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A Nation Unlike Any Other

Parsha Bechukotai (Lev.26:3-27:34) continues with the commands to observe a period of rest for the Land, adding the attendant blessings that follow—then abruptly changes into a frightening litany of woes should the nation forget the Creator’s laws. It lists seven transgressions resulting in seven punishments that can multiply seven fold—all linked to the 7th day, Shabbat and Shemitah, the 7th year of agricultural rest. In this Torah portion, HaShem emphatically warns against apathy, which is a kind of rest but devoid of purpose or faith. Shemitah is an act of faith that G-d honors by providing an abundance of crops til the nation plants and reaps again. G-d tells Israel they would be scattered to the nations for rejecting His laws:

“And you I will scatter among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword against you. Your land shall become a desolation and your cities a ruin. (Leviticus 26:33)

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, chief Rabbi of Israel in the years before the modern State of Israel was born, asked why HaShem would allow such disasters, as well as the dispersion of the Jewish People from the very land He gave to them? Rav Kook wrote, “The people had abandoned G-d….The land was no longer recognizable as G-d’s land, and the nation no longer recognizable as G-d’s nation. They saw themselves as a people like all others.”  Judgment came in the form of the Babylonian destruction and the razing of Bet Ha Mikdash, the First Temple. History witnessed Israel’s dispersion and return only to see it repeated, including the dreadful calamities detailed in this portion of the Torah.

Despite Israel’s travail and their exile among the nations, they were shaken into remembering their purpose: To be a Light Unto the Nations, shining the sacred truth of Torah into their host countries. And G-d never forgot them or His thrilling promises to restore them as a nation, in their Land:

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their G-d, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:333-34)

"And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people, that shall remain, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth." (Isaiah 11:11-12)

"Thus says the Lord G-d: Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, whither they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land." (Ezekiel 37:21)

“Afterward, the Israelites will turn back and will seek the Eternal, their G-d and David their king—and they will thrill over G-d and over G-d’s bounty in the days to come. (Hosea 3:5)

“I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your G-d, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.” (Joel 2:25-26)

“And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be plucked up out of their land which I have given them, says the Lord your G-d." (Amos 9:15)

The establishment of modern Israel is evidence that the Jewish people returned to their original mission, to be a model for all nations. And, they will be recognized as G-d's nation. The return of the Jewish people to Israel is also a return to their purpose, like their ancestor Avraham, Israel will open their “tent” (the Third Temple) )to anyone who seeks to know the One True God of Avraham, Isaac and Jacob. No matter how the other nations rage and imagine a vain thing, no matter how many rockets Israel’s enemies fire into the their Land, God will never forget His nation. The theme of Bechukotai and all of Torah is to obey God’s commands fueled by faith and trust in His goodness. Doing so results in the holiest rest of all: Peace in Israel. 

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