No one, not even myself, is going to like what I have to say. There very thought is repugnant to us and we resist any consideration of it. Yet, as difficult as it is, we must wrestle with it. That is our heritage, the heritage of Yisrael.
26:33 And you I will scatter among the nations, and I will unsheath the sword against you. Your land shall become a desolation and your cities a ruin.
36:As for those of you who survive, I will cast a faintness into their hearts in the land of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight. Fleeing as though from the sword, they shall fall though none pursues. 37:With no one pursuing, they shall stumble over one another as before the sword. You shall not be able to stand your ground before your enemies, 38: but shall perish among the nations; and the land of your enemies shall consume you. (JPS)
We are a stiff-necked and obstinate people. We couldn't tow the line, and all that Gd said would happen to us happened, and we were dispossed from our inheritance. Once for a few decades, and then for almost two millenia.
In galut, we tried. Scholarship and piety flourished, and we developed and codified a way of life that has lasted until this day. Our obedience and our piety was apparently not yet enough for Gd, and we remained in exile.
Gd gave us a way out, offered us hope:
39: Those of you who survive shall be heartsick over their iniquity in the land of your enemies; more, they shall be heartsick over the iniquities of their fathers; 40: and they shall confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, in that they trespassed against Me, yea, were hostile to Me. 41: When I, in turn, have been hostile to them and have removed them into the land of their enemies, then at last shall their obdurate heart humble itself, and they shall atone for their iniquity. 42: Then will I remember My covenant with Jacob; I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham; and I will remember the land.
But we are an impatient people. Nor very humble. When redemption did not come, we began to open ourselves to societal influences. When enlightenment came to Europe, when the doors of ghettos were flung open, many chose to see this as a substitute redemption. But it was a false hope, in many ways, as the Shoah proved.
27: But if, despite this, you disobey Me and remain hostile to Me, 28: I will act against you in wrathful hostility; I, for My part, will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. 29: You shall eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters. 30: I will destroy your cult places and cut down your incense stands, and I will heap your carcasses upon your lifeless fetishes. I will spurn you. 31: I will lay your cities in ruin and make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not savor your pleasing odors. 32: I will make the land desolate, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled by it. (JPS)
It IS repugnant, it IS troubling to think about it as such, but are we being totally honest if we fail to consider the Shoah as yet another in a series of sevenfold punishments for transgressions?
I sure don't want to believe so, and every fiber of my being rails against the thought. But it is intellectually dishonest to not include this idea in the discourse. Even if, in the end, we reject it. Because, if we are honest with ourselves, even the most pious and observant among us can and do fall short of the mark. Can we honestly say that, as a whole, the Jewish people are doing what Gd has asked them, instructed them, to do?
I am so uncomfortable with this subject that I aver to go on.
44: Yet, even then, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or spurn them so as to destroy them, annulling My covenant with them: for I the Lord am their Gd. 45: I will remember in their favor the covenant with the ancients, whom I freed from the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their Gd: I, the Lord.
These are the words that enable me to wrestle with this troublesome problem and not hate myself for it. The promise is there. When and how it will be fulfilled we cannot know. Some point to Medinat Israel. Still others don't believe that this secular state can truly be Gd's promised redemption. Whichever is the case, I do know this much-we, as a people, continue to think on a human time scale. We have waited almost 2000 years. Whenever we see even the slightest something we can possibly point to as a sign of coming redemption, we latch on to it.
To me, this shows weakness, doubt, and mistrust. Gd will see to it in Gd's own time, whatever that is. We need to stop worrying about when redemption will come, and if it is just around the corner, and start doing those things that our covenant calls on us to do. Do it not for the sake of redemption, for Gd has promised this will come. Perhaps, as some Jews say (and as is even often stated in Talmud) our good acts hasten the redemption. And that is good. But that's not the reason to do them. Stop speculating. Even as I am writing this I am tempted to say "perhaps when we understand that we must do Gd's commandments not for the sake of redemption, perhaps not even for the sake of our covenant with Gd, but simply because this is what Gd has commanded us, then, perhaps, the redemption can come." But I won't say that, because it's incongruent with my point. So let's stop thinking and worrying about redemption, and then maybe...
May you have a Shabbat filled with Mitzvot for their own sake, for Gd's sake, for Israel's sake, for the world's sake. If, in the process, the redemption is hastened, so much the better.
Na'aseh v'nishma. Maybe that's what it means. We'll do it, and then maybe we will hear Eliyahu make his expected announcement.
©2000 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some Other Musings on this parasha
5762 - Tough Love
Behar-Bekhukotai 5761-The Big Book (Bottoming Out Gd's Way)
Bechukotai 5763-Keri Is So
Bekhukotai 5760-Repugnant Realities
Behar 5760-Slaves to Gd
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