Bechukotai describes the blessings that await Israel if they follow God’s word, and the curses that await if they do not.
Bechukotai - Sybil Sheridan
Sybil Sheridan is Rabbi of the Wimbledon and District Synagogue.
The opening passages of Bechukotai sum up the case for God's providence. What happens to us materially and politically is in God's gift. The land is fertile, not because of our hard work, but because God provides the climate in which crops can prosper or fail. Israel prevails against her enemies, - not because of any great prowess, but because God chose Israel, freed Israel and loves Israel.
The second paragraph of the Shema reflects something of these opening verses:
"And it shall be, that if you listen carefully to the commandments I command you today.... then I will give you the rain of your land in its due season..." (Deuteronomy 11:13).
In past Reform siddurim, alternative readings were printed along with this passage, demonstrating an unease amongst many worshippers to say words they felt untrue; the prevailing opinion then being that there is no connection between our ethical actions and the fertility of the land. The new Reform siddur published this month places the Shema in its entirety without alternatives, showing the change in attitude that has come from our increased ecological awareness. We see now that our moral behaviour does indeed affect prosperity. The disasters that face the people of Burma and of China may well be natural ones over which we have no control, but we witness all too clearly how human activity and inactivity is responsible for the extent of the damage and the suffering.
Last week's parashah gave details of how we should treat the land of Israel; giving it rest in the sabbatical year. It also gave instructions how we should treat the poor amongst us showing a social and political blueprint for success. This week we find a graphic description of what will happen should we fail; a grim picture of destitution, torment and expulsion. We are shown that though God loves us, God loves the land even more. If we fail to respect it and its inhabitants, in a contest between the two, it is we, not the land who would be the loser.
Another Voice - Charles Darwish
The Sedra Bechukotai begins "If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them, I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit."
When I read this I ask myself why does Hashem ask us to comply with so many intricate commandments? Chapter 21 of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince helps me understand why:
"What does that mean-- 'tame'?' asked the Little Prince
'It is an act too often neglected,' said the fox. It means to establish ties.'
'To establish ties'?'
'Just that,' said the fox. 'To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world...'
In this way, the commandments enable us to establish spiritual ties to G-d and G-d to establish ties to us, giving us an opportunity to feel a unique connection to G-d.