Bechukotai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34 )
GOOD MORNING! Where is God? Did you ever have the thought -- or meet someone who said -- "I've looked everywhere, but I've never seen God! How come we don't see His actions or hear from Him? There are many ways to answer this question. Below is a logical philosophical response by Rabbi David Fohrman followed by a Hassidic spiritual philosophical response.
Rabbi Fohrman is the author of The Exodus You Almost Passed Over, a delightful and enlightening analysis and clarification of the Exodus story of the Jews leaving Egypt. Rabbi Fohrman is an original and creative scholar who looks for answers from the text. When he teaches, I find myself thinking, "Why didn't I ever ask that question?' or "Wow! That question always bothered me and I never understood it until now!' His website AlephBeta.org offers courses on topics dealing with life's biggest questions, achieving meaningful evidence-based answers that are intellectually and emotionally satisfying -- and relevant to everyday life. Writes Rabbi Fohrman:
"A few years back, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who proudly considered himself an atheist. He was making one of his favorite points: 'Where is God?' he wanted to know. 'If God really exists, how come you and I don't see more of Him?'
"I told him he reminded me of Little Hat and Little Shoe, wondering about the whereabouts of Parker.
"I was referring, of course, to tokens in 'Monopoly' - the real estate trading game made by Parker Brothers. If you've ever played the game, you know that there are all sorts of tokens by which a player can choose to represent him or herself. You can be the automobile, the thimble, the little hat, or the little shoe. Imagine a discussion between Little Hat and Little Shoe, who are faithfully going around the Monopoly board for the umpteenth time.
"As Little Hat passes a hotel belonging to one of his opponents, he says to Little Shoe: 'Say ... do you believe in Parker?'
"Little Shoe looks at him quizzically. Little Hat explains: 'You know - look over there, on the side of the board. It says in big black letters, made by Parker Brothers. So, do you believe in that? Do you believe in Parker?' "Little Shoe replies: 'Yes, I suppose I do. What about you?'
"So Little Hat responds, with an air of weary frustration: 'Look, I've been around here a long time. Every week, I pass "GO," and I collect my $200. I've been to Tennessee Avenue, St. James Place, Boardwalk, you name it. I've seen it all. Heck, I've even been to jail. And I'll tell you something. I ain't never seen Parker. This whole time, I've just never bumped into him. So no, I don't believe in Parker. I'm a Parker atheist.'
"If you could interject at this point in the conversation, what would you say to Little Hat? You'd say: 'My dear Little Hat, you're looking for Parker in all the wrong places. Parker doesn't live on the board. He made the board!'
"The maker of a system doesn't live inside that system. As a creator, you can interact with the system you made: you can make the rules by which it functions. You can decree that every piece collects $200 on passing "GO", and that when a player picks the chance card that says "GO DIRECTLY TO JAIL," then yes, that player really has to go directly to jail. All that, a creator can do. But the creator doesn't live on the board. That's not his natural place. The board is the environment put in place for the created, not the Creator.
"In the case of humankind, the board is the universe, the world of space and time in which we find ourselves. When we look around the universe demanding to touch, feel or see the Creator - we are looking in the wrong place; we are treating the Creator as if He were one of us. The universe is the place made for creatures; it's not the natural domicile of the Creator." (The Exodus You Almost Passed Over, pgs. 54-56)
The Hassidic spiritual philosophical response: Reb Simcha Bunim of P'shis'che once asked Reb Mendel of Kotzk, "Young man, where is God?" Reb Mendel responded, "The entire world is full of His glory." Reb Simcha Bunim then asked the same question a second time. A bit puzzled, Reb Mendel said, "There is no place that is devoid of Him." The third time Reb Simcha Bunim asked the exact same question, Reb Mendel replied, "If my answers do not satisfy you, then please tell me." Reb Simcha Bunim answered, "God can be found wherever He is welcomed."
Bechukosai, Leviticus 26:3 - 27:34
The Torah portion sets forth the blessings that you will see in this world in response to your deeds.
It then continues with the Tochachah, words of admonition, "If you will not listen to Me and will not perform all of these commandments..." There are seven series of seven punishments each. Understand that God does not punish for punishment's sake; He wants to get our attention so that we will introspect, recognize our errors and correct our ways. God does not wish to destroy us and will never annul His covenant with us. This is the Almighty's guarantee to the Jewish people: " ... I will not grow so disgusted with them nor so tired of them that I would destroy them and break My covenant with them, since I am the Lord their God." (Leviticus 26:44-45) He wants to prevent us from becoming so assimilated that we disappear as a nation. I highly recommend reading Leviticus 26:14-45.
Many religions place their basis of faith in far away promises. The Talmud teaches, "He who wishes to lie says his witnesses are far away." For example, "I have witnesses that I paid back the money I owed you, but they happen to be visiting Europe" -- or "Have faith in our religion and you will get Heaven."
While Judaism believes in an Afterlife, a World to Come, the Torah makes no promises that are "far away." It makes definitive statements of consequences. This week's portion says, "If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them; then I will provide your rains in their time, and the land will give its produce and the tree of the field will give its fruit. Your threshing will last until the vintage, and the vintage will last until the sowing; you will eat your bread to satiety and you will dwell securely in your land. I will provide peace in the land, and you will lie down with none to frighten you ... I will make you fruitful and increase you..."
The portion ends with instructions regarding gifts to the temple, valuation and redemption of animals, houses, fields ... and lastly, the second tithe and tithing animals. And thus ends the Book of Leviticus!
* * *
from Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.
The Torah states:
"If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them" (Lev. 26:3).
The literal translation of the verse is "If you will walk in my decrees." Rabbi Simcha Bunim of P'shis'che pointed out that whereas the heavenly angels do not progress in holiness and remain forever in the state in which they were created, man should not remain static, but instead advance in spirituality every day of his life. This is what the prophet means: "If you walk in My ways and safeguard My charge, I shall permit you movement among these immobile (angels)" (Zechariah 3:7). God has enabled us to have "movement," i.e. to grow in spirituality in contrast to angels that remain stationary.
The fact is that there is no standing in one place. If we are derelict in advancing ourselves spiritually, this failure sets us back and we regress spiritually. We are constantly in movement. If we do not move forward, we are slipping backward. The wording of the Torah is precise. It is not enough to simply observe the mitzvos (commandments). We must do so in a way that we progress in spirituality.
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