Bechukotai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34) The Anxiety of Curses and Blessings

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This is not an easy Torah portion. Blessings and curses are the fabric of this week’s reading, and the number of verses describing curses outweigh those of the blessings. The verses of curses, known in tradition as the “tochechah”, are traditionally chanted or read in a softer voice. A reading of the portion this Shabbat, taken in light of much of what is happening in the world, may raise some anxiety and concern on several levels. Once again, Torah speaks to the real world.
Commentators note that themes of free will, reward, and punishment flow through this portion. No matter if you take the words literally or as symbolic language, serious moral and ethical challenges await the reader. One comes away from this portion being reminded that what kind of world we wish and what kind of leaders we get are the result of what we choose to do. Our actions, our elections etc, have consequences. In an essay on this portion in the Reform commentary, Rabbi Gunther Plaut (z’l) talks of a type of democratizing of responsibility. In other words, we get the leaders and society that we choose, either by our actions or choosing inaction.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (z’l) in his Essays on Ethics, seems to expand Plaut’s thought when he wrote on this portion. “One of the most profound contributions Torah made to the West is this: that the destiny of nations lies not in the externalities of wealth or power, fate or circumstance, but in moral responsibility—the responsibility for creating and sustaining a society that honours the image of God within each of its citizens, rich and poor, powerful and powerless alike.” (p.211)
So, this portion speaks to us of a society based on moral responsibility. How relevant is this for us today as we witness the shifts both here and in the Middle East. Once again, our texts and tradition call out to us with that fateful choice between blessing and curse, life and death, good and evil. The anxiety that so many feel may, in large part, be based in the age-old challenge of how and what we choose; and once again, the choice is in our hands we finish Leviticus, we are reminded “chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek”…..let us be strong and be strengthened
Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Richard F Address

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