Shabbat Shalom!! My portion of B’chukotai contains a list of blessings and a much longer list of curses. Now that the book of Leviticus is ending, with so many laws, the Israelites are learning what the consequences will be for them if they do or do not follow the laws. Let’s simply say that the consequences of not following them are not fun.
But if we look at the commentaries, we see that things are more complicated than they seem. That’s because the curses contain within them the seeds of future blessings. We see this all the time in our world. For instance, big forest fires are very destructive, but the loss of all those trees is necessary in order for new saplings to have enough light peeking in at them to grow.
The portion predicts that Israel will be scattered among the nations. That’s a punishment but not entirely a bad thing. If Jews live everywhere, we can bring our message to people all over the world, and we can also refine our message by learning from other cultures. I’ve seen that first hand. I love to learn about other cultures and am fascinated by different languages. For instance – I am teaching myself Korean. Yes, you heard that right. I got the idea several months back when I was trying to joke with my sister, who was born in South Korea. But then, I just got interested in wanting to understand it, out of interest in the culture.
Thus far I’ve learned the alphabet and numbers and some common words.
(Sarangeo! In English that means “Mazal tov.”) I’ve also learned the four questions in Korean. Wae oh nihl bomb yhin dar reun yun nuh nal bomb dihl gua da ruem nig a?” That means “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Well, it’s different from all other nights because I’m asking this question in Korean!! My feeling is that Americans and Koreans have a lot to teach one another. And I think that’s part of what my portion was getting at.
Another one of the curses has to do with animals. The portion says, “I will let loose wild beasts against you.” It’s not necessarily a curse. In fact, it sounds a lot like what happens when I step through the door of my house. You see, I have ten animals living in my home. Two dogs, two rabbits, two guinea pigs, and three cats. Oh yes, and a fish. Welcome to Noah’s ark! Every day is like a production of Had Gadya, except that no animals are harmed. So what seems like a curse in the portion is actually a blessing. It’s not hard to own ten animals. For the most part, they get along. The dogs and cats basically stay out of each other’s way. The cats like to check on the bunnies and try to jump into the guinea pigs cage to play. They also jump on the fish tank and stick their noses through the little hole – but they never eat the fish.
My Mitzvah project is also animal related and multi cultural. It’s called the Hefer project, which provides animals to people in third world countries. Giving an animal is like giving someone a small business, providing wool, milk, eggs and more. Animal donations can provide families a hand up,
increasing access to medicine, school, food and a sustainable livelihood. You can find out more information about this in my bat mitzvah booklet or on the website. So as I become a bat mitzvah, I hope that for everyone there will be only be blessings to come and if God forbid there are a few curses along the way, I hope that even in misfortune we can all find the seeds of success.
Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Tuesday, June 7, 2016
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Jessica Nirschel on Bechukotai
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