- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On May 15, 2020
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, our weekly reflection as we make our way towards Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast HERE.
The curses outnumber the blessings in this week’s double Torah portion, Behar/Behukotai (Leviticus 25:1-27:34.
It might feel like that in our own life right now, too.
In the penultimate section of verses in the book of Leviticus, 13 verses articulate blessing while 30 verses detail curses. Why do we need more curses than blessings?
The 20th century Torah scholar, Nehama Leibowitz puzzled over this potential discrepancy. She cited the commentator, Ibn Ezra, as one of the first to protest against the unfavorable impression created by the Torah portion. (page 284)
The blessings were stated in a general fashion, the curses in detail in order to deter and frighten the hearers.
In the context of the Torah, the focus is on obedience. If one follows and fulfills the commandments, material blessings would bring enough food, security, and peace. God’s presence would rest among the people. If, however, the laws and precepts were spurned and the covenant was broken, a litany of devastation followed. These are hard to hear and difficult to process. In some synagogues, the words are chanted quietly and some people even leave. As one commentator noted, “Just because one does not hear the curses, it does not mean that nothing bad will happen to that person.” (Itturei Torah, 342, Vol II) Not paying attention to or ignoring the potential damage could place someone in more danger. Knowing the curses was meant as a deterrent to bad behavior.
It has seemed that the positive effects of distancing through quarantine and the designated six feet of space between people came to be because of succinct instructions. Stay inside! Flatten the curve! Quarantine! And more recently, Suppress the virus! These statements are quick and to the point. People obeyed, especially in Massachusetts. For many, they brought the blessing of health.
And now, the reward may become the punishment. People thought or assumed that if they followed these rules, they would be released from seclusion. The curses of this illness have had to be detailed in the description of the ferociousness of the virus: its effect on the lungs, on breathing, on other organs, on fevers and on its long lasting debilitating attack on normalcy. Will knowing the impact of the virus be a deterrent to bad behavior? We may not be able to control other people’s conduct, but this we do know. There are blessings to be experienced by obeying the rules. Short and to the point. May they keep us safe and in good health.
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* Tonight, at Qabbalat Shabbat, we celebrate the wonderful engagement of our students. Hear some wonderful stories and experience Shabbat together. Service begins at 6:00 p.m. We can pray together HERE on the Temple Israel website or HERE on Zoom or even HERE on TI’s Facebook page. Or, just find it all on the website www.tisrael.org/TogetherWithTI . We all look forward to sharing Shabbat with you.