Hebraic Studies - Parashat Bechukosai

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Parashat Bechukosai

Vayikra – Leviticus 26:3 & chapter 27:34


With Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

Parashat Bechukosai which we read this week begins with one of the greatest theological riddles of the entire Torah: an account of the Blessings and Curses. Elohim tells the People of Israel that if they observe the commandments and follow the laws,

“If ye walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them; then I will give your rains in their season, and the land shall yield her produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit” Vayikra - Leviticus 26:3-4. (JPS version of the Torah).

Elohim promises rains in their season, and that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit. In addition some thirteen blessings follow.

However, on the other hand should they reject the laws, and spurn the commandments; Elohim would in turn do the following:

“I also will do this unto you: I will appoint terror over you, even consumption and fever, that shall make the eyes to fail, and the soul to languish; and ye shall sow your seed in vain … And I will set My face against you, and ye shall be smitten before your enemies; they that hate you shall rule over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you” Vayikra - Leviticus 26:16-17. (JPS version of the Torah).

The description of the curses is so devastating, that it has become the custom in Jewish communities to read them in a whisper, a sign of mourning perhaps, or because we do not wish to invoke these curses or call them upon ourselves. 

It is not the curses that are other-worldly. The curses are not foreign to us. We have seen them in recent Jewish history. We see them from time to time all around us. But how are we supposed to understand the Torah’s message that these blessings and curses are somehow caused by our actions? 

We gain insight into this portion of the Torah by distancing ourselves from the notion of punishment. We should understand that the Torah’s message is one of empowerment rather than disempowerment. On the most basic level we are being told that our actions influence our entire environment, and the key to that relationship is our relationship to be with Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified Name!

When we pray on this, we may pray on the meaning of “rains in their seasons” or even regarding our own moral state, and how we can improve our lives to live the way Elohim desires us to be. There are times, we need to reconnect between moral and spiritual order of our lives, for we are well aware that the life of the entire world is falling apart. What can we do to repair our own order? 

Most importantly, we are not asked to give account for anyone else’s story, or to try to figure out the general rules of reward and punishment. We are not asked to look at someone else’s problems and draw any conclusions. We are only asked to look into ourselves, maintain hope, and deepen our own relationship to the One, who will never leave us even in our deepest darkest hour: Remember what our ever loving Elohim, blessed be He, said:

“And yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break My covenant with them; for I am their ElohimVayikra - Leviticus 26:44. (JPS version of the Torah).

We are always granted this promise. That Elohim will always remain with us, close by, even during our suffering. 

On a personal level, we reach insight in those moments when we reach rock bottom. It is in those very moments that we realize the nature of the presence that has never left us. We do not easily reach an understanding of what led us to that point; but once we have felt it, it gives us strength, and it fills us with life each day of our lives and it brings us hope! 

Always remember our motto seen on the logo at the top of this page: “The More Torah, the More Life”, for Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified Name, is the one who gave us our Life!”

Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.


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