After going over many laws and commandments we read in this week’s portion from the Torah two promises. The first deals with what shall happen “If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out”; the second what happens “if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments, if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My ordinances so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant”. Only nine sentences describe what the blessings will be while no less than twenty six are used in the second case. There is no doubt that when it has to do with breaking the law the fury is great, and this is only in anticipation that something like that may happen. Seemingly the price of error by far exceeds the rewards of compliance.
Women of the Wall and the paratroopers who liberated the Western Wall
For me a key issue is what is the meaning for us as Reform and Progressive Jews when we read the words, “If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out”. On one hand statutes on the other hand walking; a requirement to keep and a requirement to carry them out. It may not be evident from a superficial reading but there is a contradiction here. How can you walk with the law? The law is supposed to be something stable, not changing. Walking is an entirely different process, it causes change, it experiences change, the view changes and the point of view changes, the context varies and experience is gained. The issue of the commandment is likewise not really clear. If you want to keep a commandment the very act of carrying out changes it, and it undergoes variations. Keeping it requires no change while doing, by definition, involves change, movement, and changeover.
To me it seems that we can conclude the meaning from the second part that warns us from undesired consequences, “if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments’ and “not to carry out all My commandments”. The tone is set not by the keeping or observing the law as is but rather it is the waking and the carrying out that count. Getting fixed in one’s ways is the easiest thing to do, there is no need to apply serious thinking to what we are required to do. One keeps the commandments but one does not live them. In the blessing section we find, “You will eat the old supply and clear out the old because of the new.” It will be so plentiful if we do things right that we will be able to eat things that are very old but also have to take out the old because the new supplies have to be stored too. Many times we will find these words used to justify the removal of religious commandments that seem outdates and irrelevant. I would like to offer a different approach.
When we concentrate on performing the positive deeds that we are committed of doing we must act. The action may also require thinking and learning. Spending time and effort when we want to promote change, when we want to perform a deed. The deed must be done but we must also consider the consequences of the action as we want the outcome to be desirable. It is not doing for the sake of doing that we are directed towards, but rather doing so that the world becomes a better place. At the end of the blessings potion we read, then “I will make My dwelling among you, and My soul will not reject you. I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt so that you would not be their slaves, and I broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.” This is a clear reminder that there is a process here from being slaves to being free people, from a collection of individuals into a nation that can proudly march amongst nations.
This coming Sunday we shall be celebrating Jerusalem Day, fifty one years since the reunification of a divided city. The Old City upon which we yearningly watched towards when I was but a young child, is a whole in pieces. As a child I was told that within the walls there was a Wall that we could not reach. Now, it is there, reachable but not to the extent it should be as a pride of a Jewish and Democratic state. Our Tikkun to this has been and may continue to be for a while a long and demanding process, one which we shall not forget. It is a process that eventually will bring a change to the relationship between the State of Israel and its citizens, all of its citizens. This must happen so that rain falls upon its fields on time, so that its harvest will be plentiful. Then we may also be blessed with the beautiful and comforting blessing we find in this week’s portion of the Torah, “I shall also grant peace in the land, so that you may lie down with no one making you tremble. I shall also eliminate harmful beasts from the land, and no sword will pass through your land.”
Shabbat Shalom and wishes for a good month of Sivan.
Reuven Marko, 11 may 2018, 27 Iyar, 5778