Behar – Bechukotai: Walking upright and unafraid

In our parashah, God vows to enact a series of blessings and curses for the Israelites—blessings if they observe the commandments, and curses if they do not. In her interpretation, Rabbi Lisa Exler explains that the blessings are “curiously framed” by the image of walking.

Walking is, for many of us, our most basic vehicle for navigating the world. Yet we probably don’t put much thought into it. We’re more concerned with where we’re going than how we’re getting there; and unless we’re on a hike, we rarely think of walking as an end in itself, or count it among our blessings. Our biblical passage opens with God stating the condition for receiving these blessings:

Im bechukotai teileichu—If you walk in accordance with My laws and observe and do My commandments.” And the section concludes with God’s promise to walk, in return: “V’hithalachti b’tochechem—And I will walk in your midst, and I will be your God and you will be My people.”

The section of blessings could have ended there, with the final inspiring blessing being one of reciprocal relationship and intimacy between God and the Israelites. But it doesn’t. Instead, it ends with the following verse, a seemingly superfluous description of God’s role in the Exodus, which, significantly, also includes the image of walking:

I am Adonai your God who took you out from the land of Egypt, from being their slaves, and I broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk upright—va’olech etchem komemiyut.

A midrash explains that the word komemiyut, upright—which appears only this once in Torah, means “with a straight spine and unafraid of any creature.” In other words, God reminds the Israelites that they are no longer oppressed slaves living in fear; but rather, dignified people who can stand tall and walk proudly and are free to choose their own paths. The Israelites’ ability to walk upright, which they attained through their experience of the Exodus, was the necessary precondition for the other “walkings” described previously in the text—walking in accordance with God’s laws and God’s reciprocal walking among the people, bestowing upon them the blessings of rain, food, peace and fertility.

May we continue to be blessed to walk upright and to share our blessings with those in need. Wishing you a wonderful Shabbat and a meaningful week.

Rabbi Adrian M Schell

 

Bechukotai and LagBaOmer

The torah portion for this Shabbat is Bechukotai (Lev. 26.3-27.34):

God promises that if Israel will keep the commandments, they will enjoy material prosperity and dwell secure in their homeland. But God also delivers a harsh warning of the exile, persecution and other evils that will befall them if they abandon their covenant with the Eternal. Nevertheless,

Yet, even then, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away; nor will I ever abhor them, to destroy them and to break My covenant with them; for I am the Eternal their God. (Lev 26.44)

This torah portion opens many questions for us, especially how we could understand the biblical idea of punishment and blessings, and how we should understand it today. What we can learn from the description is a better understanding of a messianic time: A time full of blessings – a world in balance. A world where we get enough for what we worked for. A world without shortage of food, and a world where God is in our midst and men walk free and erected. I can find comfort in these lines, because the vision of a messianic age doesn’t appear unreachable to me. This messianic world is not restricted to some gods or supermen residing on the top of a mountain or on the other side of the sea. It is in our hands to start the process, and to fulfill the visions of the torah and the prophets.

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On Sunday we will mark the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer which commenced on the second night of Pesach and will conclude on the 49th day with the festival of Shavuot. The 33rd day is Lag B’omer; the day that tradition holds as a marker in this counting cycle due to the purported lifting of a plague amongst the disciples of Rabbi Akiva in the 2nd century.

Rabbi Michael Shire wrote the following explanation I’d like to share with you:

So the 33rd day is a stop in the on-going counting much like the momentary pause of an old clock as it reaches 12 and prepares to go round again. On our journey from Pesach to Shavuot, from Egypt to Sinai, from slavery to freedom we symbolically walk away from the things that oppress us and towards release of harmful habits, destructive behaviours, self-defeat or our own oppressions. … Peter Senge, the management guru, in his book ‘Presence’ indicates that in order to “let go”, we have to look back and pause on what we have learned from our past experiences. By pausing, we come into a state of ‘presence’ and in that state, we allow something else to “let come”. New insights, new hopes, new ambitions and a new way of looking at the reality around us can be part of this process. …
Counting of the Omer may seem one of those strange anachronistic Jewish folkways but it may just be another way to understand ourselves and our journeys through life arriving at Shavuot in order to let Torah come to us in a new and inspired way.