A Look at Parashat Bechukotai

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פרשת בחקתי

ויקרא Leviticus 26:3 to 27:34

Note: In regular years, Parashat Bechukotai and the previous parashah, Behar are read on a single Shabbat. During a leap year in the Hebrew calendar (two months of Adar), the parashot are read separately, Behar one Shabbat and Bechukotai on the subsequent Shabbat.

Chapter 26 – The blessings for obedience (Verses 3 through 13)

Gd promises that if we observe the laws and commandments, life will be good. The rains will come, the agricultural yield will be plentiful, we will be fruitful, and multiply, and any enemy invader will be soundly routed without too much trouble. Gd will reside in our midst.

The curses for disobedience (Verses 14 through 38)

BUT, if we do not observe the commandments, we will be in deep trouble, big time! The following descriptive set of verses is not for the faint of heart!

Plaut notes that this section has close parallels with the formats of treaties that Hittite and Assyrian rulers concluded with vassal kings of subjugated peoples.

Of course, we know that a simple (פשט) reading of this section presents a superficial theology; a direct correlation between good deeds and reward, bad deeds and punishment. Basically, we know that this is not how the world works, not on a personal level, and not on a national level. Some modern commentators have interpreted this section as pointing out that there is an interrelation between the moral order of the universe and the natural order. It may not be one to one “cause and direct effect” or quid pro quo, but it is there, at least on the macro or communal level. On the individual level, bad things can still happen to good people, and good things can still happen to bad people. On the macro level, by way of example, our individual “sins”, such as carbon emissions or consumption of single use plastics collectively contribute to climate change and environmental degradation.

But there is always hope (Verses 39 through 46)

But, for the surviving remnant, there is hope of redemption.  If they acknowledge their guilt and truly repent, all is not lost as Gd will remember his covenant.

Of course, history has shown, especially in the aftermath of the Holocaust, that the receipt of earthly rewards and punishments does not appear to fit such a neat pattern. One rationalization among believers is that just rewards or punishments will be meted out in the world to come although this is not a theme of the Torah.

Chapter 27 – Vows made by man to Gd (Verses 1 through 8)

This section deals with vows (נדרים) made by man to Gd, presumably to be dedicated to the upkeep of the Temple, although the section does not explicitly say so. Value of the vow, in shekels, is in accordance with age group and sex (male vow is up to twice that of a female). If these sums are beyond his or her means, the priest shall make a reasonable assessment.

Vows of property (Verses 9 through 27)

Rules for vows of property (animals, house, or land holding). Should the donor change his mind and wish to redeem his contributed property, he can do so by paying its value and an additional one fifth of the assessed value.

Property dedicated to Gd (Verses 28 through 34)

No property, whether man (is the intention to a slave?), animal, or property (intention is real estate) that is dedicated (חרם) to Gd can be redeemed.  So be careful before you dedicate! No buyer’s remorse here! What is the difference between items dedicated in these verses and in verses 9 to 27 above?

Note verse 29: Any man who is dedicated cannot be ransomed. He is to be killed. What is going on here? Some Rabbinic sources translate חרם here as condemned. Whereas in verse 22 חרם  is translated as consecrated or dedicated.  In other words, a person who has been sentenced to death for his crimes cannot be ransomed.

At the completion of the reading of any of the books of the Torah, it is customary to recite:

חזק, חזק, ונתחזק

(Be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened)

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