Thoughts and Teachings: Haftarah for Bechukotai

Parashat Bechukotai, (Leviticus 26.3-27.34)[i] brings this book to a close. In last week’s portion, Behar, contained the last of the Holiness Code, and this week’s portion addresses agricultural prosperity and security. The portion begins with “If you walk in My statutes, keep My mitzvot and carry them out, then I will…” provide what is necessary for both. The Lord will also ensure security in the land even to the point of the miraculous. He promises not only to dwell within Israel, visibly between the wings of the cherubim, but guarantees covenantal relationship, “I will walk among you and will be your God, and you will be My people” (26.12).

The Ruach HaChodesh repeats this promise in the Revelation according to John concerning the LORD’s presence in New Jerusalem:

I also heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is among men, and He shall tabernacle among them. They shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them and be their God’. – Revelation 21.3)

While the first section of the portion describes the LORD’s promises in response to Israel’s faithfulness (26.3-13), the next section (26.14-39) describes the various calamities that will befall Israel due to her unfaithfulness, “…I will chastise you seven times more for your sins,” (26.18b), both in the land and eventually throughout the period exile in the Diaspora. But that is not the end of the story. If Israel repents and returns to the LORD in covenant fidelity, He promises that “I will remember My covenant with Jacob and also My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land” (26.42).

The Haftarah, (Jeremiah 16.19-17.14) syncs perfectly with the Torah portion. Michael Fishbane closes his commentary on this week’s Haftarah noting that, “The parashah concludes the Book of Leviticus with a series of blessings and curses that may befall a worshiper, depending upon obedience or disobedience to God and His covenant (Lev. 26: 3, 14-15). These rewards and punishments are set forth in detail and correspond to the central image of the haftarah: blessings for those who trust in God, and curses for those who spurn His ways (Jer. 17.5-8).” [ii]

The Haftarah begins and ends with personal proclamations of faith in the mercies and care of ADONAI.

Adonai, my strength, my stronghold, my refuge in the day of affliction… (Jeremiah 16.19a)

Heal me, 0 LORD, and let me be healed; Save me, and let me be saved; For You are my glory. (Jeremiah 17.14)[iii]

Between these bookends of faith, Jeremiah recounts Israel’s sin and chastisement. But in the midst of the discipline, there is a promise to individuals who choose to choose to walk after the LORD;

Blessed is the one who trusts in Adonai, whose confidence is in Adonai. For he will be like a tree planted by the waters, spreading out its roots by a stream. It has no fear when heat comes, but its leaves will be green. It does not worry in a year of drought, nor depart from yielding fruit. (Jeremiah 17.7-8)

This echoes the words of the Psalmist:

Happy is the one who has not walked in the advice of the wicked, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of scoffers. But his delight is in the Torah of Adonai, and on His Torah he meditates day and night. He will be like a planted tree over streams of water, producing its fruit during its season. Its leaf never droops—but in all he does, he succeeds. – Psalm 1.1-3

It is important to remember that in the midst of trials, in the center of times of chastisement, the LORD’s faithfulness never ends. He always looks on the hearts of His people, seeking those who desire to follow Him. The LORD is in covenant with the people of Israel desiring to bless them as a nation as they follow Him in obedience to the mitzvoth. He equally listens to the hearts of individuals who seek Him as well. Regardless of the situation you may find yourself in, seek to emulate the man (or woman) “who trusts in Adonai, whose confidence is in Adonai.”

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life(TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] Fishbane, Michael. The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot (English and Hebrew Edition). The Jewish Publication Society, 2002. p152

[iii] Berlin, Adele & Marc Zvi Brettler (editors). The Jewish Study Bible: Featuring the JPS Tanakh Translation. Oxford Univ. Press, 1999. p962

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Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.