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Parshas Behar/Bechukosai - Covid-19: A Blessing or a Curse?    21 Iyyar 5780

05/15/20 12:31:58

May15

Give or take a few weeks, the Western World is approaching a quarter of a year now either in quarantine, self-quarantine, or stay-at-home orders! It is reported that throughout these weeks, the number one most-often mentioned word is Zoom. Collectively, we have experienced just about every life experience through the screens of our devices, be it a computer, tablet, or cellphone. We are yet to have data on what the PTSD will have regarding this time period of history.

Thanks to the technology of Zoom, we have all witnessed and been a part of every life cycle and social gathering possible, including weddings, funerals, bar-mitzvahs, shiva/condolence calls, brisim, baby naming, davening, classes, school, board meetings, social visits, family get togethers, lectures and many more. To sum it all up, THIS IS NOT NORMAL! Although I try to encourage everyone to maintain a semblance of their daily routine and schedule, I realize it has many drawbacks. We are trying, or at least pretending, to play and live the game of life in a real (or surreal) way under false circumstances. To make believe and play for short periods of time and then to revert back to reality is a healthy experience. To “get away” for the moment is rehabilitating, but not when it becomes a replacement the real game itself.

Whatever we call this Covid-19, whether it be a plague, an illness, or something similar, it would categorically meet the requirements of a curse. Albeit, in every curse there is a blessing, yet at this time of human loss, pain, and suffering, it is difficult to see the blessing in disguise. We, who must have deep faith, know that “everything is for the best” and again, as difficult to understand or even to say those words ,each and every one of us should recognize this. Nevertheless, we are all clearly able to see, feel, hear about the curse and havoc that has impacted our lives and the world at large. Nevertheless, we, the Jewish people, look for inspiration or a bright spot in order to more clearly see the end of something bad and the beginning of something good. Well, hopefully we are at this turning point as this coming week’s Torah reading of Parshios Behar and Bechukosai explains. Parshas Bechukosai is synonymous with the Tochacha, the public rebuke of the Jewish people , resulting in the horrific description of the resulting harsh penalties. The timing of this reading is highlighted in the Talmud.

The Gemara Megilla 31b teaches us that Ezra established for the Jewish people that we read the Klalos/ Curses of Toras Kohanim (the book of Vayikra) before Atzeres/Shavuos and again in Mishneh Torah (the book of Devarim) before Rosh Hashana. The Talmud asks: “Why do we read these portions prior to Shavuos and again prior to Rosh Hashana? Abayei and some other commentators report, as stated by Reish Lakish, so that we are given the vision and strength to end the year and its curses”. This means that as the year concludes, if there were any kind of evil decree or curse on the world, the Jewish people, or any one individual, it should be completed and perhaps fulfilled with the going out of that calendar year. The Gemara, however, is not satisfied. One could understand this logic by reading the Tochacha/Rebuke from Parshas Ki Savo a week or so before Rosh Hashana because that IS the end of the year. But why must we read the Tochacha of Parshas Bechukosai prior to Shavuos? Is Shavuos considered the new year? The Gemara answers…yes! The Mishna in Rosh Hashana states that fruits of the land are judged on Shavuos, thereby making Shavuos a new year. The Rambam in Hilchos Tefilla 13:2 and the Mogen Avraham Siman 428:4 and others mention the importance of reading Bechukosai before Shavuos. But perhaps, more importantly, is that which is somewhat overlooked in Bechukosai. Bechukosai is automatically associated with the curses, but there are Brachos in the beginning of Bechukosai which are overlooked, somewhat casually glanced over without emphasis.

The significance of the Brachos/blessings preceding the curses is great. Chazal taught the concept that Hashem creates the Refuah/healing before the Makkah/wound. There is no doubt in my mind that the refuah - the cure of this virus - is here in the world, it only takes Hashem’s allowance for us to discover it. The Bracha for this time in the world predated the devastation of the virus and we should be zocheh , meriting to see the refuah and the blessings that are here with us, yet to be received. Blessings will come only after we deserve them. Therefore, each and every one of us needs to do a little self-introspection, looking inward with keen attention and honest deliberation to our own lives. We need to prepare and go through the transition through doing Teshuva/repenting to greet the new year after Shavuos that will, with the grace of Hashem, bring the end of the curse and the beginning of a new year of blessing.

Wed, May 27 2020 4 Sivan 5780