This week's double portion, B''har/ B'chukotai includes this famous phrase that appears on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia: "Proclaim LIBERTY Throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants Thereof" (Leviticus 25:10). The bell holds specialy significance for Americans, especially American Jews.
The phrase on the Liberty Bell is just one of the many maxims woven throughout B'har/B'chukotai that promote the establishment of a just society.Another, is Leviticus 25:35: "If your kin, being in straits, come under your authority, and are held by you as though resident aliens, let them live by your side."
Here's one of the few facts I remember from my high school physics class: Because the surface of the earth is curved, the farthest distance a person can see is about four or five miles. Everything beyond that, even with the best telescope, is obscured from view.
Four to five miles! For some people (not me) that's a short, early morning run. Our vision is so limited! Our perspective is so circumscribed. So much lies beyond our horizons at any given moment.
The same is true in our daily lives. So often we become accustomed repeated patterns and habits of mind that help us tread water, but move us no further. We tacitly accept the idea of inexorable fate — it's our lot to struggle, we can't change it. The weight of the present prevents us from imagining alternative futures. We lose sight of alternatives — of a different world beyond our present circumstances — a world just around the corner, beyond the horizon.
Moses appears to fall victim to the same trap in this week's Torah reading, Parashat B'haalot'cha.
From an evolutionary perspective, fear makes a lot of sense. If you're not at least a little scared that a saber-tooth tiger might eat you, you're probably not going to survive long enough to pass on your genes. Aggression, too, is pretty obvious - we want to defend our territory and our precious resources from other people who might take them from us.
So negative emotions, which trigger the "fight or flight" response, are easy to understand. A harder question is why we have positive emotions. What's the role of happiness or play or joy?
Another name for this week's Torah portion is Parashat HaToch'chah — the portion of reproach. It contains a list of curses so terrible that traditionally the Torah reader chants them quickly and in a hushed tone so as not to call attention to them. And no one wants that aliyah! The curses are the punishment for disobedience, and they must have truly struck fear in the hearts of our ancestors.
The curses come just after the promise of blessing — if we follow God's ways. Rain in abundance, good crops, peace, victory, and fertility are all ours if, as the portion begins, ". . . you walk in my statutes and guard my commandments and do them" (Leviticus 26:3). We might mistakenly feel the parashah is about the classic "reward and punishment." But I see it differently. I see it as an apt closing for the Book of Leviticus, which began with a call to relationship — Vayikra — and ends again with a call to relationship. God's message can be interpreted as, "If you are a true partner with Me then our relationship will be healthy, but if you ignore Me, spite Me, hurt Me, and leave Me, how can we possibly go on together?"
The Book of Leviticus, the shortest Book of the Torah, comes to a close in this week's parashah, B'chukotai. While previous chapters in Leviticus painstakingly outline various laws and rituals that are essential to the newly formed Israelite community, the final chapters of Leviticus provide us insight into the relationship our ancestors had with God. As readers, we learn that following God's commandments would result in various blessings for our ancestors, while disobedience would result in harsh punishment. Biblical scholars describe this as retribution — obedience and faithfulness would lead to the promises of land, progeny, and wealth God established with Abraham, while straying away from God's commandments and being unfaithful would "wreak misery" upon the people (Leviticus 26:16).
A few weeks ago, in studying Parashat R'eih, I noted that the Torah gives us a great gift of joy—a command to celebrate with one's entire household—tucked into a long passage replete with
Within the Torah portion Ki Tavo there is a list of blessings and then curses that may fall upon one depending on her or his actions. According to the Torah these are given out by God.
The journey through the Book of Leviticus, which comes to a close this week with the double portion B'har/B'chukotai, is one that prepares the Israelites to dwell in the Land of Israel.
Parashat B'chukotai is the final Torah portion in the Book of Leviticus.
Bob Tornberg, RJE, presents a beautiful image of how we, by choosing life, can become a blessing. Indeed, as Lawrence Kushner1 has taught, the Torah is a mirror.
"As soon as you have crossed the Jordan into the land that Adonai your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones.
The Book of Deuteronomy contains three recurring themes. First, we are reminded repeatedly of the centrality of the tabernacle, which is to be located in Jerusalem.
Most of us are better at getting gifts than giving thanks. The first eleven verses of this week's parashah are a veritable model for the Jewish way of thanksgiving.
On a recent Friday evening, I experienced a delightful Shabbat celebration. My children and I were visiting my brother and his family on our summer vacation.