Rain, Materialistic Blessings and Ultimate Fulfillment: the Torah Portion of Bechukotai

Did I mention? I love Hebrew! Maybe not at first sight, and not when I studied for matriculation exams in language and grammar, but ever since, things just get better. And the longer we get to hang around together, the deeper our connection.

Hebrew has an amazing system of roots that shed light on each other. Consider this: kaved means heavy, while kavod is honor, and indeed, depicts someone that has “weight” – in their own eyes, and in the eyes of those around them; a word which stands in contradiction to kal meaning light and klala – curse, or as befits the opposite of “weighted one” – taking someone lightly.

Rain in the Torah is often used as a key blessing. We probably know it best from the second paragraph of the Shma, and we will also see it in this week’s parasha, the last parasha of the Book of Leviticus. Bechukotai deals with the “blessing and curses”, also known as consequences: if we do good, good things will happen, and if not – a much longer and more detailed list of bad things will happen.

אם בחוקותי תלכו – If you walk in accordance with My law… the word for law here is “chukot”, usually meaning laws for which we can find no simple reason other than “kdusha”, holiness. Examples might include kashrut, sha’atnez and even Shabbat. For those we need great faith because, at the end of the day, those are the ones which have no rational explanation. Luckily about these laws the Torah just says here – “If you walk…” which according to some means, if you just get on the journey, it will count in your favor. You might not get all of them perfectly right, but at least start on the path in the right direction.

ונתתי גשמיכם בעתם – the first reward for doing the right thing is timely rain. Rain in Israel, especially of ancient times and still today is critical. Unlike Egypt – and the two are often put in contrast to each other – the Land of Israel has very limited resources, and those are all dependent on the Heavens. There are no daily tropical showers, great lakes, or man-made system of canals that ensure year-round steady flow. On the other hand, there are also no gods fighting with each other, expressing their capricious nature, oblivious to the humans far below. According to the Torah, rain is a reflection of a good relationship between the Children of Israel, their G-d and the way of life He prescribes to his People.

There is a midrash on Psalms 73:3 where it says: יִשְּׂאוּ הָרִים שָׁלוֹם לָעָם וּגְבָעוֹת בִּצְדָקָה – “mountains will bring peace to the nation, and the hills – tzedaka”. But how can that be? Do mountains bring peace and hills bring tzedaka? It is said: where there is no rain and little fruit, there is strife in the world. How so? One person might enter a vineyard of his fellow man in order to satisfy his hunger. The vineyard’s owner would be surprised and angry at the intruder, thus they begin to quarrel. Yet, while there is lots of rain, there is food, things are good and there is peace. Therefore the promise for “rain in its season” is a promise for peace in the word.

The same root used for the word גשם – geshem is also part of gashmiyut – materialism, and hitgashmut – fulfillment or self-realization. To me this is an extension of the original text that expresses two important, intertwined ideas: the first is that blessings express themselves in the material world around us, and I like the idea that the spiritual and the physical are closely connected, and that the physical is a reflection of other, deeper, hidden occurrences. It also reminds and teaches us that there is no sin in being affluent or living well, as long as we remember where are blessings are coming from and our tzedaka obligations.

And what if we do what we perceive as “the right thing” and there is no visible “reward”, “outcome” or physical benefits for us doing so, for after all, there is no guarantee for those? That’s where the second point comes in: more than walking in the right path is a recipe for receiving material goods, it is a journey for self-fulfillment and realization. Thus we can read the text like this: embarking on the journey, davka in dealing with those G-d given commandments we don’t necessarily fully comprehend, has the potential of bringing us closer to our own true self-fulfillment.

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