“These are the statutes and ordinances and laws, which the LORD made between Him and the children of Israelin mount Sinai by the hand of Moses” (Leviticus 26:46) | cc: wikipedia
The parasha of the blessings and curses speaks in a religious language that sees sometimes to be far and strange for us. But if we will “translate” it to our world, we will see that it teaches the meaning of our life in the world. Rabbi PhD. Dalia Marx wrote the Dvar Torah of parashat B’hukotai.
It is not obvious that the compilers of the Torah chose to finish the third book with a set of blessings and curses. A similar section of blessings and curses, yet much longer, is found also at the end of Deuteronomy, the fifth Torah book, it appears in the last speech of Moses before his death (Deuteronomy 28). Forty years separate between these two sections of admonishment. The journey of the People of Israel is delimited or encased at its beginning and at its end by wonderful promises and terrible threats: “If ye walk in My statutes” says God, you will be blessed and “if ye shall reject My statutes” dreadful curses will fall upon you.
The Difference between Angels and Human Beings
Yishaayahu Leibowitz asks about the word “walk” in the statutes of the Torah (contrary to “hold” or “stand” in the statutes). He explains that to follow the Torah is not a static nor a passive situation, but rather an on-going process. The meaning of the fulfillment of a command is to carry it out, to realize its potential. Leibowitz continues saying that contrary to human beings, angels have a completely different character. In his prophecy, the prophet Zechariah, sees angels standing near Yehoshua, the High Priest, and he was told: “then I will give thee free access among these that stand by” (Zechariah 3:7). The angels are “standing,” their character is fixed, and does not change.
The angels stand in one place, they do not eat or drink, do not sleep and do not reproduce. Human beings (and animals) on the other hand, are engaged in all these activities, but human beings have one important quality that neither angels nor animals have – human beings have the ability, and therefore the responsibility, to choose. Angels can not do wrong, and therefore there is no moral significance to their deeds; they can not do wrong and therefore they can also not do good.
As opposed to the “standing” ones, human beings must be in constant motion, in a process. A known Israeli commercial from the ’80s taught us that “if you do not go forwards go backwards”. There is not a real possibility to stand – standing actually means moving backwards. The Hebrew law system is called “Halachah,” a word that shows its dynamism, and the fact that it must be a process and it cannot be stagnant.
Only these who consider themselves angels can allow themselves to stand. The rest of us understand that we, human beings, have the duty to walk in the world and choose again and again, we also have to make our Judaism into a process. A Judaism that does not “walk” and choose is a frozen and lifeless Judaism.
The Meaning of Retribution
Liberal Jews emphasize the principle of the choice as an essential religious duty, but many of them have difficulty the Biblical language of retribution. This is the reason why many Reform Siddurim omitted he second part of the recitation of the Shema:
“And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto My commandments… that I will give the rain of your land in its season, the former rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil… Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; and the anger of the LORD…” (Deuteronomy 11: 13-21)
The theology of the retribution, of reward and punishment, reflected in this paragraph bothered many of the Reform Siddurim editors. Many felt that it is a primitive theology and rejects the image of the God as a bookkeeper of good and bad deeds, a God that inflicts pain and gives relief, wounds and heals (Job 5:18).
In recent years though, more and more people understand that these passages are not childish threats and that they do not rec, but rather they are reminders that our deeds have meaning and therefore they also have results:
If we preserve our environment and do not pollute it, we will delay, if not prevent the ecological changes taking place, and we will win the blessing in our parasha that “the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit” (Leviticus 26:4).
If we will run our State with justice and wisdom we will be worthy of the promise found in our parasha: “And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid” (ibid 6).
If we will be just and pure, God will dwell in our midst, as it is said in our parasha “I shall dwell among them” (ibid 6).
The section of blessings and curses in parashat Behukotai speaks in a language that often seems strange and distant from us, but if we will “translate” it to our world of meaning, it may teach us what it means to live in the world. It demands us not to avoid our duty to choose what is right to do and it is expected from us to be just and not stop our efforts to be so.
And may the words of the poet Natan Alterman be valid to us:
“I will not stop looking, I will not stop breathing
And even when I die, I keep on going.”
 Leviticus ends with blessings and curses. The book finishes with the words: “These are the statutes and ordinances and laws, which the LORD made between Him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses” (Leviticus 26:46). There is indeed another chapter, chapter 47, which deals with vows, but Bible scholars think it is a later addition.