B’chukotai (Follow My Laws)

B'chakotaiLeviticus 26:1 to 27:34

As we read the listing of “blessing and curses” this week, we ask: How can this listing apply to a 21st Century world? In addition to providing specific blessings and curses, Torah also tells us why it can apply more today than ever before.

In this, the last parsha of Leviticus, God states that if the people follow the Laws, good things will happen (blessings). If the laws are not followed, bad to very bad things will occur (curses).

However, following the curses, God states that the Eternal’s presence will always be with the people, even in their despair and banishment from the Land of Israel. When the Israelites “confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forebears,” God will remember the covenants made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and will return the people to the Land of Israel.

At firs reading, it is easy to reject this entire concept of reward and punishment by God. In the 21st Century progressive Jews do not believe that God will provide the spring rains if the people follow the Law. They do not see droughts, earthquakes, or wars as acts of God forced on the people for not following God’s Laws. We realize that rains, storms, earthquakes are natural occurrences, not the result of human behavior…. We realize that individual men and women have the choice for good or evil, choices can be made that will benefit the entire community, or a single individual at the expense of the community.

Today, more and more, we realize that mankind is in control of its destiny. Mankind has learned to cure illnesses long considered fatal… mankind has learned to forecast and take protective action against natural disasters… and mankind has learned that it has the choice between war and the death it brings, and discussion and compromise that can result in peace (or in many cases continued distrust; but, without destruction).

So where does God fit in this concept?…… I look back to the beginning of Torah…. God created the world. And actually, the Eternal continues to create plants, animals, and humanity. Torah tells us that in the Garden of Eden, mankind chose to eat from the Tree of Knowledge and learn the difference between good and evil. Whether this was a choice or it was God-given remains a question…. But, on earth, humans are the only animal that has the power to choose between good and evil. All other animals act on instinct.

But, what is “good” and what is “evil?” This can vary between people and between differing cultures. For example… take the charging of interest for loans… What is good – charging 50%, or 25%, or even charging any interest? ….. Or who should be educated – everybody, only males, or only the wealthy. …. Or who should receive welfare from the government/community?

These are all decisions that a community must determine. In Jewish communities, the Torah – both written and oral – helps shape the answers. The Torah establishes what is to be considered good, and what is evil. These Laws are said to be the blueprint for a better world. So, if the community believes the Torah provides the path toward “good,” and if the laws are followed, a better world should result.

Even, if the majority of a community follows the laws leading toward “good,” pleasant outcomes do not always occur. There are natural forces (like weather) and evil people who make choices that harm others.

This is where mankind’s ability to chose fits. An individual or group can choose not to follow the direction of Torah and there will be consequences … these consequences are not God-given. I said earlier, God created – and continues to create the world. After its creation mankind has the task of improving, repairing, or destroying it….. Man can plant and harvest and plant again…..or mankind can harvest and deforest an environment without any concern for the future. …… A choice can be made between pollution and recycling. …. Man can choose to endure endless disease and death or invest in research leading to cures….. The choice is up to the community.

If one believes that the teachings of Torah lead to “good;” then, the concepts presented in this week’s text are basically correct. If we as a community follow the Laws of Torah, good will result. If we chose the opposite, “evil” will result….. Not because, God caused it…. but, because mankind failed to live up to its side of the covenant made at Sinai

So, even though I don’t believe God causes “blessings” and “curses;” I still believe that our community should “CHOOSE LIFE…” then the better world should emerge and become a reality.

…. And, as usual, at the end of each book of Torah we also chose to say … Chazak, Chazak, Venitchazak – from strength to strength we strengthen each other. May we continue to find strength and friendship through our “journey” through the Torah.

Earl Sabes

Good and Evil artwork courtesy of Demetrio Garci Aguilar https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Good_and_Evil_figure_by_Demetrio_Garci%C2%A6%C3%BCa_Aguilar.jpg

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