Saturday, May 24, 2008

DVAR TORAH S3: Bechukotai/Lag BaOmer (Curses!)

Once I write this Dvar Torah I will be caught up. This week we read the infamous curses of the final parasha of Levitucus, known as the Tochecha, the rebuke. With filial cannibalism, and skies of lead, the curses are pretty bad. Once we exhaust our chances and continue on wayward paths, God condemns us to punishment that increases in severity sevenfold four times, 74, ending up a total of 2,401 times more terrible than the initial punishment. Pretty crappy. But God will not allow us to be utterly destroyed.

A Lag BaOmer story. Shimon bar Yochai, known as the father of Jewish mysticism, has been condemned by the Romans for teaching Torah. He goes out and hides in a cave with his son for twelve years, sustained by a miraculous stream and carob tree and study the entire time. They finally emerge after the twelfth year. Rashbi finds people working a field. He is furious that people are fulfilling laborious pursuits and not studying Torah. He is so spiritually charged with rage that anything that he gazes upon is consumed in a fiery blaze (see my blogspot profile). A heavenly voice yells, "you emerged to destroy the world I created? Go back to your cave!" And so they returned to the cave for another year. They emerged to find a man carrying two omers (bundles) of grain. Upon their asking, he told them that they were in honor of the upcoming Shabbat, the mitzvahs of Shamor (negative commandments of Shabbat) and Zachor (positive commandments of shabbat).

Not only is this one source why we have two challahs on Shabbat and a good source for bonfires on Lag BaOmer, the holiday we are celebrating today, but it also could be applied to this week's Torah Portion. When they emerge from the cage they notice the neglect of Torah and through their strict interpretation of justice they destroy. God does not allow the world to work that way. Reward and Punishment was a real issue when God destroyed His world in The Flood and following it decided that a world judged strictly on justice could not exist. Instead mercy must abound. Innately, people are good. Not everyone can study Torah 24/7/365(353-385)/12 like Rashbi and son. The famous prayer of Rabbi Nechunya upon leaving the Beit Midrash is inherently flawed:

"I am thankful to You, the Lord my God, that You have placed my lot among those who dwell in the beit midrash and not with those who hang around street corners. They arise early, and I arise early. I arise early for words of Torah, and they arise early for idle matters. I toil, and they toil. I toil and receive reward, and they toil and do not receive reward. I run, and they run. I run to the life of the world to come, and they run to the pit of destruction."

This is R' Shimon bar Yochai's justice. This is not God's Justice. God will not utterly abandon us, no matter what we do. This is His promise. So we celebrate the cessation of the plague which destroyed 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students. We mourn but after the storm there is a rainbow (as was the incredibly strange case yesterday afternoon with an incredibly rare May rain and thunderstorm in Los Angeles). "Return us, God, to You and we will be returned, renew our days as days of old".

Shabbat Shalom and Lag BaOmer Sameach!
Chazak Chazak v'NitChazek!

1 comment:

Daniel E. Levenson said...

An interesting post and an insightful commentary on both the parsha and the midrash.

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