Making sense of the sedra: Bechukotai

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Making sense of the sedra: Bechukotai

God rewards us for good behaviour

Rabbi Ariel Abel is based in Liverpool

This week’s reading, Bechukotai, means ‘statutes’; it traces the direct relationship between Torah and fate. It does not make easy reading. The opening phrases detail what will go right if the people of Israel conduct themselves correctly before God. Many blessings follow for the people, the land upon which they live and its produce. But its also details the terrible times which will come upon the Israelites if they behave callously.

Addressing us in the first person, God cuts a deal. If we abide by his commandments, the rains will fall on time and the produce will arrive safely, season after season. There will be peace in the land, and our enemies will flee from before us. The reverse is also true. If the Israelites repudiate the covenant with their creator, several stages of decline and degeneration ensue. Not only do plague and enemies threaten to overcome; nature refuses to cooperate with efforts to work the land for produce. Pestilence, then war and starvation occur, followed by a horrific holocaust scenario. Thereafter, the abused land is said to recover; in exile people will engage in repentance, even while the sound of a fluttering leaf will strike fear in a ghettoed population. After confessing their sins, God will recall the promise he made to their ancestors and bring his people back home.

The agony of the extended oration, called the “rebuke”, is particularly unbearable considering where Israel –  the people, the nation, the State – is today. Sixteen million Jews are officially declared worldwide, but these do not account for the millions of Israelites who are still keeping a low profile, for fear of being seen emerging. Many Jews and their descendants are still in hiding around the world, due to the lingering fear of the many persecutions throughout history. Africa is another home to millions of Israelite Jews.

We need to invite all those who believe in the God of Israel into one tent and seek justice for the vengeful attacks on our people by uniting in the positive purpose of building for a better future for all the children of Abraham. This is what is expected by Hebrew prophets such as Zephaniah and Isaiah. We need to be unashamed of the Hebrew Bible, its clearly redemptive prophecy of Israel and its policy of settling all those who worship one God in peace and harmony, between the river and the sea.

The state of Israel is the only hope for Jews, and Hamas is the declared threat to the existence of all Jews, anywhere. At this time of year, we express our gratitude for the State of Israel and for Jerusalem, its holy capital, and pray only that peace and harmony visit its gates once more – this time, permanently and for many generations to come.

The final section of Bechukotai details how individual Israelites can donate to the holy sanctuary a value representative of their capacity to work, the value of an animal or the value of a piece of land. Thus, tithing and contributions close the chapter warning us of callous disregard of the Torah. Perhaps this reflects the need for people to ensure that our spiritual and educational leaders are adequately supported by the people and not by fractious interest groups so that our children can look forward to a more moral world.


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