Tamarisk tree in the desert by Laya Crust
Parsha: Bechukotai: Leviticus 26:3 – 27: 34
Haftarah: Jeremiah: 16:19 – 17:14
Bechukotai is the last reading in the Book of Leviticus, a book devoted to teaching b’nei Yisrael how to conduct their lives. God sets out clear and detailed guidelines referring to acceptable morals and behaviour. There are directives on everything from marriage, to diet, to respecting the land. After all the rules have been laid we are told what will happen if we don’t follow the laws.
God says that if we follow His laws and observe His commandments “I will grant you rains in their season, so the earth shall yield its produce…I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone…” (26: 4, 26:6). It sounds so idyllic! The earth will be bountiful, noone will bother God’s people, and they will live in peace, harmony and comfort. But wait a minute…God continues with a warning…
“But if you do not obey Me and do not observe all these commandments, if you reject My laws and spurn My rules…I will wreak misery upon you…” (26: 14, 16) God’s warnings don’t stop there . They become harsher and harsher until HaShem says,”I will spurn you. I will lay your cities in ruin and make your sanctuaries desolate… And you I will scatter among the nations, and I will unsheath the sword against you.” (26: 13, 33)
The text is frightening. It is followed by God then telling His people that He will never forget them and will remember His covenant with them. God knows that b’nei Yisrael will return and will once again become strong and bountiful. The desolation is followed by hope.
We see the same idea in the haftarah. Jeremiah begins by telling B’nei Yisrael that their sins are written on their hearts and they will be punished. He says those who depend only on men will be like a tree that grows on parched land in the wilderness. But one who trusts in God will be like a tree planted by the waters which spreads its roots by the river. The tree will flourish even during a drought.
The message of desolation turning to hope exemplifies the Jewish people. Throughout our history Jews have been faced with the most horrifying situations imaginable. Pogroms, the Inquisition, concentration camps and death camps did not destroy the Jewish will to live in the best way under the circumstances. No matter where Jews have been they have set up schools, benevolent societies, and soup kitchens. Even in the most appalling conditions Jews made music for each other. They clandestinely learned Torah and taught it to their children. There is a well known joke that Satan is giving a tour of the depths of hell. When he gets to the seventh level of hell he and his “guest” walk into a verdant garden. “Damned Israelis [aka Jews],” he mutters.”They’ve been irrigating again!”
We have hope and we retain our hope. God knows that human beings have a leaning towards laziness. People don’t like following rules. The rules and mitzvot make the world a better and just place. When we misstep God will wait for us, and we will get back on track.
May we all be like a tree planted by the waters. not afraid of the heat and spreading out our roots to be strong and give sustenance to those who need it.
Have a foliage full, and fruitful week, and a Shabbat shaded by those you love.