Bechukkotai opens with the potential blessing of the perfected world. It continues with the ominous warnings of the consequence of failure. Often missed is that it reveals the hitherto unspecified nature of the covenant itself.
The fruition of the world comes through a consummation of a relationship that is only partially observance based. “If you will travel in My statutes, guard My mitzvot and enact them” (24:3). “Guarding” connotes abstinence from covenant-violating acts; “enacting” demands fulfilment of the positive instructions. What, then, might “travelling refer to? “It means’ says the midrash Sifra, “the toil at understanding Torah.”
Similarly the grounds for the repercussions of covenantal failure are set up only partly based on failure of mitzvah performance. “If you will not listen to Me and will not perform all these mitzvot” (26:14). For Rashi, “not listening” adds, beyond the failure of mitzvah observance, failure to “toil in Torah”.
The transgression of the covenant begins not with failure of observance, but a deadening of passion. Repeatedly, Torah warns, “If you continue to walk with me indifferently”(26:21,23,27,40). Torah is not merely law, not even religion in the traditional sense. It is relationship. Relationship may be devastated by infidelity or maltreatment, but the locus of the breakdown is the point at which devotion became indifference, and apathy replaced adoration.
The central book of Torah opened with the word Vayikra – a longing, loving call from God to man. The word is spelled with a small aleph, highlighting the tiny gap that separates intimacy from its opposite vayikar , indifference. Judaism cannot survive as mere ritual. It is the embracing envelopment of man by God and the consummation of intimacy that is deadened by indifference.