This week’s portion is Behukotai and contains the “Tochacha”, or warning. In this discussion, Hashem tells the Israelites that if they do the commandments and what they’re supposed to do according to the word of Hashem, things will be good. If they don’t, then there will be consequences. As usual, the consequences outweigh the rewards.
The Admonition, or “Tochacha”, contains three levels of seven warnings. Each of them are progressively worse. This is to give the Israelites the opportunity to return to Hashem and the commandments, what has made our people strong.
The prophecy turned out to be true. Our ancestors abandoned our principles and as a result we were conquered and forced to live in exile for the last 1800 years. We were thrust among those that did not only did not believe as we did, but in many cases forced us, or tried to force us, to adopt their beliefs. During that time, we nevertheless clung to our beliefs and survived. This was what the prophecy declared.
If we look at the last 1800 years as we struggled among strangers, many of our ancestors clung to our beliefs and religion. Wherever we went, we set up schools and synagogues and continued, as much as we could, to live our culture. We persisted even when death at the hands of foreign governments threatened our very lives.
As a result, we now have our land back. And in many ways, we are thriving. We have created an oasis in the desert. Many entrepreneurs have started thriving businesses. We are a democracy in an area that sees almost exclusively repressive regimes. But our civil rights and respect for individual life speaks for itself.
Israel is thriving. There are more start-up businesses than just about every other country in the world. As the portion declared, five of us will pursue twenty and twenty will fend off a thousand, so it is. Israel, our land and heritage, has survived and overcome our enemies. We have persisted and thrived and in fact, many of those enemies are now looking to engage with us in commerce and defense. Such is the result of practicing our faith in the face of dire circumstances.
However, in our country of the United States, and much of Europe, we are oppressed and persecuted. Many of our fellow Jews are beaten and synagogues are attacked. Attempts by those in our government to declare this to be unacceptable are overturned by those who seek to diminish our struggle and put other issues involved that draw attention away from our plight.
Consider that all this has happened as synagogue attendance and membership has hit a low. Yes, according to recent polls, only 30% of Jews belong to, or are involved in their local synagogues. Whereas many areas were thriving with a Jewish population, now they are desolate.
Coincidence? That depends on how much credence you give our Torah. If you regard it as mere history, literature, a “fairy tale”, then there’s not much of a resolution. But if you study Torah and look at the times that we have strayed from Hashem’s teachings, it becomes interesting. During times when people either ignored Torah or saw it as trivial, we have suffered. When we’ve favored the customs and culture of our host countries and tried to blend, there was a push back. You would be hard pressed to explain the connection as anything but divine providence.
The Tochachah says this. This is our first warning and we need to change. The synagogue is the center of our community in the diaspora. It keeps us together. Strength in numbers.
When we live our culture, we take pride in it and who we are. We are proud. We feel confident and strong and this attitude pervades into the perception of other peoples.
When we feel a part of our 3500-year tradition, it gives us a confidence and a faith. Others see it. They see that we are strong and will not tolerate oppression.
Now this is not a call to arms; in fact, it is anything but. When we connect with Hashem, Hashem will connect with us. Of course, it won’t be perfect, but as history and the Torah has showed us, it will be better.