May 28, 2005 – 19 Iyar 5765
Parashat Bechukotai has often been called the portion of the “blessings” and the “curses.” I have spoken about it in these terms as well. Indeed, the first 10 verses contain the wonderful promises that our God has in store for us if we keep His commandments and walk in His way. The nearly 30 verses that follow depict the horrible, despicable events that would befall us if we don’t. But at the end of Chapter 26, we are left with hope.
Let’s look a little closer at what I believe God is doing here:
First of all, we hear: “If you walk in my statutes and keep my commandments…”
And what are these commandments? We have to go back to the beginning of Ch. 26, which is the last short paragraph of the preceding Parasha, Behar, in which God tells us
1) to not make or bow to idols or graven images
2) to hallow Shabbatot
3) to keep the sanctuary sacred
4) I am the Lord your God.
Only two verses! That’s all! Not difficult commandments at all!! And if we adhere to them, according to the second 10 verses of this week’s Parasha (the continuation of Ch. 26), God will provide us with everything we need, including the precious gift of peace. We will be fruitful and multiply. We will have a covenant with Him, AND He will walk with us! He will be our God, and we will be His people – l’am (forever)! If you ask me, life doesn’t get any better than that!! And all we have to do is follow three simple rules: We don’t make idols or graven images; we hallow Shabbatot and keep the sanctuary holy.
Next follow a litany of horrific consequences we will face if we choose not to obey God’s commandments. In essence, all the blessings alluded to in the verses 3-13 are reversed: our labors will be for naught, our children will be eaten by wild animals, we will have no peace, our enemies will take over our lands, we will be scattered to dwell among our enemies, who will destroy us. And, God will not be walking with us, rather against us. This section contains graphic descriptions of unimaginable horrors; I have a hard time with it every time I read it.
However, our God is so, so merciful, for beginning in the 2nd half of verse 41 and continuing until the end of the chapter, He says that if we become humble and if we repent, then He will not destroy us “utterly” but remember the covenants He made with each of our forefathers, including the land promised to His people. He will also remember the promise He made when He led our people out of Egypt that He would be our God.
Over the centuries we must have strayed from these simple rules because history has shown that our people suffered so much of the devastation and destruction alluded to in this Parasha, maybe not word for word, but certainly as horrible: exiles, the Inquisition, pogroms, the Holocaust, to name a few.
But, God is merciful, because, just as He said, a remnant of our people remained and reclaimed the Land of Israel , the land promised to our forefathers. Even though these years since 1948 have been difficult with more death and destruction, we are in the land that was promised to us. And we will stay there. Although many of us are still in exile, we no longer need to be! Now, for the first time, even the peace spoken of in the beginning of Bechukotai seems attainable in our land.
I don’t know of Jews who make or bow down to idols or graven stone images. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Maybe that commandment is close to becoming a “done deal.” Hallowing Shabbat and keeping God’s sanctuary holy still need some work. We have made strides, even here in our little Kona community. I believe that we will continue to strive to honor these commandments more and more fully because God’s promise that He will walk with us, that He will be our God, and we will be His people forever is just too great of an opportunity to let slip away.