Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah -B’har-B’chukotai
One of the things I love about my tradition is the realization that the Biblical text’s purpose is not provide “gospel” answers; rather it provokes conversation. The text includes the good, the bad, and the ugly so that we have a lot to talk about and a variety of perspectives from which to learn.
The “God” of the Bible is not God. It is inconceivable that we could understand, let alone describe, God with our human limitations. So, the “God” of the Bible speaks in humanly understandable terms and operates with humanly based emotions. We believe, however, that God (real God) is a whole lot more than anything we can depict or imagine, somewhat beyond our human limitations to understand.
The week’s Torah portion closes the Book of Leviticus. According to the text, God gives Moses a set of rules – chukim for us to obey. With each, God gives us a choice – the blessing or the curse. For the most part, the sages teach us that the best we can know is that “God’s Rules” in the Torah represent the natural order of things.
These “rules” are supranatural not supernatural. They are the natural order of the universe. This is the cause and effect. If I stick my hand on a hot stove, it is going to burn. If I am kind to someone, I increase the odds of a kind response. We know that the world works in this way. This way of seeing the world is the best way in which to understand the “Biblical God.”
So one of the commentaries on this text launches from the thought that God says that there exist blessing and curses; rewards and punishments – the natural order. One such punishment is an exile from our places of security and familiarity. The Torah reads, “Even when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away (Lev. 26:44). The sages go on to say that there are times that God regrets that the world works this way. God says, “Even as you get scattered to the corners of the Earth, I am going to travel with you.” (Talmud, Megillah 29a)
The Talmud goes on to speak of God’s regrets, “Woe to the children on account of whose sins I destroyed My house and burnt My Temple and exiled them among the nations of the world . . . Woe to the father who has banished his children, and woe to the children who have been banished from the table of their father!” (Talmud, Berachot 3a)
God longs for our return and longs to welcome us back into a relationship. With God, even amidst our frailties and shortcomings, we keep looking forward to understanding more and being more. We have to come back. I see that this place of dissonance is where we find ourselves in this world. We exist in broken relationships wondering, “How can we fix this?”
If we’re supposed to act “Godly,” then the best way to describe our “Godly.” relationships find us always longing to return to each other. The inertia and fear that hold us back keep us exiled from each other. If we are serious in this journey, we may have to regret that the dysfunction happened enough to look past mistakes and baggage and exhibit that longing for healing. We must set aside the places where we disagree and the pain we may have felt when previously wronged. We cannot undo yesterday, but it must not be the deciding voice for tomorrow. We just need to return.
The word “t’shuvah” in Hebrew means to turn and return. Think about someone with whom you have not spoken for a while and reach out. You may be holding a grudge, or they may be holding it against you – reach out. I have experienced the blessings of finding someone from a darker history equally longing to return. In this return from exile, we make the world more whole.