Always start out with something positive. If we follow Gd's commandments, the sun will shine, the rains will fall, and we will live in prosperity, abundance and peace.
Then the tokhekhah, the rebuke. If we don't follow Gd's mitzvot, an entire litany of disasters is to be visited upon us. And, taken to extreme interpretation, we get the utterly contemptible concept that anything bad that happens to us is because of something bad we did. Tell that to the folks in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Tell that to the victims of terror in Israel. Tell that to the six million.
Last year at this time, I railed against and rejected the idea of a retributive Gd. However, I did, as I often do, work to redeem the text itself. I used the concept of "bottoming out" borrowed from modern theories of addictive behavior, as an explanation for the process described here in the text. I focused on the human side of the situation. Our need to "bottom out" before we can rise and recover in Gd's eyes.
This year, I want to focus on Gd's side of this equation.
Now, I'm a firm believer in consequences. One must be held responsible for one's own actions or inactions, and their results. Seems to me that, in many cases, the consequences of our actions can be sufficient for us to learn the lessons we need to learn. Divine intervention isn't necessary. Is Gd so concerned with the picayune, quotidian activities of our lives that each little transgression, knowing or unknowing, will yield Divine punishment? If that's the case, then why this entire system of sacrifices? (Or is Gd, to whom time is likely meaningless and irrelevant, simply speaking of a time when sacrifices are no longer performed?)
Gd, through Moses, is addressing the community, and it is the community upon whom Gd promises to visit blessings or curses dependent on their adherence to Gd's miztvot. But even this is problematic. Can an entire community be held responsible for the actions of just one of its members? Is one failure sufficient to justify Gd's wrath?
Of course, it is likely that, in any community, each and every individual member has wittingly or unwittingly broken a mitzvah. Gd surely knows this. Would Gd set us up for failure in this manner? Not the Gd of my understanding (of course, that's a dubious concept to begin with, for perhaps "understanding Gd" is an oxymoron?)
I think, perhaps, Gd is practicing "tough love." Once again, another modern pop-psychology idea that is really nothing new. Like co-dependency, anger-management, toxic parents - it's all there in the Torah. Ein hadash takhat hashemesh-nothing new under the sun.
Gd reveals that Gd doesn't really want to punish us. And Gd makes it clear that, in the end, Gd will love us and remain faithful to the covenant, even in the greatest depths of our transgressions, and at the very height of the disasters the Gd says will be caused to befall us because of our (communal) iniquities.
26:44 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 Lrd am their Gd. 26:45 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 Lrd. (JPS)
So Gd is practicing tough love. Yes, the system is somewhat unfair. Gd sets up the rules, the conditions, the rewards and punishments. Gd practically predicts our failure. Yet Gd promises to remain faithful to us. Just as parents who put their children in tough love type programs do.
It's a pretty bizarre idea to think that perhaps Gd looked away during the Shoah as an act of tough love, so this metaphor isn't entirely successful in explaining things, but it's a start. And, for me, a far better start than assuming that even the most righteous among us suffer the retribution of a Gd passionately consumed with their every little iniquity.
Tough love hurts-for both the parent and the child. "This hurts me as much (or more) as it hurts you" can be a truism. Yet the kind of hurt matters. Beating a child no longer seems appropriate-perhaps it never was. So how can we justify Gd literally beating us up as punishment? Do we and Gd play by the same rules? Must Gd play by our rules? Even Dr. Spock changed his philosophies on child-rearing over time. Could we be all wrong-could the bad that happens to us really be Divine retribution for our sins?
These are the question I leave us all to ponder this Shabbat.
Khazak, Khazak, v'nitkhazek.
©2002 by Adrian A. Durlester
Behar-Bekhukotai 5761 - The Big Book (or Bottoming Out Gd's Way)
Behar 5760-Slaves to Gd
Bekhukotai 5760-Repugnant Realities
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