Monday, May 12, 2014

Well, Bless You Too!

Parshat Bechukotai
Vayikra 26:3 – 27:34
17 Iyar 5774 / May 16 – 17, 2014

Well, Bless You Too!
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

In Parshat Bechukotai we learn about the rewards and punishments for following or abandoning the laws of the Torah. The picture of God that this portion paints is pretty harsh. “Listen to me, or else!” I continue to wonder why God, THE BEING OF ULTIMATE COMPASSION, would be so hell bent on people following all of God’s dictates. If a system is truly based on love, it follows in my own reasoning, that every little and minute detail is not what counts; rather it’s the relationship and closeness that matters. I think we all know pretty well that closeness cannot be mandated. Love has to be nurtured and cherished in order to be maintained and expanded.

While I fully believe in the statement above, I have to be honest. My decision to begin an observant Jewish practice began, in part, when I came across a verse from this portion. Verse 26:19 states the following punishment:

I will make your heaven like iron and your land like copper.

When I read this verse about 11 years ago, I looked at the sky and at the ground and I considered how the culture that I lived in was so obsessed with precious metals. Do we still see the sky and earth anymore, or do they just exist as potential resources or problems of production? My awareness of environmental maladies (drought, famine, ozone depletion) was growing, and I began to wonder if the Biblical curse had indeed manifested.

I also looked at my personal life. I was feeling confused about my life direction and basically down about who I was and the world around me. I felt like I had tried the traditional Western path of “dog eat dog” and found no peace. I decided at this point to try out the path of Torah and see how that would impact my life and the world around me.

It has been 11 years of ebb and flow Jewish practice. At times I feel more in line with Torah Judaism and at times I feel more distant. I continue to stay engaged in Jewish values and a Jewish way of being in the world. Part of my journey is a continuous refinement of how I can authentically live within the story that we call Judaism. Of course, after all the mitzvoth and prayers, the world is still obsessed with making money and there is still political unrest. The world outside of me has certainly not reached perfection, though I certainly have changed for the better.

While my first entry into Jewish practice might have been motivated by a threat and by fear, I am reaching more towards the approach of Love that I expect from this God of ours. We cannot start our spiritual life from the top of the mountain – with a perfect world, perfect self and perfect God. If this were the case, who would need spiritual engagement anyway? Religion does not make bad things disappear; however, I can change my attitude towards harsh reality through my religious  and spiritual involvement.

I tend to adopt the opinion that in the desert, the Jewish people were, in a way, like children. They needed a present and sometimes strict God to tell them what was right and good. In our own lives, we never fully outgrow this phase. There are times, especially in trying times, when it is very helpful to have an exact procedure to follow. And, just as true, as we mature, we need to take more personal ownership of our life path and be allowed to do things our own way and to even make mistakes. The curses and the blessings were probably awesome for Jews in the desert, and are probably helpful for Jews like us, though only sometimes.    

Today, when I look to the heavens, I see the beauty of the clouds and the majesty of the stars. The expansive land that supports me is diverse and naturally breathtaking. May we only need to see the world as a place of blessing and never as a curse.


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