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Parasha Bechukotai Vayikra (Lev) 26:3-27:34

The conclusion of Vayikra includes a list of ‘rewards’ and ‘punishments’, ‘blessings’ and ‘curses’ that will result from Israel’s fulfillment of their covenant obligations or lack thereof. The lists contain both spiritual and material concerns and that in itself is an important point. We live in this material world and G-d, who made it in the first place, is just as concerned with it as we are. There is no concept of ‘dualism’ in the Torah, no opposition between the physical and the spiritual. If you look at the blessing described at the beginning of our parasha, the promises of rain and abundant crops, easy victory over enemies and peace in the land, the spiritual benefit is obvious. For any of you who work ten to fifteen hours a day and find it hard to make the time to pray and study, the benefits of these blessings hits home. If sustenance comes easily and you dwell securely, there are a lot more hours in the day for spiritual pursuits. The physical and the spiritual work together.

The end of the list o blessings contains the reason G-d choose Israel and entered into covenant with them in the first place.

“I will place My sanctuary among you and My spirit will not reject you. I will walk among you, I will be G-d unto you and you will be a people unto me.” Lev 26:11-12

This is a statement of G-d’s desire for intimate relationship with the people of Israel. G-d created man for relationship, to have someone He could throw His energy into to see him grow and mature and become better. That is what it means for YHVH to be G-d to us. We have the same impulse since we have the same image. When we tend the houseplants or have a pet or fix up the house, or more importantly, raise our children, we are acting according to this creative, nurturing impulse that is part of G-d’s image within us.

The blessings and the curses describe our attitudes towards this end. If we follow the ‘rules of the household’, if we obey the terms of the covenant, then G-d will walk among us and have a relationship with us as intimate as with Adam in the garden. That is what it means to have Him walk among us. That is His desire and our deepest longing. When our children listen to us and we can help them focus their energies towards constructive ends, we get a similar feeling because the end result will be children who are mature, loving and responsible. That’s what G-d wants from us. I am sure there are few greater rewards in life than to sit down with and adult child and converse with a mature equal. G-d wants to bring us to that level of maturity.

As we know, in this world, things do not always work out that way. Our children do not always follow the right path and they require discipline. G-d lays out a specific plan of discipline to draw us back into line. The increase in severity as a result of our actions and attitudes. At first we cease to listen and perform the mitzvot, we are neglectful. Then we refuse to respond to the discipline. Finally, we are in open opposition to G-d’s purposes, we are in rebellion. And eventually we find G-d working in opposition to us. That is not where we want to be.

G-d desires to have an intimate relationship with Israel, individually and corporately. We have a deep seated longing to connect with our creator. The covenant of Torah is the means to bring about the fulfillment of those desires.

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This, along with the final chapters of Devarim, constitute the rewards and penalties for following the Torah as it has been given. This set for the generation that left Mitzraim, the Devarim passage for the renewal of the covenant with the generation born in the wilderness. There are several ways of looking at this but some important points need to be made.

First, the covenant of Torah was made with the nation. The blessings and punishments are corporate, not individual. Individual punishments, such as that of the blasphemer at the conclusion of the last parasha, were the responsibility of the people. There is no place in the Tenach where an individual was struck by God without the intervention of a prophet. Lightning does not come from the sky and strike people who violate the commands. It did not then, it does not today. Perhaps you think that God then molds circumstances to punish people. No, we mold our own circumstances and the purpose of the commands, individually and corporately, it to keep us from bad circumstances. If we violate the commands, we are setting ourselves up for bad things. Lets look at some examples from our parasha.

There are three primary things that happen to the people when they disobey. They deteriorate mentally and physically, their crops fail and their enemies are triumphant. These are a direct result of not following the prescriptions of Torah; not because there is a ‘Man on the throne’ meting our punishments but because of natural law. If they eat things they should not and fail to follow the hygienic practices of the Torah, diseases will spread through the camp. This has been true throughout history, not just with Israel. If they fail to allow the land to rest, they will deplete the soil and their crops will grow weaker every season. If they are not united as a people (and they are diseased and starving), their enemies will triumph. No hocus-pocus, no lightning, simply common sense and natural law.

The purpose for the commands is to bring about shalom, harmony with all things, a completeness in all aspects of life. In such a state the ‘spirit of God’ will be apparent and it will be harnessed for the blessing of the individual and, primarily, the nation. Following the moral law brings harmony in relationships and that keeps mental stress to a minimum. Following the food and hygienic laws keeps us healthy. Following the economic laws makes us prosper. They are all based on natural law and common sense. If Israel had followed these laws instead of trying to be like the nations around them, or Egypt from which they had come, life would have been a lot different. If we as individuals follow them, we can mold many of our circumstances for the better. The more we follow, the closer we are to shalom.

Chazak! Chazak! Venischazeik!

Be Strong! Be Strong! And may we be strengthened!