Saturday, July 2, 2016

Parshat Bchukotai, 1st Portion, Leviticus 26:3-5, May 29, 2016

“If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them,
I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit.” (Leviticus 26:3-4)
Initially before I started reading the Torah I read this as a false promise. You don’t have to be alive very long to learn that bad things happen to good people (as the book title suggests).

And God says, “and I will...” not “and I may...”

I can imagine that many have turned from God because of this empty promise. Some say that they can’t be Jews because of the Holocaust. How could he have let that happen?

If a drought comes, one could doubt whether they followed “My statutes and observe My commandments...” carefully enough.

As a contract, this (on the surface) sucks... (sorry for the language).

Is it a Zen koan? 

I used to trick my kids. I’d tell them if they cleaned their room I’d take them to McDonalds. They’d do the job, and then tell me they were ready to go. I’d say, “I didn’t say’” Soon they learned to ask “when” before they cleaned their room. And soon they learned to also ask if they could buy anything besides orange juice. If they had not of turned out so well they could have blamed their abusive dad.

Is this a false promise to make kids behave? Some say this Torah verse is about social engineering. But did anyone believe it?

Buddha said the same thing... that 
“So awake, reflect, watch.
Work with care and attention.
Live in the way, and the light will grow in you.” (From the Dharmapada)
though this also gives a clue of the benefit of “right action.” It may not change our external world, but our inner world will be much better. We will not stop “sickness, old age, and death.” But the “we” will become (or return to) a person that can be “ennobled” by life itself. 

Should the Torah have been more explicit? 

I asked Rabbi Baker how he’d present this portion to a kid. They know that sometimes you do the right thing and the wrong thing happens.

He started to talk about how our actions affect the environment, including the rain. I realized then that the “you” referred both to the individual and the community. Our single vote rarely matters, but our collective vote is like a tornado. So it all becomes an interesting quandary. Do you make a difference? Does one drop of gas removed from your gas tank cause you to run out of gas? Of course not. Yet a small hole in your tank will cause you to run out of gas... one drop at a time.