Shavua tov, a good week to all of you. This week we are in yet another double portion: the books of Behar – the shortest parashah in Torah and Bechukotai.
The lunar-solar Hebrew calendar contains up to 55 weeks, the exact number varying between 50 in common years and 54 or 55 in leap years. In leap years (for example, 2022, 2024, and 2027), parashah Behar is read separately. In common years (for example, 2020, 2021, 2023, 2025, and 2026), parashah Behar is combined with the next parashah, Bechukotai, to help achieve the needed number of weekly readings.
In Behar we learn (in small part) about blowing the shofar. Many of us have been blowing/clapping/banging out our appreciation of all those who are front line workers during this pandemic (I see you on FaceBook!!). This may not be a Biblical use of the shofar – but it is certainly a call that combines both a note of hope, victory and at the same time an edge of mourning for those who have succumbed. May they all be remembered with love.
Bechukotai brings the tochachah, a series of admonitions or curses against the Israelite people, if they do not follow God’s laws. God warned of serious consequences “if you reject My laws and spurn My rules. ”But we open this reading with a series of profoundly beautiful blessings: God “will provide rains in their time and the land will give its produce and the tree of the field will give its fruit. Threshing will overtake vintage for you, and the vintage will last until the sowing; you will eat your bread until you are full and will dwell securely in your land.”
The text continues – as does virtually all of Torah – to speak of how we manage our lives here in this lifetime, on this earth. There is virtually no discussion anywhere in Tanach about any idea of afterlife – and the rabbis, our teachers, wonder why this is. One response is that Judaism is very much concerned with matters of this life, with guiding our behaviour and actions in the day-to- day choices we all make.
Whether our actions are guided by our efforts to fulfill the mitzvot, and/or to fulfill the intentions and ethics of how we are encouraged to act, the blessings and admonitions in this reading remind us that our actions have consequences, for good and for bad. We are often reminded within our tradition to choose life. As we begin – very cautiously – to re-enter more public life, I urge all of us to remember the words of our own Dr. Bonnie Henry, who finishes every one of her news conferences with a reminder,” Be kind, be calm, and be safe.”