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Bechukotai(Leviticus 26:3-27:34)

Bechukotai 5763

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GOOD MORNING!  May your week be filled with blessings and great happiness! And as promised:

Q & A: DOES JUDAISM BELIEVE IN AN AFTERLIFE?

Moshe Maimonides, the Rambam, set forth 13 Essential Beliefs of Judaism. The Tenth and Eleventh Principles state that G-d is aware of our actions and that He rewards and punishes us according to our actions. Since we do not see evil always being punished or goodness always being rewarded, it is logical -- that if there is a good and just G-d -- that there is a World of Souls, an afterlife which is the great equalizer. There evil which has not been punished in this world is punished and good deeds which have not been rewarded are rewarded.

There are allusions to an afterlife in the Torah, though it is not explicitly stated or described (the Talmud, Sanhedrin, Chapter 10 called Chelek, does discuss the afterlife). When the patriarch Jacob died, the Torah relates, "... he died and was gathered to his people" (Genesis 49:33). The Torah then informs us of the 40 day embalming period and the 70 days Egypt mourned Jacob before Joseph received permission to bury his father in the Maarat HaMachpela, the burial cave in Hebron. What does the Torah then mean that "he was gathered to his people"? It is a reference that his soul was gathered to the afterlife.

Later in the book of Numbers we have the story of Bilaam, the evil non-Jewish prophet, who hires himself out to the King Balak to curse the Jews. Instead of cursing the Jews, his prophecy blesses the Jews. He proclaims, "Let me die the death of the righteous and let my end be like his (the righteous Jews)" (Numbers 23:10). Do the righteous die any better than the wicked? Bilaam was saying, "Let me live my life on my terms and according to my desires, but when it comes to the afterlife, let my soul be rewarded as the righteous are rewarded.

I think that these two allusions are valid, but not emotionally compelling. If the afterlife is such an essential part of Jewish belief, why does the Torah only reference it obliquely? The Torah could have described the next world in detail, yet it refrained from painting a picture. Why?

There are two reasons: 1) The Torah is a guidebook for THIS life. It sets forth instructions on how to live a meaningful, holy life and how to improve yourself and the world. The Almighty wants us to focus on our obligations in this life; the afterlife will take care of itself. 2) Even if the Torah described in detail an afterlife -- how would one verify its existence? No one has ever returned from the next world to confirm or deny that vision.

Other religions paint a picture of the afterlife one will receive. The Talmud teaches, "He who wishes to lie says his witnesses are far away." For example, "I paid back the money I owed you, but my witnesses happen to be visiting Europe" -- or "Have faith in our religion and you will get Heaven." There is no way of validating the claim.

While Judaism believes in an Afterlife, a World to Come, the Torah makes no promises that are "far away." The Torah tells you about rewards and punishments in THIS world -- in response to your actions. You need go no further than this week's Torah portion which states, "If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them; then I will provide your rains in their time, and the land will give its produce and the tree of the field will give its fruit. Your threshing will last until the vintage, and the vintage will last until the sowing; you will eat your bread to satiety and you will dwell securely in your land. I will provide peace in the land, and you will lie down with none to frighten you ... I will make you fruitful and increase you..." (Lev. 23:3-9).

Why is reward and punishment so important for us? As Rabbi Yakov Weinberg teaches: "A world without reward and punishment is a world of utter indifference, and indifference is the ultimate rejection. One cannot serve indifference. In order for there to be a relationship between G-d and man, G-d must react to man's actions. Our awareness of this reaction, reward or punishment, informs us that the Almighty cares, that our actions make a difference. Without reward and punishment life has no meaning -- for what man would or would not do would make no difference." (Rabbi Yakov Weinberg, Fundamentals and Faith).


Torah Portion of the Week
Bechukotai, Leviticus 26:3 - 27:34

The Torah portion sets forth the blessings that you will see in this world in response to your deeds.

It then continues with the Tochachah, words of admonition, "If you will not listen to Me and will not perform all of these commandments..." There are seven series of seven punishments each. Understand that G-d does not punish for punishment's sake; He wants to get our attention so that we will introspect, recognize our errors and correct our ways. G-d does not wish to destroy us and will never annul His covenant with us. This is the Almighty's guarantee to the Jewish people: " ... I will not grow so disgusted with them nor so tired of them that I would destroy them and break My covenant with them, since I am the Lord their G-d." (Deut. 26:44-45) He wants to prevent us from becoming so assimilated that we disappear as a nation. I highly recommend reading Leviticus 26:14 - 45.

The portion ends with instructions regarding gifts to the temple, valuation and redemption of animals, houses, fields ... and lastly, the second tithe and tithing animals. And thus ends the Book of Leviticus!

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

The Torah states, "And I will place peace in the land" (Lev. 26:6). Why is peace considered such a great blessing?

Rashi, the great commentator, elucidates: "If there is no peace, there is nothing." There are many people who would really feel satisfied with what they themselves already have. However, because they see that others have more, they feel envious of those people. They actually feel pain when they see that someone else has what they do not.

When a person feels sincere love for someone else, he is not envious of that person. It does not bother him if that person has more than him. Therefore, the only way for people to really experience a total blessing with what the Almighty has given them is for there to be true peace amongst people. This is the peace in which people feel love for one another and are happy for their good fortunes.

The only way you will be able to enjoy what you have is to master the attitude of feeling good for the good fortune of others. Envy prevents you from living life to its fullest. The move joy you feel for others, the better your own quality of life.


CANDLE LIGHTING - May 16:
(or go to http://www.aish.com/candlelighting)

Jerusalem  6:56
Guatemala 6:07  Hong Kong 6:47  Honolulu 6:43
J'Burg 5:07  London 8:37  Los Angeles 7:35
Melbourne 4:57  Miami 7:45  Moscow 8:29
New York 7:55  Singapore  6:49



QUOTE OF THE WEEK:

Time flies like an arrow.
Fruit flies like a banana.



Mazel Tov on the Marriage of
Elana Makovsky & Ari Greenfield
Love Mom and Dad



Published: May 17, 2003

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