Tochacha: Cause & Effect

What is the connection between the blessings of Bechukotai and the curses of the tochacha that follow it? Let’s look closely at the blessings. The cause and effect are clear – “Im bechukotai telechu – if you follow my decrees,” then “venatati gishmeichem beitam – I will provide rains in their time” (Lev. 26:3).

Which are the decrees that must be followed? If we look back just a few pesukim, we are told “et shabtotai tishmoru – keep my sabbaths” (Lev. 26:2). We know from Parshat Behar last week that the sabbaths are the sabbaths of the land, the shmita.

Shmita is a description of how to be in the right relationship with the land. For an agricultural society, this was of the utmost importance. Ensuring that the land would be able to produce continually was essential for b’nei yisrael to survive. Hashem told them, if you do your part and take care of the earth, the rains will come in their time.

Unfortunately, the reverse is true as well. If we do not take care of the land, the rains will come out wrong. This is a scientific fact. Global warming is tied to our decisions about how we treat the land. About ¼ of all greenhouse gas emissions are agriculture related, and those greenhouse gasses are causing our planet to warm. If we are not careful to use regenerative agriculture which traps carbon back in healthy soil, the planet will continue to warm. This will directly affect the hydrological cycle. Warmer air can hold more moisture, and when that moisture does eventually converge into a storm system, the rain is more intense. Meanwhile it will take longer for rain to come in drier areas, leading to prolonged drought. We will see the fulfillment of the tochacha: “uzratem l’rik zarachem – you will plant your seeds in vain” (Lev. 26:13).

Now is the time to follow Bechukotai. Now is the time to take action and enter into the right relationship with the land so that we can receive the reward of “gishmeichem beitam – the rains in their proper times.”

Shabbat Shalom.

This essay is part of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’s weekly parsha wisdom. Each week, graduates and students of YCT share their thoughts on the parsha, refracted through the lens of their rabbinates and the people they are serving, with all of us.

About the Author
Eli Weinbach is an experiential educator for the Jewish people, and strives to manifest his love of the environment and Jewish tradition in a deeply connected world. He worked for Hazon for three years, including as JOFEE (Jewish Outdoor, Food, Farming, and Environmental Education) Fellow before transitioning to graduate-level rabbinical and environmental studies. He enjoys pickling and cooking with fake-meat substitutes. He is currently studying at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.
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