You can’t dance at two weddings!

I watched a short video this week where an Israeli woman was warning Norway, one of the many countries that are presently recognizing the Palestinian state and condemning Israel. She was holding two books in her hands; one was entitled the History of the Palestinians with Arabic words on the cover to the effect that first they would kill the Jews and then they would come for the Christians. The other book in her hand was the Holy Bible that she stated, God gave to the people of Israel.  When she leafed through The History of the Palestinians, the pages were blank because, as she said, they do not have a history in the land; they are an invented people. Then she pointed to the Bible which does hold the long history of the ancient people of the land. She was so eloquent and everything she said was true however, like so many others today, she was forgetting the root of the problem. Although it is readily available, most Jews do not read God’s Book, the Torah; very few know our long history explaining why we were chosen and what our role is on this earth. That is why it is so easy to be deceived. I know because I was.

A good friend asked me… how can we know that the Torah is the Truth? In my experience, the Torah stands the test of time.  In my 77 years on this planet, I have searched through so many religions and ideologies which eventually showed themselves to be false. They led me in a direction that held no peace, didn’t satisfy or fill my soul, rather they led me to destroy my life in every area and brought pain to my family. But when I began to read God’s book, something awoke in me and after 35 years, that awakening is only increasing. The miracle in my life is, as our prophet Joel said, that the GOD of the Torah has restored the years that the locust had eaten. That’s why I am driven to share what I have learned and am still learning.

Let’s look at the first chapter of this parashah, Bechukkotai בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י.  It begins with “If you follow My chukkim and faithfully observe My mitzvot I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone; I will give the land respite from vicious beasts, and no sword shall cross your land… your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.” It couldn’t be any clearer.  It doesn’t say that you will need to sign petitions or raise funds for all the organizations that are trying to convince people not to be antisemitic. It does tell us what would happen when we follow and obey His Torah as Leviticus 27 continues “I will be ever present in your midst: I will be your God, and you shall be My people.”  WOW! God is ever-present in our midst…but that doesn’t mean that we won’t have struggles in our lives. Psalms 34: ​20 says: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but GOD saves him out of them all.”  These are what help us grow strong and help us to trust Him.

The chapter continues with what will happen to us when don’t obey, when we reject His Commandments and break our promise that we made to Him at Mt. Sinai – “All that you say we will do.” GOD doesn’t “beat around the bush” or whitewash the consequences. We may think, “I believe in God; I am not disobedient; I’m a good person; I don’t hurt anyone.” All that is fine, but is it enough for GOD or is it the minimum that we can do?

How can we know what God wants us to do? It’s not a secret…He gave us Ten Rules. In a conversation yesterday, a friend told me that her own family spoke about her behind her back and was jealous that she was more successful than they were, breaking the last two commandments. We may not realize it but every time you and I break one of His commandments, we add to the darkness in the world. The good news is that when we acknowledge, ask GOD for forgiveness and rectify what we have He done, we bring in light. We can’t change others;  we can only do the work it takes to change ourselves and that affects others.

In chapter 17:13, the Creator reminds us Who He is: “I יהוה am your God who brought you out from the land of the Egyptians to be their slaves no more, who broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect. “ He tells us to have no other gods. Have we stopped to think about what we rely on more than Him? Who do we trust more than Him?  What keeps us in slavery? These are tough, soul-searching questions that we need to ask ourselves.

In verses 16 -17, GOD lets us know the consequences of our disobedience, “I, in turn, will do this to you: I will wreak misery upon you—consumption and fever, which cause the eyes to grieve and the body to deteriorate; you shall sow your seed to no purpose, for your enemies shall eat it. I will set My face against you: you shall be overpowered by your enemies, and your foes shall dominate you. You shall flee though none pursues.” Do we ever stop to think that perhaps this is why there are so many illnesses that we battle with or why we don’t thrive?

How often do we hear… “let’s hear only good things or we only ask for good health”?  Of course, that’s what we want but what is our part in all this?  This week I heard about a woman who went to her doctor for pain in her knees and he told her that he couldn’t do the surgery unless she lost weight. She was so upset, accused him of “fat-shaming” her and decided to sue him.  Who was the problem here? It is natural within us to want to blame someone else for our problems. The doctor was honest with her but she didn’t want to accept the responsibility for her part. We can never get help until we are willing to look within and admit that we may be part of the problem.

The haftarah portion is from our prophet Jeremiah who constantly warned us of the consequences of our disobedience. He warned us out of his love for Israel, not out of hate. GOD gave us these warnings out of His love for us and His desire to shelter us from evil, not to point a finger and say, “I got you”.

The cycle is like this: Our disobedience to God’s Commandments, followed by foreign oppression when we finally cry out for GOD’s help, then we shamefully acknowledge our guilt, and finally, GOD sends redeemers. How often does this cycle have to be repeated before we learn to trust God?

Every book in the Bible contains this formula and here are just a few examples: Our first captivity into Babylon was due to idolatry and disobedience. E.g., GOD told us to keep the shmittah, the seventh year of rest for the land which we disobeyed for 490 years and were expelled from the land for 70 years until Nehemiah was sent by King Darius to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem in preparation for our return.

Before Haman tried to annihilate all the Jews in ancient Persia, 500 years earlier King Saul had disobeyed God’s command to destroy all the Amalekites. Saul represents all those liberals today who think that they are more humane and cleverer than the Creator.

King Solomon ruled throughout 40 years of peace in Israel. Then he married wives who enticed him to build the “high places” for their gods. These “high places” appear in Leviticus 26:30, “I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense stands, and I will pile your carcasses upon your lifeless fetishes. My soul will loathe you.”  Very harsh warning to those who are called to live by a higher standard. How many of us grew up with these “fetishes” in our homes or at our places of work? How many religious high places to foreign gods have been erected within the land of Israel today?  Do we think that our God doesn’t notice or that all of a sudden, He changed His mind?

Right before the Greek King Antiochus invaded Jerusalem, 1 Maccabees 1 tells us: “It was then that there emerged from Israel a set of renegades who led many people astray, Come, they said, ‘let us ally ourselves with the gentiles surrounding us, for since we separated ourselves from them many misfortunes have overtaken us. This proposal proved acceptable and a number of the people approached the king who authorized them to practice the gentile observances. So, they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem such as the gentiles have, disguised their circumcision and abandoned the holy covenant submitting to gentile rule as willing slaves of impiety.”  How many modern Jews today refuse to circumcise their sons, preferring to follow the ways of the nations?

In the years before Hitler began his plan to annihilate the Jews of Europe, Jews converted to Lutheranism by the thousands to join the higher echelons of society.

 Many American Jews flocked to Eastern religions as part of the hippy counterculture of the 1960s and 70s, and today, India and Thailand are havens for Israelis seeking to explore other cultures and religions. I met many Jewish gurus during my years of seeking spiritual truth.

How many in our own families are no longer interested in following the GOD of our fathers or are converting to other religions? Many acknowledge that they are still Jews but want little to do with the GOD of the Torah.

So, how do we keep from being discouraged and afraid as we see another one of these cycles unfolding before our very eyes? We cannot change the world. That is God’s job. But we can change ourselves. We cannot escape the trials and tribulations that each day brings, but we do have control over our attitudes and choices. When we wake up “feeling” discouraged or afraid of what the future holds, we can read GOD’s Words, we can sing about Him and acknowledge all that He has done for us. We can take an active role by dedicating each day to Him, gratefully performing every task in our agenda, obedient to His still, small voice guiding us to do good and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

GOD saved Noah and his family from the flood when no one else would listen; He pulled Lot out of Sodom even if he was unwilling to leave; He protected the Israelites in Goshen when all the plagues were hitting Egypt, so we can trust that He will protect His faithful remnant today.  As Jeremiah stated in this week’s haftarah portion in 17:7, “Blessed is the man who trusts in GOD, Whose trust is GOD alone. He shall be like a tree planted by waters, sending forth its roots by a stream: It does not sense the coming of heat, Its leaves are ever fresh; It has no care in a year of drought, It does not cease to yield fruit.”

And to all those who are calling out “Death to Israel, death to the Jews, death to America”…know that the GOD of Israel will repay for what you are doing to His People, the Apple of His Eye. Remember what He did to Pharaoh’s Egypt. Our GOD says, “Vengeance is Mine” and He will be like a raging fire and He who fights for His people like a shrieking warrior. But in the end, as our prophet Isaiah says: He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, and never again will they train for war. We can hold onto that hope as we live each day thanking God for all His blessings, His protection and for always making a way for us through the storms of life. As Joshua said, “Choose this day, whom you shall serve and as my grandmother, my Bubby used to say in Yiddish, “ Ihr kent nisht tansten by tsvei chatunut…You can’t dance at two weddings.”  Shema Israel Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad Hear Oh Israel, the LORD is our GOD, the LORD is the only ONE…for all the peoples of the world.

Shabbat Shalom

Peggy Pardo