It would have been oh so easy to write this D’var Torah as the Rabbi of a Synagogue celebrating its 50th anniversary year, if as often occurs, the portions of B’har and B’chukotai were combined on one Shabbat; B’har containing the biblical account of the Jubilee Year!
Alas, my lot is B’chukotai complete with a short list of blessings and far longer list of gruesome curses –
or rebuke – the consequence of our ancient ancestors observing or not God’s commandments. This is one of three such exhortations in the Torah that follow a collection of laws, the others being Deuteronomy 28 and Exodus 23:20.
They all follow patterns, as Gunther Plaut notes in his
Modern Torah Commentary
, similar to ancient Near Eastern texts such the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, the Sumerian Code of Lipit-Ishtar and “treaties made by powerful rulers with the vassal kings they ‘protected’”. However, they differ in length, emphasis and conclusion, perhaps reflecting the psyche of the milieu.
A quick glance through Progressive Jewish literature and indeed nearly all post-Shoah Orthodox literature shows a complete rejection of such a notion of reward and punishment. Rather, the focus is clearly on righteous conduct because it is right, the value of ethical conduct in all our relationships and I think implicit in that, a God that says, “Amen!” to each blessing we make real.
Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue is not unique, not so special to the Progressive Jewish world, nor is celebrating an anniversary, even a Jubilee Year unique or special. We are part of a family that makes each celebration of life more meaningful. So, too, are we a jigsaw piece asserting a belief in a gentle, encouraging and nurturing God that nudges us towards an ethical contribution for the brief moments of our life.
Rabbi Goldstein can be contacted through: