Some years ago, when I first starting writing these Random Musings, before I was a student at Vanderbilt Divinity School, and came to a both a better understanding of Christianity and Judaism, I wrote a short thought piece of Bekhukotai. Though I was tempted to re-write the piece in light of all that I have learned since I wrote it, I thought it might be interesting to leave it as written, and perhaps add some comments at the end.
"Whoa!" I thought to myself as I read and reread Bekhukotai. Now some of it makes sense. Christianity has often baffled me. What was so wrong with Judaism that Paul and others had to fashion a whole new theology?
In Bekhukotai, Gd tells up what will happen if we follow the commandments, and what will happen if we don't. Still, in the end, there is a built in forgiveness for our continuing obstinance - Gd telling us that the covenant will not be abrogated, at least on Gd's part. But the forgiveness only comes after all the suffering we have endured because of our failure to keep the holy commandments.
Perhaps Paul and his ilk were looking for a shortcut? You can have the forgiveness now - you don't have to suffer. It's just too easy. Although Bekhukotai is a hard parashat for a modern liberal free thinking Jew like myself to come to terms with, I find it easier to identify with its model of forgiveness of sins after one has had to deal with the consequences of one's choice to not follow the mitzvot, as opposed to the "forgiveness first" Christian theology (which I realize I am way oversimplifying, but please allow me the liberty.) Forgive me before I sin, and what is there to restrain me from sinning? Forgive me after I have suffered the consequences of my choices, and I have to think a little harder about sinning in the first place.
Yes-I want Gd to love me. But I also want Gd to care enough about my personal growth that I am allowed to learn through making mistakes.
Some might argue "what's the difference?" In either case, you know Gd will forgive you-the end result is the same. Is it?
Leviticus 26:39 The few of you who survive in your enemies' lands will [realize that] your survival is threatened as a result of your nonobservance. [These few] will also [realize] that their survival has been threatened because of the nonobservance of their fathers.
Now, we can get into a really deep philosophical spiral here, if we start wondering about a Gd who punishes us for wrong actions. Let's not go there today. (It's not a trip I particularly enjoy at any time, but it cant be avoided forever.) Let's just take the words at their face value - and recognize the gift the Am Yisrael has been given in forgiveness after consequences, rather than before.
Comments from 2005: My understanding of both Jewish and Christian views towards sin and Gd's forgiveness have certainly changed from 8 years ago. The comparison I offer is not only overly simplistic, but also not a representative characterization of the diversity of views on these topics within Christianity (and you thought Judaism was full of internal contradictions and inter-movemental strife?) There are certainly Christians that take this somewhat simplistic view (and take advantage of it) and there remains a broad range of views on these topics in Judaism as well. Yet rabbis and ministers everywhere are working hard each and every day to counter the overly simplistic, dogmatic and misunderstanding views of their congregants.
I still maintain that there is some fundamental difference in how Gd's forgiveness is ultimately realized in Jewish and Christian understandings. And, for me, the "Jewish way" if there can be said to be such a thing, is the one that resonates for me. It still feels a little "harder" and more insistent on consequences and personal/communal responsibility. In fact, is it this very communal dimension that I believe truly separates the Jewish understanding from our co-religionists. (Though it can be easily argued that "catholic with a small c" Christianity is no less communal than Judaism, and that Judaism, too, has its own understandings of "personal relationships" with Gd. Different sides of the same coin? Who knows? I've often felt that Gd allows multiple human religions to exist because Gd understands different learning styles and the concept of differentiated education, and this multiplicity of religions allows each person to find the method that works best for them.)
And with that interesting thought, I bid you Shalom for this week.
Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek
A sweet Shabbat to you all.
©1997, 2005 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some previous musings on the same parasha:
Bechukotai 5763-Keri Is
Bekhukotai 5760-Repugnant Realities
Behar 5760-Slaves to Gd
5764 - The Price of Walls
Behar-Bekhukotai 5762 - Tough Love
Behar-Bekhukotai 5761-The Big Book (Bottoming Out Gd's Way)
Email Me A Comment!