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  Behar-Bechukotai   22 Iyar 5780    Bet Shalom Zoom Service    

05/16/2020 11:32:24 AM


Irene Stern Friedman


This week we read a double Torah portion, Behar-Bechukotai. These two parshiot end of the book of Vayikra. 


Parshat Behar focuses on letting the land rest. We learn about the return of land during the 50th year and the cycle of workers and loans. This law makes us aware that G-d, not people, rules over Earth. This year the world gave the earth several weeks of rest from our normal machinations and the air is cleaner. The end of the Haftarah indicates healing comes from G-d. Science plays a role, but healing requires G-d’s blessing. 


In Parshat Bechukotai we read about the blessings G-d will bestow upon us in exchange for following the laws of the Torah and the curses that will come if we don’t. Tied up in both of these narratives is the idea of security – both financial and physical.  This sounds appropriate right now.


The seventh-year is the great equalizer. Wealthy or poor, young or old, in the 7th year, as in Coronavirus time, all are to live expecting the unexpected and hoping that we won’t starve or die. 


I like to plan ahead and now we cannot do that. The Torah this week reminds us that knowing isn’t always possible. The best we can do is manage our expectations and learn to work within the circumstances we’re given.  We buy what the supermarket or Amazon has for sale even if it is not our first choice or what we planned on using. 


Tractate M’nachot of the Talmud says that, according to Rav, while Moses was on Mount Sinai he took a magical journey forward in time to the yeshiva of Rabbi Akiba. Sitting in the back row while the great Akiba taught, Moses was utterly confused. His spirit fell as the arguments spun around in circles he just couldn’t follow. One of the other students raised a hand and asked “Rabbi, where in the Torah did you learn this?” Akiba answered: Halachah l’Moshe MiSinai,This law was given to Moses at Sinai.  Then Moses’ mind was set at ease. His own Torah, he understood, was so much larger than even he himself could understand. 


Cantor David Berger recently wrote: “As we face a world unlike any we have ever known, and the challenges ahead seem terrifying, the pathways leading up the mountain towards Revelation and inspiration are even more important for us to follow. In this moment it is our hearts, not our heads, which hold the answers.”  


The curses we read in the Torah portion are even worse than Covid-19.  Let us not despair. 


Our portion ends. “These are the commandments that the Lord gave Moses for B’nai Yisrael on Mount Sinai”. Revelation and inspiration far beyond human understanding were given to us at Sinai. When logic fails and our hearts ache, and our brains roil, it is to Sinai that we must return. We do not understand why this virus is here and killing people. We must trust in G-d, as always.  When we finish a book of Torah, as today, we say “Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazeik, Be Strong, be strong, and together, we will be strengthened” 


 It doesn’t mean only to be strong by eating meat and vegetables, it means to be strong in our faith.

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Fri, September 17 2021 11 Tishrei 5782