B’chukotai: Blessings and curses

B’chukotai: Blessings and curses

“If you will follow my decrees and my commandments and perform them, then I will provide rain in their time….” This opening to Leviticus 26:3-10 is on first glance theologically problematic. Both these blessings which will be bestowed upon us if we are good, and the much longer list of curses that are enumerated in the rest of this week’s parsha, literally speak of a God who micro-manages what happens in both the realm of nature and the world of human interaction. As a Jew who follows Maimonides’ teaching that we should see all anthropomorphic references to God as metaphor, the vengeful jealous God described here is hard to handle. I have therefore always been most grateful when this week’s reading Bechukotai is read in conjunction with last week’s portion Behar, where the subject matter of Sabbatical and jubilee years does not raise the theological angst of this final portion of Leviticus.

The primary problem I have with Bechukotai is the black-and-white, cause-and-effect relationship it describes between blessings and curses. At first glance, the text seems to leave no room for us to wrestle with the reality of the evil that so often befalls innocent good people. As early as the writing of the book of Job, Jews have challenged the direct correlation of good action to blessed results as it applies to individuals. However, certainly since the birth of Rabbinic Judaism, sages in every generation have defended the essence of this text as it applies to us corporately as Jews or as human beings. Therefore, I would like us all on this Shabbat to think about some of the consequences of our actions and inactions; which can lead us to blessings and those which lead to curses. I urge you all to discuss at your own Shabbat tables or in your own synagogues this Shabbat the blessings and curses you see as the result of our communal action or inaction. As a starting point for your discussion and my own, here are ten ways that I believe our actions or inactions can bring about blessings or curses.

1. When we, as a nation or a world community, pollute the air and water of our planet, there are consequences.

2. When we choose to ignore the energy crisis and the abuse of natural resources there are consequences.

3. When we as a community of nations stand idly by while rogue states, such as Iran, acquire nuclear weapons, there will be consequences.

4. When we as American Jews stand silent as campaigns to de-legitimize Israel gain momentum on American college campuses there will be consequences.

5. When we fail to act and when we over-react to overt and covert anti-Semitism there are consequences.

6. When we stand up in support of peace between Palestinians and Israel and urge our government to call upon the Palestinians to join Israel at the peace table there can be good results.

7. When we feed the hungry and house the homeless as so many of our synagogues are doing through Family Promise, here in northern New Jersey, we are using our blessings to ameliorate the curses afflicted upon others.

8. When we each give a little more tzedaka to our synagogues and support the UJA campaign, those who feel cursed as they face personal financial crisis can be blessed through access to communal resources with dignity.

9. When we volunteer in Jewish community sponsored hesed programs such as Bergen Reads, our JCRC literacy initiative, we not only provide a blessing to the child we mentor, but we also bring blessing upon the name of the Jewish community.

10. When we recognize our commonality with our fellow Jews of different religious streams and our fellow Americans of different faith communities or political parties, we help to bring closer the reality of our American pledge of allegiance that we are “One nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”

As we come to the end of another Book of Torah we will all once again rise in our respective synagogues and proclaim: Hazak hazak v nitchazak. Be strong be strong may God give you strength!

May we each find the strength to seek out ways to be a blessing to each other and to others.