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May 18, 1984 - Image 32

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-05-18

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• •


32 - Friday; May - 18, 1984


- 1- rrrr71-1






Parashat Behukotai

Blessing and curse

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"If you walk in my laws that 100 will defeat 10,000
and keep my command- enemies, the land will be
ments and do them, then I free of wild beasts, and God
will give you . . ." (Leviticus will walk in the midst of the
dwellings of children of Is-
The last parasha of the rael.
book Leviticus begins with
But should Israel refuse
this simple contractual to hear God and follow his
formula, familiar by now commandments, plagues
from several samples in will swiftly come together
Exodus and Leviticus. Ver- with barrenness of the land,
ses of conditional promise wild animals, invasion and
and threat, blessing and defeat, famine to the point
curse, sum up sections of the of parents devouring chil-
Law, exhorting Israel to ob- dren, and destruction of the
serve the preceding com- land ending in exile.
mandments. Commentators
The early Midrash on
have viewed our parasha as Leviticus, the Sifra, elabo-
concluding as small a sec- rated the blessing, "The
tion as the mitzvot of the land shall yield its produce
Sabbatical year and the and the trees of the field
Jubilee found in last week's shall yield their fruit"
sedra, and as large a section (Leviticus 26:4): "Not the
as all the commandments way it is now, but rather as
given at Mt. Sinai. The lat- it was at the time of Adam
ter view is supported by the . . . the land will be sown
last line of chapter 26:
and will bear fruit on the
These are the statutes and
judgments and laws which
God made between himself
and the children of Israel at
Mt. Sinai by the hand of
Convincing Israel to ob-
serve the statutes, judg-
ments and laws given at Mt.
Sinai was no small task.
After all, if the events of the
Exodus, the splitting of the
Sea, and the revelation at
Sinai didn't convince them,
what other inducement re- same day . . . Not only will
the fruit be eaten, but the
The readings Mishpatim tree itself will be edible!"
and Kedoshim, the two cen- The Sifra goes on to record
tral legal sections of Exodus that wild beasts will be wild
and Leviticus, respectively, no more, men shall not only
both concluded with exhor- have abundance, but they
tations. However, in com- will be satisfied with mor-
parison with our parasha, sels, etc.
What do such exagger-
the promises there are not
as thrilling and the threats ated descriptions tell us?
are less explicit. For in- Some traditional commen-
stance, Exodus 23:20-23, tators such as Abravanel
which concludes Mis- were embarrassed by these
hpatim, promises God's materialistic promises.
blessing of bread and water, They were troubled with the
health, long life and con- question of why the
quest of the Land of Israel, blessings were not of a more
and simply warns that serv- spiritual nature.
ing other gods would be a Nachmanides, free of Ab-
ravanel's- discomfort, un-
snare for Israel.
At the end of Kedoshim derstood the parasha to
(Leviticus 20), the warning promise that "the Land of
is made somewhat stronger, Israel, at the time when the
advising • adherence to the mitzvot are observed, will
Torah lest the land "vomit be like the world was before
out" Israel as it had its prior Adam's sin."
The world of the Garden
inhabitants. These sections
barely anticipate the deluge of Eden and world of Be-
of blessing and the horrible hukotai are linked by a.
curses presented to Israel in phrase which may have
this week's reading, Be- been the starting point of
hukotai: if the mitzvot are the Sifra's hyperbole. Ve-
observed, not only will the hithalachti B'tochechem
land be bountiful to the says God in Behukotai
point of overflow and peace (26:12) — an unusual con-
be insured, but Israel will struction of the verb "to
have such military success walk" meaning I will walk
among you — as the ulti-
mate blessing. The only
David Nelson, a Jewish
other prior place in the
educator, lives in
Torah in which this verb
Jerusalem where he studies
appears with God as its sub-
ject is in the story of the



Garden of Eden. There we
read of God walking
(Mithalech) in the breeze l e-
the day (Genesis 3:8).

Human life in the garden
was distinguished by the
total harmony of man and
nature flowing from the
closeness of man and the
Creator, who walked
through the garden, as it
were, together with Adam
and Eve. Therefore, it is not
material wealth per se that
our parasha envisages in its
promise of restored Eden-
in-Israel. It is rather the
prospect of God "walking"
among those who follow His
laws. Bounty and prosperity
simply accompany the new
terms of human existence.
While the specific
blessings culminate in the
vision of Divine-human
closeness, the curses
threaten alienation of man
and finally, exile. The oppo-
site of God's presence is not
described as the eclipse of
God, but rather as the exile
of Israel from its land,
which clearly includes the
former. Likewise, the an-
tithesis of exile is not only
settlement in Israel, but
rather the walking of God
among the people of Israel
residing in their land.
The vision of life with God
in our midst and the curse of
exile is one of the central
themes of the Torah. Why
did the Torah delay until
the end of Leviticus to re-
veal this vision, when sec-
tions of blessing and curse
already appeared in both
Exodus and Leviticus?
A fully developed formula
of blessing and curse did not
follow the first sections of
Sinaitic revelation and
legislation because Israel
was simply not ready to
understand such blessings
and curses. How can man
comprehend the prospect of
a life of closeness to God
such as has not been known
since Adam's day? It was
not enough for Israel to
know that they stood once at
the foot of Mt. Sinai and re-
ceived God's word. The life
offered by the Torah is one
of continual relationship or
God with man.
The vehicle of that rela-
tionship was the Mishkan
(tabernacle), triumphantly
erected in the last chapter of
Exodus. The Mishkan
brought the "glory of the
Lord" (Exodus 40:35) into
the midst of the Israelite
camp on an ongoing basis.
The book of Leviticus
laboriously spells out the
ritual and moral require-
ments for the creation of an
environment in which the
Divine Presence could re-
main. The functioning Mis-


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