The Good News First: BeHar-Behukotai 2018

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: When was the last time you’ve felt truly blessed? Do you feel this way frequently, or do you require a special occasion or moment to appreciate good fortune?

Before going into a litany of horrific consequences for wrongdoing, our second Torah portion starts with a simple list of blessings as a reward for our devotion:

The Pitch: “If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments, I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit. Your threshing shall overtake the vintage, and your vintage shall overtake the sowing; you shall eat your fill of bread and dwell securely in your land.” – Leviticus 26:3-5

Swing #1: “Only through being in the atmosphere of this ‘world of doing’ can a human being begin anew to learn for the sake of keeping, doing, and fulfilling. And this is the explanation for Rabbi Yochanan’s strange saying that ‘if one learns with the intention of not doing, it would have been better for him had … [he] not come out into the air of this world.’ It is because such learning — not for the sake of doing — was done while the child was in the belly of its mother. There would be no gain for the child to come out into the air of this world if it had not learned for the sake of doing.” – Rabbi of Modzitz

Swing #2: “Leviticus draws to a close with an exhortation to obedience as the path to blessing. Obedience is intimately related to hearing in Israelite thought. To hear means to follow through, to obey. The God who frees the Israelites from oppression demands obedience in turn.” – J. Edward Owens, Leviticus

Swing #3: “The key to the relationship between Leviticus’s laws and the Bible’s story is the list of blessings and curses here in Leviticus 26. … The commandments are not presented as a loosely relevant list. They are woven into the fabric of the narrative as essential to the life of the community.” – Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators make sense of the Torah’s presentation of blessings followed by curses? Might the curses in our portion seemed less brutal had they been listed first? When someone tells you, “I have good news and bad news,” which do you prefer to hear first? What might that preference say about our approach to life?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We look forward to honoring our Religious School graduates and Confirmation graduates this Shabbat. Kudos to Anna Levy, Shoshana Rosenbaum, Deborah Segal, David Sternfeld, Gregory Veyber, Hannah Chase, Brian Hawkins, and Aaron Levine for completing their respective courses of Torah study.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of blessings, the Cincinnati Reds must have felt fortunate indeed that the New York Mets batted out of order in the first inning of their game Wednesday; it ended a rally that would have likely given the Mets the deciding run. Instead, the Reds won in extra innings, a rare blessing for this last-place team.

Shabbat Shalom!