These and Those

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

Failing to Hear God’s Call

Posted on May 2, 2021 by Carole Daman

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This blog piece was written by Carole Daman (Year ’73-’74, Spirituality Retreat ’13, ’14, ’15, ’17, ’18,  WPLS ’08, ’09,  PLS ’12, ’13, ’14, ’15, ’16 ’17, ’18, ’19, ’20).

Sefer Vayikra begins with an invitation and ends with a warning of alienation. According to Ramban, the Sefer sets forth laws meant to protect the intimate relationship which God has with Bnei Yisroel. In the first verse, Hashem calls (vayikra) to Moshe from the Mishkan which has been built by Bnei Yisroel so that Hashem may dwell among them. In the Torah, “vayikra” is written with a small aleph leading commentators including Rashi and the Baal HaTurim to reflect on the difference between God calling Moshe (vayikra) and God just “happening upon” (vayikar) Balaam.

In the final parshiyot of Vayikra that we read this week, we find out that if we view God’s commandments and the events of the world with a “vayikar” attitude of casualness, assuming that everything is a product of happenstance, Hashem will treat us in the same manner and thrust us out of the Land of Israel. The word that describes this attitude, “keri”, appears seven times in this section and nowhere else in the Tanach. It is related to the word “vayikar” which describes not only Balaam’s prophetic encounter but also Amalek’s attack on Bnei Yisroel. This attack, Chazal tell us, had the effect of delaying the universal recognition of Hashem’s kingship.

In Bechukotai, Bnei Yisroel are warned that they will be punished for treating God with keri, failing to obey God’s laws and acting in a way that does not recognize that He is in control of the world. The rebuke is divided into five sections. Keri is not mentioned until the third section since its usage indicates that the people are oblivious to the fact that the earlier punishments are meant to give them an impetus to repent. In the fourth and final sections, the word “keri” refers not only to the people’s behavior but also to God’s response. In the final stage, God’s keri is linked to His anger in the phrase “b’chamat keri”. The verse describing this situation (26:28) is cited by Rambam both in Hilchot Taaniyot 1:1-3 and in the Moreh Nevuchim. There he explains that if a community does not recognize the need for repentance when faced with adverse events saying ”this trouble is mere happenstance,” more troubles will come upon it.

The final result of Bnei Yisroel’s failure to repent is exile, and the Torah tells us four times that after Bnei Yisroel have been expelled the land will make up for the shemita years that have not been observed. This leads several commentators to suggest that the failure to observe shemita is the major sin for which the people will be punished. According to Rabbi David Fohrman, the failure to observe shemita is similar to the sin that caused Adam and Eve to be expelled from Gan Eden. Like eating from the only tree in the garden that God had set aside, it shows an unwillingness to recognize that the land belongs to God.

I believe it is significant that we celebrate both Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim in the same month that we read Behar and Bechukotai. We have been privileged to live in an age when Am Yisroel has returned to Eretz Yisroel and Yerushalayim. It is incumbent upon us to be grateful for these blessings and to realize that they are more than the accidents of history.