By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant This week’s Torah Parsha (BO) continues with the story of Exodus. God had already inflicted seven devastating plagues on Egypt, subsequent to the Pharaoh’s...
By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant
This week’s Parsha (BECHUKOTAI) sets out with stunning clarity the terms of Jewish life under the covenant. In the first part, there is an idyllic picture of the blessing of Divine favor. If Israel follows God’s decrees and keeps his commandments, there will be rain; the earth will yield its fruit; the people will flourish; they will have children; and, the Divine Presence will be in their midst (1).
The other side of the equation is terrifying with the curses that will befall the nation, should the Israelites fail to honor their mission as a holy nation:
“But if you will not listen to me and carry out these commandments, I will bring upon you sudden terror; wasting diseases; and, fever that will destroy your sight, and drain away your life. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it. If after all of this, you still will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins, seven times over. I will break down your stubborn pride, and make the sky above you like iron, and the ground beneath you like bronze. I will turn your cities into ruins, and destroy your Sanctuaries. I will waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled. As for those of you, who still live with your enemies, I will make your hearts so fearful, that the sound of a windblown leaf will put you into flight. You will run as though fleeing from the sword, and fall, although no one is actually pursuing you (2).
Read in its entirety, this passage is shattering in its impact, most particularly because so much of it came true at various times of Jewish history.
All of this applied to the Israelites, as long as they were a nation in their own land. But, what when they suffered defeat and exile; and were eventually scattered across the earth? They no longer had any of the conventional lineaments of a nation. They were no longer living in the same place, with the same culture, nor even the same language. Rashi and his family were living in northern Europe, speaking French (3). Maimonides was living in Muslim Egypt, speaking and writing in Arabic (4).
Nor did the Jews share the same fate. Those, in northern Europe were suffering persecution and massacres during the Crusades. The Jews of Spain were being expelled and compelled to wander around the world, as refugees. What possibly constituted them as a single nation?
Parsha (BECHUKOTAI) ends with a momentous hope:
“But despite all else, when they are in enemy territory, I will not reject or despise them. I will never break my covenant with them, because I am the LORD, their God; and, for their sake, I will always remember the covenant with the first generation of Israelites” (5).
Even in their worst hours, according to LEVITICUS, the Jewish people would never be destroyed. This signifies that Jews will still be linked to one another, by the same ties of mutual responsibility. It was the covenant that formed them as a nation; and, bound them to one another, as it bound them to God.
(1) LEVITICUS (26:3-26:6)
(2) LEVITICUS (26:14-36)
(4) Jewish Virtual Library
(5) LEVITICUS (26:44-45)