Rabbi Jennifer Weiner | Special to WJW
This week’s Torah portion is Bechukotai, Leviticus 26:3-27:34.
There is a legend about a king who processed a perfect ruby. It was the king’s favorite gem. One day while admiring the ruby, the king realized that there was a scratch. He became distraught and called his advisers to determine a plan of action. None of the advisers was able to assuage the king.
Many weeks later, an artisan was traveling through the kingdom, so the king invited the artisan to visit him. The king showed the artisan the scratch in the ruby and asked if it could be fixed. The artisan took the ruby and went away.
When the artisan returned, he handed the ruby back to the king. The king looked at it and saw that instead of a scratch, the ruby now had a rose etched into it with the scratch incorporated into the stem. The scratch was no longer a flaw; it had been turned into a blessing.
Both last week’s and this week’s Torah portion bring to the forefront a series of blessings and curses by God with consequences depending on our actions. Usually, the two portions are read on the same Shabbat. This year due to the leap year and the extra month of Adar II, the two portions are read on separate Shabbats.
Blessings and curses are often discussed in Torah, often in a conditional manner. In commenting on a similar passage in Parshat Eikev, Rabbi Shira Milgrom states:
“The text cautions that our residence on the land — whether it be Israel, Palestine, America, or the planet as a whole — is contingent upon gratitude. We will need to move beyond, ‘It’s mine,’ ‘I earned it,’ … or ‘God promised.’ We need to shift our perspective somehow from ownership to gift. … The love may be unconditional, but the gift is perishable.”
In other words, we need to be grateful for what we have received from God and take care of it. It is through the means of tending and tilling the land and the manner in which we treat each other that we earn God’s blessings.
Extrapolating from the idea of needing to be grateful to God for the blessings we receive, we learn from the Creation story that we are all created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. If we are created in God’s image, then we need to act as such and act Godlike in our words and actions.
In our day, there are many examples of individuals acting Godlike: the first responders, the medical personnel caring for those with COVID-19 and other diseases, the caregivers and essential workers all ensuring that life continues with as much normalcy as possible. Other individuals of blessings are our teachers for imparting their wisdom on us, those working to bring social justice and equanimity into our world.
These Torah portions teach us that we should be grateful, not just to God, but to all those who are acting in a Godlike manner. It is easy to do. Say thank you to those helping to improve our world and trying to ensure that even just one more individual feels heard and recognized as more than just a statistic. It is a simple gesture that goes a long way to demonstrating just how grateful we are for all of God’s blessings. It is also a way of living our values out loud and doing Torah.
Rabbi Jennifer Weiner lives in Northern Virginia and is interim rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Honolulu, Hawaii.