Parshat Bechukotai: What Happens When We Break The Covenant

Uploaded by gdashdcast on 07.03.2010

Bechukotai deals with the concepts
of reward and punishment
in a most direct and
at moments shocking fashion.
As Bechukotai begins,
Moses is still on Mount Sinai,
still talking to God about all the things
that have been keeping them busy
in the book of Vayikra
priests, holiness, purity
God starts by telling Moses
that if the people of Israel
keep their covenant and obey the laws
of the Torah,
then they will be rewarded
with peace and tranquility in the land.
But if they defy the divine will,
then they will be punished
with terrible curses.
The Torah speaks briefly about the rewards:
rain in its season, plentiful crops,
and all the good things
that a farming people could ask for
before going on to list
several dozen horrifying punishments,
the likes of which are almost too unseemly
to mention in polite company.
Among the curses are fever, sores,
homicidal wild animals, starvation,
exile from the land, and worst of all,
cannibalism of one's own children.
God ends the list of curses
by foreseeing the people punished
by an exile from the land,
but states that in the midst of this exile,
God's presence will still dwell among them.
And God will remember the covenant
with their ancestors
Abraham and Isaac and Jacob
and will not completely forsake them.
At this point there is an abrupt shift
in the tone of the text.
The rest of Bechukotai
deals with a kind of a taxation code,
enumerating who must bring what
as an offering to the priests.
It seems as if the list of curses
has terrified the Torah herself
and the text must take an abrupt about-face
and delve into the most boring
and prosaic of matters.
But the list of curses still haunts us.
The specificness of the curses
and their lack of connection
to specific crimes
has presented a problem
to interpreters of the Torah
through the ages.
It is hard to imagine what crime
deserves the punishment of a parent
being forced to eat his or her own children.
This last curse is particularly puzzling,
for it seems to directly contradict
another section of the Torah,
the part which that teaches that children
will not be put to death for the crimes
of their parents.
It might seem to a reader of Bechukotai
that we have caught God
in a particularly volatile state of mind.
The Holy One is so consumed with rage
at the future wrongdoings
of the Children of Israel
that God might break
the very same commandments
that the Torah originally set forth.
But as in any conflict
between people who love one other,
the fire of anger is followed
by remembrances of better times
and merciful tenderness is revealed.
By the end of the list of curses,
God has been so utterly emptied of rage
that the mercy hidden behind the punishment
can be revealed.
Staring at the image that the curses conjure
of the Children of Israel brokenhearted
and flailing in the midst of their suffering
opens up a passageway to forgiveness
and to remembering the past love
that God felt for the holy ancestors,
whose merits still act to protect their children.
During these chapters
of the book of Vayikra, or Leviticus,
God has shared much technical knowledge
about holiness, purity, and priesthood.
As we move on, we can look at each other
with pride and say,
Chazak, chazak, ve'nitchazek
be strong, be strong,
and may we be strengthened
Producer: Sarah Lefton
Animation Director: Nick Fox-Gieg
Animation: Colleen MacIsaac
Editorial Director: Matthue Roth
Theme Music: Tim Cosgrove
Written, narrated, performed, and recorded
by Jeremiah Lockwood