gave them the location most suitable to develop their special spiritual talents - the Land of Israel and the holy city of Jerusalem, a sacred place suitable for ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration) and prophecy.

But when God saw the Jewish people abandoning the Torah - when they turned to Egypt for horses, when they adopted the licentious habits and idolatrous superstitions of other peoples - God said, "Why should you dwell in Jerusalem and have to reach out for the 'gifts' of distant lands? Leave this place, and go live where your hearts desire!"

(Adapted from Mishlei Yaakov, pp. 299-300.)