Torah Portion: B’chukkotai(By My Statutes) (Leviticus) Vayikra 26-27
Haftorah Reading: Jeremiah 16:19-17:14
In this Torah portion we are immediately struck by the blessings for obeying G-d’s Word, followed by the curses for not following His Word. We are presented with verses that seem to say there is a physical reward for obedience and physical punishment for disobedience. Is that the point of what we read? Maybe on some level it is true however, we all know godly people who do not seem to enjoy the blessings mentioned and on the other hand, ungodly people who seem to flourish. So how are we to solve this riddle?
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks made a statement that might get us on our way. He said, “There are people who spend months in planning a holiday but not even a single day planning a life. They simply let it happen.” Keep this in mind as we search for G-d’s point in these verses.
First let us look at the rewards mentioned. Do these verses talk about living by G-d’s word? Do we live our lives by the Word for the reward? If so, I believe we miss the point. In a way if we look at the rewards in total they remind us somewhat of the Garden of Eden. The rewards give us a picture of perfection, no wants, no fears, we sleep without fearing tomorrow. On the other hand the curses, in many ways, give us a picture of a world with no concept of G-d. By the same reasoning we who look forward to the Messiah’s return, can see the rewards as a picture of the time of His return. What did Eden have in common with the Messiah’s return? According to Isaiah 11:9, Habakkuk 2:14, Zechariah 14:9 and the New Testament the common thread in both is perfection. Perfection brought by the presence of G-d. Think of Eden before the fall. Everything, both spiritual and physical was perfect. There was no division between the physical and spiritual. Adam and Eve walked with G-d. They spoke face to face. How was this possible? There was no sin yet in the world. Once they sinned, they were expelled, not to have that kind of face to face relationship with G-d again. Before the fall, their only focus was to know G-d more and more each day. After the fall G-d was concealed by the things of the world, sin.
In this first verse of our portion there is a word that may help us see the real point here -the real meaning. The word is Chukat, which here is translated as statutes. Another meaning for the same word is engraved. So this verse could be saying if we are engraved by the word of G-d it molds us, it shapes us. When this is a reality in our lives then we live our lives concerned with only one thing – knowing G-d deeper and deeper. What happens as we know G-d deeper and deeper each day? What drives us each day? It is the knowledge of Him. As we grow in this relationship the barrier between the physical and spiritual world becomes less and less. G-d becomes more and more who we are as we grow closer to Him. We will see Him in everything, and I mean everything. I think this is the message here. This can be in all of our lives. This helps us understand Shaul in Phil. 4:11 when he says he has learned to be content in whatever his situation is. The physical has become less important for him. Not that food, clothing and those things are not needed but they do not occupy our existence. Our lives are to be about Him. Life is seeing G-d everywhere, all around us, in us, moving us in our every action. Contentment comes from being with Him, seeing our life through His eyes. As it says in the Ethics of the Fathers, “If you have learned much Torah do not ascribe special merit to yourself because it was for this reason you were created.”
I heard a story about some Jewish prisoners who were in the Gulag or Russian prison that is a good example for us. Some were in prison for over 20 years, suffering, starving and being tortured yet when they were released they were not broken or defeated individuals. When asked about their experiences they responded that they lived each day with one question, “How do I serve G-d in what I am experiencing today?” No matter how bad the situation became they focused on serving G-d in that moment. Their life was not fragmented. They saw G-d everywhere. Our question should be, “How do I serve you Father, what do I do with where I am today? It is all about you.”