Telephone Torah Study: Is God’s Love Conditional?
Actions and Consequences, Blessings and Curses are the central themes of this week’s Torah portion, B’hukotai (Lev. 26:3-27:34). We’ll discuss this week’s portion on our weekly Telephone Torah Study, Thursday 4-5pm.
‘The Impossible World: How to Restore the World to a Single Divine Reality’ by Cantor Sarah Sager (The Torah: A Women’s Commentary):
There is something profoundly unsettling about B’hukotai. It seems to posit a world that we know, empirically, does not exist. It claims that there is a direct correlation between our actions and the natural order of the universe. Leviticus 26:3-5 promises unambiguously: “If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments, I will grant you rains in their season … you shall eat your fill of bread….” Verses 14-16 warn just as clearly: “But if you do not obey Me and do not observe all these commandments … I will wreak misery upon you ….” The seeming system of reward and punishment that these biblical passages proclaim appears to contradict the troubling reality that we witness, in which good people suffer, and evil people often prosper.
Passages like these seem to provide justification for those who reject both faith and God. How often do we hear, in the face of personal trauma or tragedy, “I can no longer believe in God” or “I can’t believe in a God who would do this”? How are we to understand God’s threats and promises?
Parashat B’chukotai is the final Torah portion in the Book of Leviticus. Here we have learned, perhaps more than we ever wanted to know about the statutes, rules, and details of the work of thekohanim, the priests, and the sacrificial system. In the midst of all this we were also presented with a whole series of inspiring laws in Parashat K’doshim about how we can bring a measure of holiness into our daily lives as we interact with others. In fact, the focus of the much of the Book of Leviticus is considered by commentators and scholars to be “holiness.”
This week’s portion seems qualitatively different than the rest of the book and is divided into two sections, basically by the two chapters. The first section (Leviticus 26:3-46) contains a series of blessings and curses, and is considered to be an epilogue to all of Leviticus. The second section, chapter 27, appears to be somewhat of an afterthought containing supplementary laws about vows, gifts, and dues that seem to have been left out previously. In our examination today, we will focus on the epilogue.
The parashah opens with the following words: “If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments, I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce …” (26:3-4). After being told that the Land will be fruitful if we obey God’s commandments, we further learn in the next 8 verses that there will be peace in the Land, we will be victorious over enemies outside the Land, we will be fertile and multiply, and the Divine Presence will dwell in our midst.
Following this picture of prosperity and tranquility, we read, “But if you do not obey Me and do not observe all these commandments …and you break My covenant, I in turn will do this to you…” (26:14-16). The section continues with 5 subsections of curses that parallel the blessings. The difference, however, is that the curses are described in much greater detail and take up a total of 30 verses (26:14-43) compared with the total eleven verses (26:3-13) of blessings. The penultimate verse in this chapter raises the specter of hope as God promises to ” …remember in their favor the covenant with the ancients, whom I freed from the land of Egypt … ” (26:45). The final verse in this chapter teaches clearly that all of the laws in Torah – including Leviticus – were given at Sinai (26:46).
Torah Passage of the Week:
And I will place My dwelling in your midst, and My Spirit will not reject you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people. I am Adonai your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt from being slaves to them; and I broke the pegs of your yoke and led you upright. (Lev. 26:11-13)