Moving From a Casual to an Intimate Relationship With Hashem
A significant portion of Parshat Bechukosai consists of the “tochacha” – Hashem’s warning of the trials and tribulations that will be visited upon the Jewish nation if they abandon Hashem and the Torah. In multiple verses, the Jewish nation’s betrayal is described as having “walked” with Hashem “b’keri.”
What is the nature of the transgression signified by “b’keri?” In Hilchot Ta’anit (1:3), Rambam states that “b’keri” refers to “mikreh,” or chance. That is, when suffering befalls the Jewish people they should realize that such suffering is not by chance, but rather a signal to repent (i.e., to do “teshuvah”). However, if they regard the suffering as mere chance and coincidence that has no connection with their behavior, then the sufferings will continue. In short, the sin of “b’keri” is denying that Hashem plays a guiding role in our lives, and that obstacles and failures are His veiled way of encouraging us to repent (see ArtScroll explanation of “Al chet s’chatanu b’kasyut oref”).
In a footnote in The Living Torah, Rav Aryeh Kaplan references additional interpretations of the phrase “b’keri,” and ultimately settles on “indifference” in the English translation.
R’ Kaplan’s choice raises the question as to why “indifference” should trigger such harsh punishments. Synonyms for “indifference” include, “apathetic,” “unresponsive”, and “casual.” While hardly praiseworthy, these attitudes – which might find expression in such passive violations as failing to pray or forgetting to make berachos - still seem less problematic than aggressive, passionate sins such as murder and robbery.
Let’s see if we can develop a better understanding of why indifference triggers such severe consequences. In doing so, we may also find a connection with Rambam’s translation as “mikreh,” or chance.