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Obedience not obsequiesness

06/01/2024 08:38:33 AM


Shabbat Shalom! Count the Omer - tisha ushloshim yom, shehaim chamisha shavuot v’arbaah laomer - and the kabbalistic realm of this day is Netzach shebeyesod, Ambition in foundation. This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Bechukotai, in which we are promised blessings and curses (mostly agricultural in nature… no pun intended) in accordance with our level of obedience to God’s commandments. It is a continuation of last week’s parasha, Behar, as they are often grouped together in non-leap years, and it concludes the book of Leviticus. 

But it is important to note, as Rabbi Shai Held does in his book of contemporary Torah commentary, Heart of Torah, that “Obedience is not obsequiousness.” Rabbi Held further quotes brilliant academic Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, who describes God as “a dialogical, covenant-keeping partner in the life of Israel.” Rabbi Held begins his chapter on Parashat Bechukotai by zeroing in on the word “kom’meyut” - our rising up or straightening of our backs. The verse found in Leviticus 26:13 roots the commandments and the promise of blessings and curses that continues throughout the Torah portion in the reminder that God freed us from slavery, broke the yokes of our oppression, and allowed us to stand upright. 

The lesson that ties these concepts together, between the beginning of the parashat and the meat of Rabbi Held’s commentary on it, is that sometimes we must question what seems normal around us and argue with those in power in order to throw off the yokes of oppression. God welcomes questions and respectful disagreements and so should any leader worth their salt. And anyone who wishes to be free or to help marginalized communities liberate themselves must not be afraid to stand up for themselves and others, as Moses and Aaron do. As all Israelites do eventually as they question Moses every step of the way across the desert. 

This Shabbat, may we embody this lesson through the Kabbalistic themes of this day of the omer. Ambition to take on the Pharaohs of the world, building from our foundations of faith in justice and equality, persistence to question authority with the integrity of our traditions and values. And let us bring about a world where all yokes of oppression are broken and all people may walk upright in peace. Amen and Shabbat Shalom. 

Tue, July 23 2024 17 Tammuz 5784