Parasha – Bechukotai

Parasha – Bechukotai
Leviticus 26:3 – 27:34

26:3 to 26:11

If you are good children, follow my laws, and observe my commandments: rains in their season; the earth will yield produce, trees will bear fruit; the land will be peaceful; no one shall trouble you; even beasts will shy away from you; five of you will be able to take on a hundred of your enemies; I will be ever present

26:14 to 26:45

If you are bad children, and disobey me: You can expect consumption and fever; Your enemies will eat the seed you sow; You will flee your enemies, though none pursue

If you still disobey: the skies will become iron, and the earth copper (no rains); the earth will not yield produce, trees will not bear fruit

And if still: I will loose wild beasts against you. They will eat your children, and your cattle.

And if you insist upon being bad: Pestilence

Then: You shall eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters. I will make the land desolate, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled by it.

It goes on, but you get the idea.

Bechukotai means “In my commandments”. The biblical equivalent of “You are lliving in my house, you will obey my rules.” or even better, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.” But it certainly appears G-d is a strong believer in negative reinforcement.

All commentaries I have read say this is a summary of all of Leviticus, and G-d is saying we must follow all of his commandments, or suffer hell on Earth. But I can’t accept this. If G-d expects us to follow his commandments, or else, why set up a system of atonement? The Talmud says there were only four people in the entire Torah who were perfect, and never sinned. (King David’s father, Jesse. King David’s son, Caleb. Joseph’s brother, Benjamin. And Moses’ father, Amram.) So everyone else disobeyed at some point in time.

But I do see a few verses that might suggest otherwise. Since none of the commentaries I’ve read have made this suggestion, I am going to assume that this is somewhat heretical. But as far as I know, some Rabbi did make this suggestion a thousand years ago, but he’s been largely ignored.

This portion follows immediately, of course, last week’s. Last week’s was on letting the land have a year of rest every seven years, and a jubilee every fifty.

Leviticus 26:34-35: Then shall the land make up for its sabbath years throughout the time that it is desolate and you are in the land of your enemies; then shall the land rest and make up for its sabbath years. Throughout the time that it is desolate, it shall observe the rest that it did not observe in your sabbath years while you were dwelling upon it.

When I read this, I ask myself: Why bring this up? If we are summarizing the entire book of Leviticus, with all of its laws, why mention this one specifically? Or…put another way…Why does G-d assume that this law has been disobeyed?

There are 613 commandments. It’s easy to obey a handful, and disobey several hundred. Unless…unless these verses are only applying to the commandments immediately preceeding them.

The rewards for obeying all pertain to the land. Trees bearing fruit, earth yielding produce. Even Peace can be viewed as an extension of this. The punishments are also, to a large extent, agriculture oriented.

Why would this commandment be seen as so important that if we disobey it, G-d would do such horrible things to us?

If asked what the holiest of Jewish holidays is, many gentiles might guess Hannukah, due to its conjunction on the calendar with their holiest. But actually, it’s a very minor holiday. Some might guess Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur, if they knew that these holidays are often called “The High Holy Days”. But even they are overshadowed in importance by another holiday: the Sabbath.

Some might object and say the sabbath comes every week, so it’s not a holiday. But sure it is. Just because the holy-day comes once a week, doesn’t mean its not holy. (And that is the derivation of the word.)

And if G-d’s commandment for us to rest is so important, G-d’s commandment for us to allow His land to rest could logically be seen as even more important.

The only problem with this interpretation is it has generally been declared that this commandment doesn’t need to be followed in the Diaspora, and only applies to Israel. And religious Israelis from what I have read often work around the commandment by pretending to sell their land to a gentile for a year. This almost certainly wouldn’t fool G-d. And I see myself heading on a very dangerous Pat Robertson-like path.

I’m not willing to accept that what I read in the daily news is a punishment from G-d.