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“Blessing Over Curses,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

May 31, 2024 | 23 Iyyar 5784

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

Leviticus comes to an end in a curious way. Leviticus began with ritual and all the details associated with it. The names of the sacrifices, the method of slaughter, the amount of time on the altar and where the blood gets sprinkled are some the particulars unfamiliar to our present day senses. Yet, they had a purpose to the ancients: draw closer to the divine.

Doing it all correctly had great significance for the priests, namely Aaron’s sons, who offered alien fire and paid with their lives. With the dedication of the sacred rites and the ordination of the priests in their specified attire, Leviticus then turned to holiness with regard to behavior, relationships, and time.

Then Leviticus brings us back up to the mountain with last week’s portion entitled, “Behar.” Though in the weeds of ritual and liturgy and holiness, we cannot forget from whence the instruction came: the mountain called Sinai.

But this week and with the end of Leviticus, we receive a crucial message before we enter the wilderness in the book of Numbers.

Find joy in our blessings even when they are far fewer than the curses.

In the second to last chapter, only 11 verses speak of the benefits of observing and following the commandments from which many stated blessings will flow. The rest of the chapter is dedicated to what is called the Reproach. 33 verses delineate a very troubled existence. Three verses of curses for every blessing.

The commentators speak of quality over quantity. The focus is what will go right. It is a beautiful motivational directive to seek the “carrot over the stick.” Here they are. I’ll let you decide how to count your blessings with these from Leviticus 26: 3-13

  1. If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments,
  2. I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit.
  3. Your threshing shall overtake the vintage, and your vintage shall overtake the sowing; you shall eat your fill of bread and dwell securely in your land.
  4. I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone; I will give the land respite from vicious beasts, and no sword shall cross your land.
  5. You shall give chase to your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword.
  6. Five of you shall give chase to a hundred, and a hundred of you shall give chase to ten thousand; your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.
  7. I will look with favor upon you, and make you fertile and multiply you; and I will maintain My covenant with you.
  8. You shall eat old grain long stored, and you shall have to clear out the old to make room for the new.
  9. I will establish My abode in your midst, and I will not spurn you.
  10. I will be ever present in your midst: I will be your God, and you shall be My people.
  11. I the ETERNAL am your God, who brought you out from the land of the Egyptians to be their slaves no more, who broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk upright.

Some may seem like a distant dream of blessing while others may be accessible by our own desire to make them so. Whichever you choose and whatever you decide, the promise of blessing resides in each of us.

As we end the book of Leviticus, we also have this blessing:
Be strong. Be strong and let us be strong together. Hazak, Hazak v’nitHaZeK. חזק חזק ונתחזק

So may it be.

Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום

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Rabbi Elaine Zecher