If you’re reading through this week’s Torah portion for the first time, there may be a few things that stand out. One is that there seems to be a physical reward for doing what HaShem tells us to do. The other is that the consequences for disobedience greatly outweigh the blessings. The blessings for obedience are generalized and painted with broad strokes, but the curses are specific and downright uncomfortable.
Why do these blessings only speak of a plentiful harvest and safety from enemies? Are there no spiritual blessings that accompany obedience to the will of Elohim? Wouldn’t “following His decrees and observing His commandments and performing them” (Leviticus 26:3) merit a personal growth and blessing as well? The Torah, apparently, doesn’t see the need to expound on that. It seems to imply that there is a direct link between how the crops turn out and how we behave. Why?
It’s only natural to believe that regular examination and constant refinement of ourselves would afford a growth in our personalities and our spiritual awareness. The Torah seems to imply that we should be aware of this so, instead, HaShem chooses to reveal to us another connection; the less obvious, unnatural connection. Many people would equate hard personal work to the amount that their harvest brings in. After all, if you don’t till, cultivate, plant and reap, how can you bring in a harvest? But here, we see something different. Our willingness to submit to His charges and exemplify them daily is what brings on the rains and proper conditions for the crops. We do the work but we wait on His blessings to pour out on our labors.
One might read through Leviticus 26 and become overwhelmed at the responsibilities and the weight of His charge to us. It might be enough to say that the system is set up for us to fail and the curse should be expected. It’s easy to take hold that view, but note the specificity of the consequences. Take for instance the following example:
“And your strength will be spent in vain; your land not yield its crops, nor the trees of the land yield their fruit.”-Leviticus 26:20
We have to remember to read these verses in context with the prior 25 chapters of the book of Vayikra/Leviticus. The past two parshiot have dealt with outlining the thanksgiving offerings, the feasts and holy days, Shemittah years and working our employees and servants in an ethical manner. This closing portion seems to be a culmination of these ideas and everything we learned throughout sefir Vayikra. It’s as if He’s explaining one last time why He gave us these laws in the first place. It could be read as, “in case you thought that ignoring these mitzvot/commandments wouldn’t affect anyone other than you, here’s something else to consider.” Blatant disregard of His covenant leads to the inability for Him to meet your basic needs.
As humanity has continued on throughout the ages, we’ve lost the connection between God and everything. We’ve developed a mentality that we get back what we put into it because after all, we are masters of our own destiny. In a way this is true, but it goes beyond the basics of farming and business. What matters to Him is the ethics. We have forgotten that each mitzvot we do is an opportunity to bring His love and His light into the world. Each time we choose His ways over our own, we are opening up the possibilities for miracles to happen around us. This is why the blessings are listed in such a short manner. It creates in us an expectancy for the good to come. It allows for His love to continue to surprise us every day. But when we lose sight of the purpose of those bechukotai, those statutes, we forfeit our end of the covenant. The curses are listed in such a way so that there are no surprises. He would never will it that we become completely destroyed. And even if we’ve missed the warnings and have become so lost that all we see is destruction and despair, there is hope.
“And yet for all this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I shall not reject them, nor shall I loathe them so as to destroy them and break My covenant with them. For I am HaShem their Elohim. Then I shall remember for their sake the covenant of the ancestors whom I brought out of the land of Mitsrayim (Egypt) before the eyes of the nations to be their Elohim. I am HaShem.”-Leviticus 26:44-45
When all hope seems to be lost, you have not been forgotten. As we’ve seen recently with the tornadoes that ravaged our communities, hardship can bring out the best in people. When the material world is gone, we see one another as what we really are. We realize that we are people who need God and need others to care about us in the same way that He does. When the distractions of “stuff” has been removed from the equation we are able to bind ourselves together with a common goal to survive and to rebuild. Despite the many attempt throughout history there has never been a nation or ideology that has been able to destroy the Jewish people. Each time persecution intensified, people began to realize that they belong to an Elohim that is worth the struggle to serve. Through a few individuals’ struggles a new, national devotion and dedication can be reborn. The eyes of the nations can testify to this. May we never have to get to that point again.
Am Yisra’el chai. Chazak! Chazak! Venitchazek!
“The people of Israel live. Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened!”
Torah- Leviticus 26-27
Haftarah- Jeremiah 16:19-17:14
B’rit Chadesha- Matthew 22:1-14