This post is dedicated in memory of Shlomo ben Aryeh Zalman. May it be an aliyah for his neshama.
By Shoshana Rosa
Parshat Bechukosai, the concluding Parsha in the book of Leviticus finishes off with a grand listing of the blessings and admonitions. If Bnei Yisrael (the Jewish nation) keep the covenant, we will receive the graces of seasonal rain, crops and a victory over our enemies. If we don't, well, the blessings are followed by an account of the frustrations, rebuke and curses that Hashem will use to punish those who fail to follow His commandments.Thus, the first verse declares, "If you follow my decrees, and observe My ordinances and perform them" (Leviticus 26:3).
Over the generations, commentaries have pored over the exact wording in the weekly Parsha; perhaps we may render some personal meaning from the ideas they've written down about this week's sidra (parsha portion). To start, a shallow glance at the first verse finds what appears to be a redundancy. However, a deeper glance uncovers treasures of meaning. Rashi and Sifra explain, First, one must follow G-d's decree to study Torah so that, second, he will be able to guard G-d's commandments (ordinances) properly. Third, once the first two conditions are fulfilled, and one has the tools available to perform the mitzvot (commandments), then, "I [G-d] will provide your rains in their season, so that the land will give its produce and the field its fruit" (Leviticus 26:4). Lesson for life: G-d wants to give us everything, but He will not fork over eternal reward (or worldly enjoyments) if we do nothing to deserve it. This is why the bread of charity is also called the bread of shame. One can feel proud of a hard day's work. Therefore, G-d provides us the where with all to fulfill our inner potential from the very first pasuk (verse).
Another question that might be asked on this week's parsha is "Why do the curses go on for pages when the Parsha starts with only thirteen verses worth of blessings?" Since this query is based on the premise that quality equals quantity, it would behoove us to rewire our mode of thinking.The blessing are given in wide, sweeping statements which is why they are given with brevity. "I will provide peace in the land, and you will lie down with none to frighten you; I will cause wild beasts to withdraw from the land, and a sword will not cross your land. You will pursue your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword. Five of you will pursue a hundred and one hundred of you will pursue ten thousand..." (Leviticus 26:6-8). On the flip side, the curses are proclaimed in great detail because Hashem wanted to sober the Jews into obedience. "If you consider my decrees revolting and you reject my ordinances, in order not to fulfill all my commandments etc." (Leviticus 26:15). What follows is a register of the consequences one must face if he makes choices that strain against G-d's word.
Fine, we made our bed and we're being told to suffer the consequences. Is that all: is the relationship over? Apparently not. By the end of the Parsha, G-d reminds us that in spite of it all, "...while they [the Jews] will be in the land of their enemies, I will not have been revolted by them nor will I have rejected them to obliterate them - to annul My covenant with them..." (Leviticus 26:44).
With this last phrase in mind, "to annul My covenant with them...," one can see the mercy underlying Hashem's curses. Though we may stray from G-d, He will never truly throw us away. He will never allow us to fall into obscurity like other nations from bygone times fell into obscurity (consider ancient Egypt, Greece, Italy and Rome). Ever since G-d made a covenant with Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov, the forefathers of our religion, Hashem regarded our relationship with Him as permanent.One of the reasons G-d gave us the written Torah and Oral law at Sinai was so that it would act as the glue that would keep our nation attached to Him. It matters not whether we want to forget the Torah or to dilute its laws, Hashem will not allow us. Yet even as He pushes us away with his left hand (a symbolizing of His harsh justice), He reels us in with His right hand (mercy) by bringing us back on track.