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You Asked for it; You Got it

And I will grant peace in the Land, and you will lie down with no one to frighten [you]; I will remove wild beasts from the Land, and no army will pass through your land; [Leviticus 26:6]

The gauntlet thrown by G-d in the weekly Torah portion of Bechukotai leaves us with a stark choice: We follow His ways, and we are fine. We don’t follow, and then the worst is on its way.

How does G-d’s blessing turn into a curse? It need not come in the form of fire and brimstone. It can emerge within nature: When we love the Almighty, learn Torah and follow its commandments we are in harmony with both the physical and spiritual. G-d makes sure that our Torah study and observance is not disrupted by the weather, wars, famines or the simple need to bring home a paycheck. The physical laws continue: G-d just makes them a lot easier.

And I will place My dwelling in your midst, and My Spirit will not reject you; I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people. [Leviticus 26:11-12]

But when we reject G-d, Easy Street has packed up. A Torah scholar might make do with 5,000 shekel a month; someone who rejects Torah might need double or triple that. The scholar’s family might live in a teeming apartment block, but the people are friendly, helpful, and arguments are settled amiably. The other man could live in a villa outside Tel Aviv and constantly battle his neighbors or the municipality. He’s never at peace.

then I too, will do the same to you; I will order upon you shock, consumption, fever, and diseases that cause hopeless longing and depression. You will sow your seed in vain, and your enemies will eat it. [Leviticus 26:16]

Somebody who learns Torah might never need to shoot a rifle because there is peace in the land. There might be a mini-conflict of three or even six days, but then everyone goes home. The one who rejects G-d might be called every two months or so to man a defenseless position in the south or north or ordered to enter a booby-trapped building. In his free moments, he fears being laid off by his Tel Aviv employer, dependent on foreign investment.

When the Torah cites the blessing of peace, it means peace within Israel. Turn that around, and there will no longer be peace or unity. Jews will not care for each other even as they are forced into exile. They might be on the same train to doom but nobody lends a helping hand. There is no attachment. Think of the animal kingdom, when the zebras are attacked by a lion on the African plains. They run in all directions without even thinking of putting up a fight.

And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you. Your land will be desolate, and your cities will be laid waste. [Leviticus 26:33]

Moses Ben Nachman, known as the Ramban and who lived in Spain in the 13th Century, examines the curses. Those found in Bechukotai represent the fate of the Jews around the destruction of the First Temple some 2,400 years ago. The Israelites were given a spacious kingdom with enough for all. They lost it through internecine war, idolatry, adultery and the belief that the good times would never end. Their prophets were dismissed as fools or knaves.

But the exile lasted only 70 years. G-d, says the Ramban, returned the Jews because of His promise to the patriarchs. But the Jews did not jump for joy. The great majority of them remained in either Babylonia or Egypt. They did not repent for their sins rather under pressure from Daniel merely acknowledged them.

G-d responded in kind. He did not return the 10 lost tribes; the prophets were gone; the new temple contained none of the miracles of the first; the Jews in the Land of Israel stayed under occupation — this time it was Persia.

During the Second Temple, which lasted 420 years, the state of the Jews was different. The Ramban says they kept the commandments and helped the unfortunates. The problem now, the Ramban says, was needless hatred.

The Ramban says the needless hatred consisted of the tolerance by the Jews of their illegitimate leaders. The rulers were not from King David; they were not even Jewish, rather installed by Rome, the new occupier. Many of the Jews pledged loyalty to these usurpers.

This reality of the Second Temple is reflected not in Bechukotai rather amid the curses much later in the weekly portion of Ki Tovo in Deuteronomy. The curse is that G-d will give you to a man who will seize power and impose the false values and practices from a far-off nation. The Ramban says the Second Temple was destroyed when King Agrippas II fled to Rome and urged that its army be sent to save the despised monarch.

…he was not fit to reign and was not allowed to be a king over Israel according to the Torah, but he and his ancestors established a faithless religion over them. [Ramban on Leviticus 26:16]

But even amid the harshest of punishments, there is a ray of light that tells us how to end the pain. And that draws on the lesson from the First Temple. When we repent for our sins, then G-d reshuffles the deck. When we turn away from the occupier, the wicked, the liar and appeal to G-d, our prayers are answered — immediately. Then our redemption is not like that which took place after the Babylonian Exile. It is complete.

I will remember for them the covenant [made with] the ancestors, whom I took out from the land of Egypt before the eyes of the nations, to be a God to them. I am the Lord. [Leviticus 26:45]

About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.
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