Parashat Bechukotai, one of the portions that we read this week, contains the curses and punishments which will be inflicted upon those who do not obey G-d’s commandments.
If in My statutes ye walk, and if my commandments ye keep, and do them: Then will I give you rains in their due season, and the earth shall yield her products, and the tree of the field shall yield its fruit.
(Leviticus 26. 3-4)
I think that one of the most central questions in the Torah is how we read these portions which talk about reward and punishment and particularly about blessings of rain. Rabbi Harold Kushner once said that this statement has a theological and not a meteorological meaning. It can definitely be said that if the people of Israel do not retain some measure of morality, such as that described in the book of Leviticus, they will not survive even if the rains do fall at the correct time.
Although the people of Israel are the target of this Reproach (tochachah), there are various examples in the Torah (like the Flood and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah) which show that this message is just as relevant to the other nations of the world.
The British historian Arnold Toynbee describes in his book “A Study of History” the rise and fall of 21 great ancient civilizations, and proves that the reason for their downfall was an internal and not an external one. Those cultures were destroyed not because of the arrival of an external enemy and a military defeat, but because they themselves had become their own worst enemies. And it was a slow and destructive process.
The modern reader reads this passage: “If in My statutes ye walk…Then will I give you rains in their due season” and might consider this a primitive viewpoint. But even historians are convinced that such a statement was relevant from the outset of human existence until the present: a nation which does not behave righteously is doomed to pay the price.
A few days ago, I received a very nice email describing the difference between wealthy and poor countries in the world. And in fact, our portion also deals with rain blessings, seasonal rains, crop yields and fruits of the trees…
And so, how does one define the difference between wealthy and poor countries?
Poor and rich countries cannot be differentiated in terms of their age. This can be seen if we compare countries like India and Egypt, which are poor despite being in existence for thousands of years, with countries like Australia and New Zealand, which were relatively unknown 150 years ago, yet are thriving and highly developed today.
Perhaps the difference between poor and rich countries lies in the availability of their natural resources? Not so. Japan, for example, has limited, mountainous territories which are totally unsuited to agriculture or cattle farming, but is nevertheless the second largest financial power in the world today.
Switzerland is a similar case in point. The lack of access to the sea has not prevented this country from developing a large navy. It does not grow cocoa, but manufactures the best chocolate in the world. This rather small country somehow manages to raise sheep, and also to plant crops, even though this is limited to the four months of the year which are not cold and wintry. Despite all of these handicaps, the country still produces the best dairy products in Europe. And like Japan, which also lacks natural resources, Switzerland also exports products of a quality which is difficult to compete with.
Intelligence is also not a factor differentiating poor from rich countries. This is proved by all those students who have emigrated from poor countries to wealthier countries and managed to achieve excellence in their fields.
Finally, neither is race a factor which differentiates between poor and rich countries. In Central Europe, North Africa and North America we can observe how the various different ethnic groups actually form the productive power in these countries.
Then what factors do make a difference? It is people’s attitudes which make all the difference. The wealthier and more successful countries all embrace the following values:
1. The primary and basic principle – Morality
2. Order and cleanliness
6. The desire for progress
7. Respect for the rights of others
8. A work ethic
9. An effort to economize
In poor countries, only a minority (almost none) of the population fulfill these basic principles in their daily lives.
The abundant blessings described in our portion are bestowed according to our attitude towards observing the laws of the Torah and following the paths of righteousness. This is the “recipe for wealth” offered by the Torah.