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Parshas Bechukosai - Putting Out the Fires or Planting New Crops?                                               26 Iyar 5779

05/31/19 11:04:52


Everything Hashem created in the world can be used for good or bad. For something to be a blessing, the right amount at the right time and place is needed; should any of these conditions be lacking, the blessing spells out a curse. The Tochacha or public rebuke of the Jewish people and foretelling of the future vis a vis the blessings and curses of the Jewish people, is found in two places: parshas Ki Savo in Devarim and the last Parsha in Vayikra, Bechukosai, this week’s reading. Bechukosai opens with a brief description of blessings to be showered upon us if we fulfill the mitzvos. The bulk of the portion then goes on to describe the devastation, through a series of seven curses, that will affect the Jewish people if we choose not to follow and fulfill the mitzvos of the Torah. Although the Torah does not mention all the ways the land will be destroyed, we know that fire is a force in the world which can devastate the land.

California and San Diego in particular are no strangers to wildfires. Unfortunately, raging fires have also become too common in Eretz Yisrael. Only last week, with temperatures way above the norm along with other factors, fires raged throughout Israel , wiping out entire communities, leaving behind charred cars and twisted homes. Baruch Hashem, the loss of life was minimal, but the utter destruction is devastating. I believe that many of the fires in Israel were ignited through arson, a truly heinous, dastardly, cowardly act perpetrated by our enemies. A young ,newly- married couple from our community lost all their belongings in one of these criminally-motivated fires.

On the other hand, although often harmful and destructive to humans, naturally occurring wildfires play an integral role in nature, returning nutrients to the soil through the burning of dead or decaying matter. Fires also act as a disinfectant, removing disease-ridden plants and harmful insects from the forest’s ecosystem. By burning through thick canopies and brushy undergrowth, wildfires allow sunlight to reach the forest floor, enabling a new generation of seedlings to grow. To be open and honest, there are opinions that differ from mine which claim forest fires increase carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect and climate change. In addition, ashes destroy much of the nutrients and erode the soil, causing flooding and landslides. Be that as it may, we know from the Torah that land does better with change such as allowing the land to rest or through the cleansing of naturally caused fire.

In a previous message I mentioned my rabbinic training. An additional layer which is part of my rabbinic responsibility is that of a fireman. Part of my job, as well as the core job of other community leaders and CEOs is putting out fires. During my early years as a young rabbi, a past president of the Shul gave me some sound advice: “Things are either neutral-to-positive or neutral-to-negative.” He explained that the goal is to make things progress by making neutral-to-positive decisions and to not waste time in the process. Negative energy is spent on exactly that: putting out the fires at this function, dousing out the fire because of this or that. When we get stuck in a situation where we find ourselves focused on extinguishing the pop-up fire here and there, we lose our focus: to properly move forward with our agenda. Although this principle is generally correct, I have noticed over the years that sometimes putting out a ‘fire’ does have some redeeming quality. It may put an issue to rest, or, through reviewing the issue reveal other positive issues that never would have surfaced otherwise. As far as our Parsha and the curses are concerned, there are situations when a curse is actually a blessing in disguise. We try to avoid the curses, but we should keep in mind that there is opportunity for building on a tragedy, causing brachos to grow through it all.

In this week’s parsha Bechukosai the Torah states in Vayikra 26:31: “Vnasati Es Areichem Charbah, Vahashimosi Es Mikdisheichem, V’Lo Ariach B’Reiach Neechochachem”. “I will let your cities fall into ruins, and make your sanctuaries desolate. No longer will I accept the appeasing fragrance of your sacrifices.” When reading this verse, it is necessary to review it carefully, for it is obvious that once the Beis HaMikdash is destroyed, of course there won’t be any aroma because there are no longer any sacrifices! Rashi quoting the Sifra explains in the following passuk Vayikra 26:32 “Vahashimosi Ani Es HaAretz, Vshamimu Aleha Oyveichem Hayoshvim Bah”. “I will make the land so desolate that even your enemies who live there will be astonished.” This is good dispensation for the Israelites, for the enemies will not find any gratification in their lan, since it will be desolate, stripped of its inhabitants. In truth, one can ask, ‘What difference would it make to the Jews if their enemies aren’t comfortable in our land after we’ve been displaced? “ Is this reasoning based on the simple, child-like level of thinking, “If I can’t have it, then they shouldn’t have it?” That is hardly the case when it comes to Am Yisrael and God destroying our land. The truth is there is a silver lining in the Tochacha, the public rebuking of the Jewish people. Despite the destruction of the actual land, the Kedushas HaAretz, the holiness of the land, is ever-present. The Kedusha/holiness is witnessed through the fact that the invading nations cannot find comfort in the land, causing them to leave. Those who invade our land don’t want to live in a holy place like Eretz Yisrael; they physically won’t want to. That is how we know the land was and is still holy despite God’s wrath of destruction upon it. From this we determine that their presence is not permanent, even though our land - Eretz Yisrael - is in a state of ruin. The final proof is that there will not be an aroma from the Altar, not even from a ‘Bamah’ a private altar which was only permissible prior to the Beis Hamikdash. One might think that since the Temple is destroyed, we can still offer Korbanos on a ‘Bamah’. This thought is halted by the verse that tells us there will not even be a sweet smell, due to the forbidden use of the private altar. The only reason the private altar is outlawed, despite the absence of the Beis HaMikdash, is because the holiness of the Temple is still here. The sanctity of the Beis HaMikdash was never nullified - even after it was destroyed.

The tochacha, the rebuke, manifested its ways on the Jewish people. Ultimately, it was a sign and a method for the Jewish people to do Teshuva, to return our devotion to Hashem. We should merit to see the clear Brachos/blessings and secondarily to see the bracha that emerges from the fire to rebuild, plant and to grow once again in preparation for Moshiach.


Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780