Thoughts on Parashat Behar-Bechukotai

This week’s parasha is again a double portion, Behar-Bechukotai, Leviticus 25.1 – 2 7.34.[i] Behar means “on or at the mountain” (Sinai according to the text). It is here that the LORD specifically gives Moshe the regulations for the seventh-year Sabbatical rest for the land, as well as regulations for the Jubilee year celebration with all of its economic ramifications. There have been many studies done on these to aspects of Hashem’s covenant with Israel, so we’ll not go into it here. Bechukotai (in My statutes) opens in 26.3 and begins as discourse on the benefits of keeping or observing the LORD’s statutes (mitzvot) followed by the natural consequences of disobedience to the LORD’s mitzvot. The ultimate consequence is exile from the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. However, the exile was never to be a permanent situation.

“Yet for all that, (Israel’s disobedience to the covenant) when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I hate them into utter destruction, and break My covenant with them, for I am Adonai their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am Adonai.” (Leviticus 26.44-45)

Disobedience to the mitzvot of the LORD has consequences, for sure, but also has good results just as with the discipline of the LORD described in Hebrews,

“Now all discipline seems painful at the moment—not joyful. But later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12.11)

However, a tricky phrase appears here, “at the moment” Discipline is not permanent or forever. It addresses a specific issue. While it may seem like forever to us while we are experiencing HaShem’s discipline or the consequences of disobedience to the mitzvoth, we need to remember Simon’s (Peter) words to the Yeshua-believing communities,

“But don’t forget this one thing, loved ones, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some consider slowness. Rather, He is being patient toward you—not wanting anyone to perish, but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3.8-9)

Just as surely as discipline will come, so too will restoration and blessings come.

This week’s Haftarah is found in Jeremiah 16.19 – 17:14. It begins with the declaration that even in exile, “Adonai, my strength, my stronghold, my refuge in the day of affliction…” (16.19) and ends with Israel’s impassioned plea, “Heal me, Adonai, and I will be healed. Save me, and I will be saved. For You are my praise” (17.14). Discipline will surely come for the chosen of the LORD, but in said discipline there is always hope, comfort, and healing – even it is difficult to see at times.

One of the suggested readings from the Apostolic Writings, John 14.15-21, stresses the positive aspects of obedience without nullifying the natural consequences that come from disobedience. Yeshua tells His disciples, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (14.15). In the closing verse of this passage, we hear Yeshua repeat the obedience imperative, “the one who holds to My mitzvot, and keeps or guards them, he loves Me” (14.21a). This returns us to the beginning of Bechukotai as the LORD said, “if My statutes you walk in and My mitzvot, you guard them and do them…” (Leviticus 26.3) followed by ten verses of the resulting blessings of said obedience. It stands to reason then, if obedience brings the blessings of the LORD, then disobedience brings consequences – not abandonment but for sure consequences. Rabbi Sacks reminds us, “The choice – God is saying – is in your hands. You are free to do what you choose. But actions have consequences.”[ii] The idea of choice leads us to Deuteronomy and then a passage in Romans that indicates that the ability to obey the LORD is something that is quite doable.

“For this mitzvah (the ability to choose to obey or not) that I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it far off. … No, the word is very near to you—in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.” (Deuteronomy 30.11 & 14)

“But the righteousness based on faith speaks in this way … “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” – that is, the word of faith that we are proclaiming” (Romans 10.6 & 8).

Obedience is not hard, it is a choice; faithfulness is a habit to be practiced, and in doing so, the blessings will flow as promised by the LORD.

Shabbat Shalom

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