Thursday, May 15, 2014

Parasha B'chukkotai - Vayikra 26:3-27:34

B'chukkotai - By my regulations

Today's teaching will focus on the third aliyah of this Torah portion. YHVH has been giving Moshe instructions to give to Israel for their entrance into the land. This parasha focuses on YHVH's judgment, justice, and mercy. It begins with a list of blessings on the people if we will only "live by my regulations, observe my mitzvot and obey them". Unfortunately, as YHVH knows his people very well, this is the shortest part of the Torah portion. The next 25 verses deal with punishment for disobedience. It would probably be more, but I suspect YHVH wished to keep things brief so Moshe wouldn't have to spend another 40 days on the mountain.

Among the punishments listed is His people being dispersed among the nations. The reason for this dispersal is spelled out plainly in verse 35; the land will have its Shabbats. What does He mean by this? As we learned in last week's Torah portion, the land is supposed to get a Shabbat rest every seventh year. 2 Chronicles 36:21 tells us that the Babylonian captivity would be 70 years to allow the land to be paid all of the Shabbats that were not observed by Israel. This is part of YHVH's justice.

All of the blessings and curses listed in this parasha are part of His justice. If we obey, we are rewarded. If we disobey, we are punished. It is a simple formula. However, being all-too-human as we tend to be, we have never been very good at keeping that formula in mind. As a people, we have violated every commandment He gave us and then expected to continue to be blessed. It still goes on today. Fortunately for us, YVHV's justice is tempered by His mercy.

Beginning in verse 39, we begin to hear how things will be restored. YHVH tells us that not all of His people will be driven from the land. A remnant shall remain. This is both a blessing and a curse. While it is a blessing to retain the land and keep a presence of His people there, it is a curse because they will have to watch the land grow desolate. He tells us that it will be those people, the remnant in the land, that will be able to bring about the restoration. He says that they will confess their misdeeds and those of their ancestors. He then tells us that if His people will then humble their hearts and serve their punishment, he will remember His covenant with Ya'akov, with Yitz'chak, and with Avraham. And He will remember the land. After the land has been paid its Shabbats, He will restore the covenant and bring the people back to the land. Not a bad deal from the so-called "God of Wrath" of the Old Testament. Mercy existed long before the book of Matthew.

Speaking of books in the B'rit Chadasha, in Luke 15:11-32, we read one of the best-known parables of the Bible. Yeshua tells the story of the prodigal son. Many people interpret this story to be about the individual sinner who has fallen away from God and chooses later to come back home. While there is definitely a bit of that in the story, they miss the larger picture. Remember that YHVH is the God of Israel. This story is the same as this week's Torah portion, just told in a parable. Israel - the prodigal son - will take her birthright and heritage for granted and leave the land of the covenant. They will choose to be a part of the larger world instead of remaining in the house of the Father and following His rules. Their fortunes will turn to despair as they realize what they have lost. When they turn their eyes and hearts back to their Father and His ways, they will be brought back in and enjoy a feast in their Father's house. This is the true story of the prodigal son, as told all the way back in Vayikra.

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