27 Iyar 5776 פרשת בְּחֻקֹּתַי, כ”ז אייר, תשע”ו
With this portion we come to the end of the book of Leviticus. It contains the “blessings” – brachot and what has been known as the “curses” – but our sages call it tokhecha.- תוכחה – which really means warnings. Some Rabbis say that the curses are very heavy and others say they are very light. I personally I like this last explanation since the meaning is closer to “warnings”. Every word in the Torah has a reason and this portion begins with a very short but very significant word “if” – אם (im in Hebrew). This is important because it signifies that our Creator is leaving up to us what comes next. I keep telling you that it is more important for us to have a relationship with the Creator than to be religious. HIs greatest gift to us is that we are made in His likeness and Image and this allows us to make our own decisions. With this comes responsibility for our actions. We cannot blame anyone else for how we live our lives. Our Creator tells us in Leviticus 26:3 “If you walk in My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them...” The word for walk is תֵּלֵכוּ telekhu and refers to the physical act, not just something spiritual. It is not praying about or meditating on it, rather it is to “DO” it. Performance doesn’t mean anything. Our behavior is what counts and especially since people are watching us. It is important to be real, to have only one face. What you see is what you get. We have learned to perform but it doesn’t impress our Creator. He cares about us and He knows our heart, our intentions in relation to how we live. We cannot fool God; we end up only fooling ourselves. Every week someone asks me how they can become a Jew. I ask them why they want to become a Jew? Walking with Him, being Shomer Torah, follower of the instructions of God’s Torah is more important than your desire to be a Jew. This makes us part of the true Israel.
Lev 26:12 says I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people. Most Many people will say “I believe in God” but I wonder how they can say that while they live their lives totally divorced from being obedient to the Words of our Creator. If you believed in Him you wouldn’t do what you are doing.
Verse 13: “I am the Lord, 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.” In other words, we are free people. What does that mean? It means that we do not depend upon anyone for our decisions and that we are responsible for our actions. Slaves can blame their masters but we as free people do not have that option.
Next beginning with verse 14 we read God’s harsh warnings. It is important for us to read them however not to make us feel bad but so that our behavior would improve. For example, not long ago MacDonalds suffered a terrible law suit by someone who had been badly burned by their coffee. They said that they had not been warned about how hot their coffee was. The law rewarded plaintiff who in my eyes was the culprit. Most recently we learn that some politicians are trying to pass a law that if someone is killed with a weapon, the company who manufactured the weapon can be sued. The tobacco companies now have terrible pictures on their packages warning of the dangers of smoking. There are people who have sued the tobacco companies accusing them of being the source of their addiction. This is the society in which we live. We always blame others for our behavior. This is nothing new. Adam blamed the Creator for the woman and Eve blamed the Creator for the snake.
Continuing in verses 41….41 “I in my turn will go against them and bring them into the land of their enemies. Then their uncircumcised hearts will grow humble and then they will accept the punishment for their guilt.42 I shall remember my covenant with Jacob, I shall remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham; and I shall remember the country too. 43 “Abandoned, the country will keep its Sabbaths, as it lies deserted in their absence, and they will have to accept the punishment for their guilt, since they detested my ordinances and rejected my statutes.44 “Yet, in spite of all this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I shall not so utterly reject to annihilate them so as to destroy them completely and break my covenant with them; for I am Adonai their God. 45 I will remember for them the covenant [made with] the ancestors, whom I took out from the land of Egypt before the eyes of the nations, to be a God to them. I am the Lord. 46 These are the statutes, the ordinances, and the laws that the Lord gave between Himself and the children of Israel on Mount Sinai, by the hand of Moses.”
What a beautiful principle our Creator is showing us. Unlike humans, He is faithful to His promises to His own in spite of our actions. You have heard me speak of responsibility and passing the buck. Here we read if they acknowledge their guilt. Religions will tell us that we humans cannot work out our own salvation; that we have no part in it. That is not what the Torah teaches. Contrary to God’s teaching, religions teach that our personal responsibility has been placed upon the shoulders of someone else.
In Deuteronomy 30: 11-15 it is written: “11 ‘For these commandments which I am laying down for you today is neither obscure for you nor beyond your reach.12 It is not in heaven, so that you need to wonder, “Who will go up to heaven for us and bring it down to us, so that we can hear and practice it?”13 Nor is it beyond the seas, so that you need to wonder, “Who will cross the seas for us and bring it back to us, so that we can hear and practice it?”14 No, the word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to put into practice.15 ‘Look, today I am offering you life and prosperity, death and disaster.”
Let me ask you this, would a just God ask us to do something that is impossible for us to do and then blame us for not doing it? Yet there are religions that teach us that it is impossible to keep God’s commandments. They also teach that His Torah is evil and that “someone” got rid of it. The elite of those religions concoct a series of rules and regulations that enslave their people in direct opposition to what God’s commandments were meant to do which was to set us free in order to choose life. These religions however cannot stop everyone from thinking. We have been given the opportunity to choose between life and death. This means here and now. Certain religions only emphasize the afterlife and their followers are in a hurry to get out of this one to attain the next. Why then did God give us life — to enjoy, to be fruitful and to multiply?
The tokhecha are warnings. In Spanish there is a saying, “guerra avisada no mata gente” and in English that would be “forewarned is forearmed”. If we are warned that something wrong is going to happen, we have time to prepare ourselves. We have no excuse and cannot blame others. When we are adults we no longer need to blame our parents for raising us a certain way; we can make new choices for our lives.
Our Creator doesn’t want us to perform; He is not impressed by externals but He looks at our hearts. This is the lesson of this portion. Our Creator spent a lot of time warning us about what was good and not good for us. He gave us freedom to decide whether to follow Him or not, even to believe in Him or not. What kind of God puts a pistol to our heads and forces us to love Him. What kind of marriage would it make if a man forces a woman to marry him? How often as a rabbi have I heard that God punished me? If God warned us not to do something and you did it, was it God who punished you or you simply reaped the consequences of your own actions? The Torah is filled with wonderful principles for us to have life in abundance. If we become religious literalists we miss the point. If we only perform religious acts because other people do it, this is wrong. When you come here to this community, I challenge you to ask questions about what we do and why. Repeating words without understanding mean nothing.
You know the story of King Shaul, the first King of Israel. In 1 Samuel 15:22 Samuel said: Is Adonai pleased by burnt offerings and sacrifices or by obedience to the Lord’s voice? Truly, obedience is better than sacrifice, submissiveness than the fat of rams. Samuel is making a very important point. Many people think that all the liturgy and elements will bring them closer to God but He is really interested in our walk with Him and obedience. That is a true relationship with God. Religiosity takes us away from our Creator because the more religious we are, the more we trust in our own abilities and qualities than placing our trust in God. We lose the capacity to see when we are doing something wrong. We come to believe that we have the only right way to God while our God is telling us that only He can bring us to Him. He looks at our intentions as we humble ourselves before Him.
I love Psalms 139 where it says, search me o God and show me the things that I am not doing right. As a human being, we sometimes don’t know when we are doing things in the wrong way. We need constant self-examination. That is why Adonai tells us at the end of Bechukotai to acknowledge our guilt. Our Creator is not a party pooper but wants us live in abundance and not to destroy ourselves and those around us. When we decide to do something that is harmful to us, for example smoking, and we get sick from it, we not only harm ourselves but we put the obligation upon society to take care of us. Our stubbornness becomes a burden to the system. The AIDS epidemic caused many innocent people to suffer for the guilty because we live in a society that has to be politically and sociologically correct. We were not allowed to say that certain people should not have donated blood. Lately there are many epidemics in the world. In Brazil there is the ZIKA mosquito which causes Microcephaly in new born babies. The Olympic Games are to be held in Brazil but the people are afraid to ask for the games to be postponed or moved since the host country might be insulted. They are warning people to spray themselves but we already see that this disease has arrived here. We keep blaming others and we do not carry responsibility upon our own shoulders. Bechukotai is teaching us that the best way to live is to walk with our Creator and when we deviate off this path, we have the opportunity to return to Him, to acknowledge our wrong-doings, making it right and then enjoying our new relationship with Him.