Don’t Know Why, But… - Parshat Bechukotai
In creative or professional writing there is always an emphasis on keeping everything in the same tense, person, manner, etc. I have been sent back an article because I wasn’t consistent throughout the article in one or more of these issues. Truth is, despite my being upset that I have to rewrite certain parts, I even agree with the editor. The whole article just looks and feels better if written correctly with consistency in tense, spelling and the like.
Having said that, I look questioningly upon a blaring inconsistency ( I first noticed it this week though I have read it over 50 times...so much for "blaring") in Parshat Bechukotai. The parsha starts off telling of the many berachot the people will receive for keeping the mitzvot. Then, seemingly out of the blue, the Torah says that God will not spew them out.1 All the other Berachot are written in the positive form yet this is in a negative formation- I will not spew you out. "I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce… I will grant peace in the Land, and you will lie down with no one to frighten [you]," and more. Why is this particular beracha written in the negative? It could have written: "and I will keep you close."
The great 16th century Polish sage, Keli Yakar explains this verse by saying that the words "I will not spew you out" are not in fact a separate beracha. Rather, it is a continuation of the preceding phrase, "I will place the temple amongst you". In fact, the word used for temple is Mishkan which can have more than one meaning. It can mean the place where God's presence dwells (which is the most widely accepted opinion) or it can also mean a lien. The temple is not just a place of worship and sacrifices. It is also a 'security' for you that if I get angry I will take my anger out on the temple and not on the people. And so, explains the Keli Yakar, the beracha is God saying 'you will have a temple which will be the focus of my anger if you do wrong - and so, instead of destroying the nation, I will destroy the temple.' You will be spared. That is the beracha.
So, in the spirit of imitatio dei, imitating God, should I buy an extra set of dishes so that if I get angry I can break them instead of the person I am angry at? Probably not. Okay – definitely not. So, what can we learn from this divine practice? And what happens after the temple is already destroyed? Should we start getting really concerned? Will we be in real danger of being the focus of God's wrath? For that we turn to the Ibn Ezra. God is intending to comfort us, he explains. "Do not fear," God is saying. "Even if there is no temple I will not spew you out and I will always be with you." That connection will never be broken.
There will always be a connection to God - that being with whom I can share my most intimate thoughts,2 who took us out of Egypt and cares for me till this very day. I may not understand everything He does nor do I ever expect to.3 But I do know we are connected. And that He is there. He will not spew me out.
So, too, with people that we care for. We cannot always tell them things will be alright. But, in the spirit of imitatio dei, we can tell them "we are there for you".
I still don’t know why the beracha is written in the negative and if anyone has an idea I will be happy to hear it. But I do know that we are conscious of being connected to something greater than ourselves and that raises us to a higher level of being. We are not just another primate or mammal. We are human.
Have A Great Shabbat!