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Bechukotai 5782

Monday, May 23, 2022

Rabbi Geier


BS"D || Rabbi Geier

Bechukotai 5782

Fifty-five years ago we woke up with the news that our brothers in Medinat Israel were in shelters, the soldiers at the front, the enlisted reservists. The Six-Day War had begun, a war whose consequences changed the face of the Middle East and Israel's place in the concert of nations.

On the 3rd day, one of the most significant events took place on the central front of the entire conflict, when General Mordechai "Mota" Gur's parachute brigade occupied the old city of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount or Esplanade of the Mosques. After the victory, the Israeli government presented in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) proposals that determined the effective unification of Jerusalem. The municipal limits were modified and its area, tripled; at the same time a law was passed allowing free access to holy places for members of all religions—fulfilling the letter of the Declaration of the establishment of the state of Israel, in which all neighboring peoples and religions were invited to live in peace and harmony.

This Shabbat is triply intense. It is previous to Yom Yerushalayim, it is the Shabbat in which we bless the beginning of the month of Sivan and also end the reading of Sefer Vayikra with Parashat Bechukotai.

And just as we celebrate positive emotions, we must regret again innocent deaths in Texas. I rarely talk about politics and this time will be no different. But it is obvious that action must be taken to stop civilian deaths at the hands of unbalanced people who load their souls and their weapons with gratuitous hatred.

Bechukotai, the last section of Vayikra's book, deals with rewards and punishments, precisely. But in this case, to observe the commandments, which cover all levels of the People, starting with their leaders.

What a difficult parashah! If anyone was unsure of the ways of the Kadosh Baruch Hu regarding His reward for our behavior, Bechukotai makes it simple for us. If we comply with the precepts and mandates of God, things will work well. If, instead, we despise them... no.

For the second case, God makes a list of curses or warnings (tochachot) that are so severe and frightening that the tradition in the reading of the Torah says that we must read them quietly and quickly so that even their reading happens in silence, almost inadvertently.

If someone understands this as a kind of reward-punishment system, it would not seem to be very wrong. It seems that if you behave well, then God is with you. If you misbehave, He is not. And although somewhere we want to believe that it works like this, we know that most of the time, the bad guys also do well and the good ones do badly...

Vayikra is a complex Sefer, with endless precepts linked to the priests, sacrifices and the Temple, far away from us. However, it is in this third book of the Torah, specifically, that I find one of the keys to understanding the Jewish vision as to holiness and fullness, represented by the insistence on showing us that the rules and obligations cover the whole people, without exclusions or exceptions. From the most grateful in town to the one who believes that his life is a suffering.

In verse 6, chapter 26 of Vayikra, Adonai tells us that he is going to establish peace in the country and that its inhabitants are going to be able to lie down to sleep without being intimidated, without trembling. “Venatati shalom baaretz ushchavtem veein macharid.” What does it mean, that they will go to bed without flinching?

It is not about the reward or punishment given by a Big Brother who watches everything. God exists and judges us, guides us and protects us. But the world and the management of our lives have been in our hands for a long time. We must be held accountable, it is true. Nonetheless, the worst judge of a person, when judging truthfully, is oneself. Each one of us knows his own miseries and faults. Each one of us knows what he should have done better and couldn't or didn't want to. Each one of us knows what needs to be improved.

When we shake and cannot fall asleep, in general, it is because we know that there is something in which we did not put ALL that we should have to make it work.

On the contrary, when we fulfill our duty as Jews, as human beings, as members of a society, of a Community, of a belonging group, and we do it conscientiously and with dedication, then ushchavtem ve ein macharid. We lie down and don't flinch. Our rest is restful and our life, calmer.

This Shabbat invites us to have serious, intense and deep conversations with our families and friends about the options and choices we make, the consequences, the values ​​we commit to and their impact on others and the world. To go back to talking about how much we get involved in our society, in our Community to achieve basic changes to be able to celebrate more and regret less.

Almost a week before our recommitment to the Kadosh Baruch Hu in the renewal of the millennial pact that constitutes the reception of the Torah, as we finish tomorrow the reading of the last verse of Vayikra, let us proclaim, as prays our millenary tradition: 

"Chazak, chazak venitchazek"—"Let's be strong, let's be strong and together we will be strengthened." 

Not out of fear of divine punishment or any other, but out of the conviction that this strengthening and commitment are the only way to make a change in ourselves, in our Community, in our society.

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