B’chukotei (Leviticus 26:3-27): The Blessing of Individual Responsibility

"Mourning," by Rob Oo, via Flickr.com under Creative Commons 2.0 license
"Mourning," by Rob Oo, via Flickr.com under Creative Commons 2.0 license

Blessings and curse, lots of them, form the basis of this final portion in Leviticus.  Leviticus 26 stands in tradition as a powerful series of verses that, for the most part, outline the bad things that will happen if the Israelites spurn the path outlined in the Covenant forcing God to “act against you with hostility I, will discipline you sevenfold for your sins” (26:28). The Torah God exacts retribution for going astray for generations. Indeed, the Biblical Prophets saw this belief structure at work in the Assyrian and later Babylonian conquests. Destruction was brought about becuase of the actions of the people straying from the Torah true path. This theology raised many questions on the belief that the “sins of the fathers are visited upon the next generations”.  What this also raises for us, is the challenge of what we do, or have done, and how those actions influenced others.

Judaism changed its’ theological position on the idea of responsibility as a result of historical realities. Emerging cenutries ago we saw a shift to individual responsibility.As we get older, we often ask ourselves as to what we do or have done, and how that  has impacted others. Judaism empowers the value of choice, individual choice and the need to understand that we have ultimate responsibility for our life. Plaut ,in his essay on this portion, cites three conclusions that underscore this position. First, he states that “there is no necessary relation between a man’s merits and his fortunes” This echoes, in a way, the idea of the impact of randomness in life, or, Rabbi Kushner’s famous question of why bad things happen to good people. Secondly, Plaut cites the fact ths “the consequences of our conduct can rarely be limited to ourselves” This is another insight in to the passage in Deuteronomy 30:19 which states that we have the power to choose between good and evil and those choices influence others. Our choices do not occur in a vacuum. Finally Plaut says that it may only be in a world like the one in which we live and in which we can never be sure of reward or punishment, that we have the possibility of living an ethical life. “For the ethical decision is the decision to do the right because it is right and not for any advantage.” (“The Torah”. Rabbi Gunther Plaut, ed. p. 956)

What this means, I suggest, is that the power and importance of what and how we choose is of paramount impotance in life and become more important as we age. As the tradition reminds us, we have the power of choice, so choose wisely.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Richard F Address

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