Leviticus Hizkuni: Behar
“Because I Said So”
There are few sentences as frustrating to a child to hear as “Because I Said So.” Conversely, there are few sentences as gratifying to a parent to say (and be obeyed) as “Because I Said So.” In typical parent-child relationships, there is an understanding that some requests must be obeyed with no questions asked. A child’s natural curiosity and delaying tactic of asking “Why?” is run over in the quest to do (or not do) whatever the parent has demanded.
God is apparently not so different. According to Rabbi Yaakov ben Manoach (Hizkuni) God’s commandments are to be obeyed merely because He commanded them. The reasons behind the commandments are secondary or incidental.
Hizkuni illustrates this concept from the command to lay ones field fallow every seven years. The verse states that this should be done “for God.” Since antiquity, farmers have known of the beneficial effects for soil of leaving the field uncultivated for a period of time. Notwithstanding the value of such a practice to the farmer, Hizkuni highlights that the motivation to perform the command should be simply because God commanded it.
There has been a growing awareness that multiplicities of Jewish practices are good for ones mental, emotional and spiritual health. Kosher food has long been lauded as healthier than non-Kosher food. Ritual immersion is credited with saving Jewish communities during the Black Plague and to this day is seen as being an intrinsic part of the success of many Jewish marriages. Chinese scientists have discovered that the exact points on the body where Tefillin are placed as well as covering ones head, is conducive to a greater spiritual and positive state of mind. Jewish mourning practices have been recommended by psychologists as the best way for an individual, families and communities to overcome the tragedy of death. There are endless further examples.
Nonetheless, all of the above does not affect our obligation to perform and obey commandments. If we were to ask God why we need to perform any specific commandment, His answer would be simple: “Because I Said So.”
May we perform commandments out of a sense of such obligation, despite knowing the good effects they may have on us.
To Eric Greenberg who reminded me of the Chinese scientists/Tefillin connection.