What gives our lives meaning and purpose? Do you get up in the morning and look at your day planner – electronic or handwritten or printed? Do you look at today’s appointments within the larger context of the week – or even a month? Do you make grocery lists?
Or, do you wake up in the morning and say que sera, que sera?
I don’t know about you, but my life is a series of lists and schedules, in order to meet the commitments I have made to students, congregants, my mother’s appointments, medical appointments, meetings with prospective brides and meetings with Board members. Rare is the day that is blank on any of my multiple calendars!
My life is not by chance – it is a life, thank God, full of purpose, and, as I daily and deeply appreciate, meaning. Meaning for me and hopefully also for those I encounter throughout the days and weeks.
Bechokotai challenges us to bring purpose and intention to our lives – to not leave our lives to chance. Our encounters, including our encounters with God must be made and met with intention and sincerity. Yet, later inBamidbar in the book of Balak, we read a curious verse.The verse notes that Balaam when leaving the emissaries sent by King Balak tells the emissaries he needs to confirm his plans with God. What does he say to the emissaries? The word Yekaray – (keri) appears: “I will see if I happen upon God.”
This is a very funny and very intriguing line. It is as if God is hanging around the street corner waiting to see who turns up for a smoke! God does not strike me as a come-by-chance kind of deity! So why this wording? Is Balaam an agent of obfuscation – a double agent, as it were? Is he acting in his own self-interest vis-à-vis his arrangements with King Balak and the emissaries, but also acting nonchalantly as a secret agent of God? Shades of Agent 99 in Get Smart. We will see!
In Bechokotai, we first read blessings that begin somewhat ominously with the word “if.” Then we read a first tochecha or list of curses. After an initial promises of sanctuary and fruitfulness, “then” follows the “if.” In a series of escalating admonishments – in this tochecha– we read about what will be the due of those who ignore God’s decrees, commandments and teachings. As we move through descriptions of these punishments – a series of five articulations of vengeance and decimation, we are also privy to an emotional God.
Whilst one English translation of the word keri, is chance, a mild, if not seemingly innocuous word, another translation escalates chance into an attitude of casualness. Chapter 26:27 reads: If despite this you will not heed Me, and you behave towards me with casualness, I will behave towards you with a fury of casualness. Insouciance is not what God wants from us, and certainly not what God gives.
God expects us to turn up. To pay attention. Rashi teaches that if we study Torah, which will in turn lead to greater learning and thus increased commitment to observance, which in a chain reaction may lead us to actually perform said observances, we will reap the benefit, collectively as a people and as individuals. Our intention then becomes our scythe by which we harvest meaning in our lives.
We read in Zechariah 4:6, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbavel, saying, ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD of Hosts.” By opening our hearts to God’s Presence – however we feel that Presence in our lives – we are opening a door to focus, to our true power which is the lightness of meaning and intimate connection.
Not by might and not by power and not by chance or casualness. May our days be filled with purpose, laughter, meaning and connections. Aleichem shalom.