Shabbat Greetings

Once upon time, there was a meeting in a synagogue. Like many meetings in a synagogue, it was getting heated! It happened in this week, the week when the Torah portion, Bechukotai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34), was approaching; and, the President was adamant!

During that portion, a section known as the, “Tochecha,” is read. There are a number of such passages in the Torah; and what they have in common, is that the Torah details with great foresight, the misfortunes that the Jewish people will face, if they disregard the Torah. Usually, they have a positive section first, which says, “these are the blessings that will come to you if you follow God’s laws.” But then comes the second section, with the harrowing curses and the gruesome details of what will happen to you if you do not follow God’s laws; and they are enough to send a shutter up anyone’s spine! Because of that, most people are reluctant to be called up to the Torah to receive that Aliyah, the honor of blessing and/or reading that section of the Torah reading. Someone has to do it, so the job usually falls on the Cantor, teh Rabbi and even the President!. But nobody wanted it! Everybody seemed to have had their share of bad luck the previous year, and nobody wanted to push the envelope. No one, therefore, wanted the honor.

And so, on the Wednesday before that Shabbat, the meeting was called. The President was the first to call out. She shouted,“I will not take the Tochecha this year.” Two weeks after the previous year’s Aliyah, her life went kaput! And, she added for the curious and the equally, eager congregants, “I’m not going to elaborate!” Another voice, a mile or two away from this one, screamed out from the crowd and said, “It’s time to give it to the Rabbi!”

But, the Rabbi demurred. He said, “Friends, if you take a look at my contract, it says I get, the third Aliyah, every week. The Tochecha this year, is the fifth Aliyah.” So, smiling he said, “I am exempt!” Well, preemptively, the Cantor stormed up quickly, and said, “Don’t expect me to be called for the Tocheacha! It’s not going to happen! My job is to enhance the liturgy and uplift spirits thorugh song. I won’t stand up there to hear the curses of the Tochecha.”

Well, the leaders were about to cancel the service for that Shabbat; when an elderly gentleman spoke up in the back. He said, “If you pay me one hundred and fifty dollars, I will take the Tochecha.” There was silence. And then in unison, all heads nodded. The folks had never met the stranger, but he was their salvation. They told him when the service began; and he said that he would see them that Shabbat. When Shabbat came, the Cantor began, but the old man was not there. It came time to take out the Torah, and he was still not there.

The Rabbi decided to speak before the Torah reading, just to stall and draw out the length of the service a little bit, in the hopes that he might arrive. And then they started reading the Torah- very slowly. It was not until the fourth Aliyah, that the old man burst into the Temple, panting. He had made it! He got his Aliyah. But, as soon as he stepped off the bimah, the President cornered him. “Where were you? Do you know how much you scared us?” The old man said, “Do you think a Jew can make a living from just one Tochecha?!” (Jewish Jokes, p. 17)

The opening of the portion says,“Eem bechukkotai. If you follow my laws and favorably observe my commandments, I will grant you rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce, and the trees, the field of their fruit…” And then, after thirteen good verses, it says, “But if you do not obey me, and do not observe all these commandments; if you reject my laws, and spurn my rules…I, in turn, will do this to you. I will wreak misery upon you; consumption and fever, which causes the eyes to pine, and the body languish, and you will sow your seeds for no purpose, for your enemy shall eat it…” And then it gets grosser, and grosser! So, what is the Torah trying to teach us?

I believe what the Torah wants to tell us is, that actions have consequences; that there is reward and there is punishment. If you do something, something will happen and you have to stand up, and take responsibility for it. Sounds obvious? Not in our world- it’s always someone else’s fault. 

Preachers have this all the time. We give a sermon, and sometimes we have that particular person in the congregation in mind, but of course, we generalize it to everyone. And, inevitably, that person that we had in mind, comes up at the end of the sermon and says, “Way to give it to them, Rabbi, they really needed to hear that message!”

When you do things, they have consequences, and you have to bear the responsibility. Do you remember what the first sin in the bible was? It was Adam and Eve who committed the sin that caused great cosmic consequences. Humanity was kicked out of the garden of Eden. Do you member with the second sin was? It was Cain killing Abel. Based on the punishment why is it that Adam and Eve’s sin was greater than Cain’s? Shouldn’t Cain’s be much worse? After all he was a murderer. His crime was way worse. Yet his punishment was private and personal but Adam and Eve’s was cosmic? The difference lies in how each sinner reacted to his or her own sin .

According to the Midrash Cain accepted his guilt but Adam and Eve did not. Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. Only later when Adam saw how Cain accepted his guilt and repented did Adam realize, “Oh my God, repentance works and I didn’t understand it” Don’t many of us use the Adam and Eve approach, and blame everyone else for our mistakes?

Everyone needs to take responsibility. When they do, the world will be a much better place.