These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PCJE Dvar Torah] The Chosen Blessings

Posted on May 15, 2014 by Laura Marder

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laurmarWhat do we have to do in order to get the beautiful blessings that are promised to us in this week’s parsha? Blessings that really take care of us – our whole selves, emotionally and physically. Blessings that have blossoming effects on our shared land and bring food and joy to our tables. It seems like there is a pretty obvious “If – Then” statement happening at the opening of this weeks Parshat Behukotai.

ג. אִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ וְאֶת מִצְו‍ֹתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם: 3. If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them”

תֵּלֵכוּ: to go, walk, active

תִּשְׁמְרוּ: guard what you have, protect, keep

וַעֲשִׂיתֶם: Go out and Do!

When I read this 13 years ago for my Bat Mitzvah it seemed like the lesson was as simple as following rules and doing good deeds in order to have a good life. Pretty standard, and worked with my 12 year old life, “IF I study and do HW – THEN I will get a good grade”.

What I have discovered since that fateful, nerve racking, powder blue sparkle suit Bat Mitzvah day, is that life requires action and faith and constant reminding to see the good. It is not just reading something, nodding your head; and then giving tzedakah and lighting candles. All of these blessings that G-d describes in this week’s Parsha are all around us and occurring naturally. I think the blessing is learning to see the good in our lives and not to take it as a given.


This first pasuk (verse) teaches us how to see the blessings. We have three actions we must do. We have to “go/ follow/ walk” “guard/ keep” and “do/ perform/ make”. These actions help us fully embody what we are doing. To me, mindlessly doing a mitzvah does not open you up to recognition of the blessings. We have to take on the mitzvah and go with it! Not just sit in front of a book or screen and learn about it. We need to take it out into life and feel its impact on our daily routines.

Each of these actions rely upon each other. We have to go out, walk into the world. Once out there, it is hard, and we need to really guard what we believe and hold on to doing what we feel is right. Once we are able to really strongly hold onto the Mitzvot we bring with us, we need to do them! Make something out of it! Perform them out in the world! Continue to walk out further and into new spaces, explore, discover, share!

These verbs really speak to me and my personal Judaism. If you are Facebook friends with me you see that I am publicly always feeling “so blessed!” I have found that the more I become mindful of the Mitzvot that I keep the more I am conscious with every step of my day of the connection of blessings to G-d. When I stop to pray and I look around, I realize how beautiful the view from the Tayellet (Promenade) is, or that I have amazing friends surrounding me and feel protected and watched over. When I pause to say a Bracha (blessing) on a perfectly baked cookie from my roommate I think about how blessed I am with sustenance, emotionally and physically. When I give tzedakah, I realize how supported I am by my family and community. I carry these Mitzvot and more with me every moment of my life. They come with me when I walk along my way, when I think about why I do what I do and when I make myself realize that what is around me is a blessing.

Rashi says that this first pasuk is telling us that we should “put effort into Torah study”. I agree, and will take this a step further. Knowledge brings us understanding and connection in life. The more we know why we do what we do, the more impact it will have on us and those around us.

So it isn’t so simple. It takes action, and opening of the mind to see the gifts around us at each moment. In the text it says the blessings will come to (the land) הָאָרֶץ and הַשָּׂדֶה (the field). Not just your personal land and field, but to the land and field of those around us. Our actions don’t just bring joy to us. Being aware of beauty in life is contagious. If we are doing as commanded here and going out into the world and performing these Mitzvot then others will see and learn from us, and these blessings will be on our collective space.

It is not all rainbows and fruit trees though. The majority of the parsha focuses on really terrible curses. Beyond no rain we get into stuff like eating the flesh of your siblings?! The structure of the instruction is the same though. IF…THEN…

יד. וְאִם לֹא תִשְׁמְעוּ לִי וְלֹא תַעֲשׂוּ אֵת כָּל הַמִּצְוֹת הָאֵלֶּה: 14. But if you do not listen to Me and do not perform all these commandments,
טו. וְאִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי תִּמְאָסוּ וְאִם אֶת מִשְׁפָּטַי תִּגְעַל נַפְשְׁכֶם לְבִלְתִּי עֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל מִצְו‍ֹתַי לְהַפְרְכֶם אֶת בְּרִיתִי 5. and if you despise My statutes and reject My ordinances, not performing any of My commandments, thereby breaking My covenant

Sforno and Nechama Leibowitz note that the curses do not come merely from stopping the act of doing Mitzvot. It happens in Pasuk 5 with the additional information about despising and abhorring them!

תִּמְאָסוּ is properly translated as “fed up” “sick of”. If we all take a moment and think about a time when we felt fed up with something we can see that at that moment everything bad around us became apparent. When we get to the point of being sick of things we stop listening, we stop being aware of the blessings. Everything becomes overwhelmingly bad. The spiral of absolute anger and despise depicted in the text shows how crazy these curses can get if we let ourselves fall down the path of becoming sick of performing Mitzvot.

I’m suggesting that Blessings and Curses are always both around us. It all depends on what we are open to seeing and how to get to a place of being open to receiving them. Bad things happen. People get tired and lose faith. People do good and still the curses seem to pile up. This is why we have to constantly be active and out in society with our Mitzvot. The blessings will come to “our land” so we can help those around us when they begin to lose steam.

As we begin to prepare to leave Pardes and go into new communities it is key to remember that Mitzvot are meant to be mobile. To come with us. Our learning is guarded by each one of us, and what we do and create with it has the possibility to bring awareness of blessings into our lives and those wherever we may end up. We have to be forewarned by this Parsha to not allow yourself and each other to get “fed up”. We have to be gentle with ourselves in this transition. See that new situations will challenge our practice and routines but instead of jumping to hate we need to keep going and creating new connections.

So what would I say to 12 year old Bat Mitzvah girl Laura about how to understand her Parsha? I would tell her the mantra that Rabbi James told to me my first few months at Pardes, to say for good and bad days, “life is like this…” Allow yourself the space to mess up, don’t turn right away to anger and get fed up. Don’t experience bad and think it is forever like this. Life is full of blessings and curses, it just depends upon how we choose to recognize and open up to each moment.