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Wednesday, May 5, 2010
A WORRY-FREE PHILOSOPHY
Rabbi David Walk
Every year we read the blessings and curses at the end of the book of Leviticus as part of our preparation for our annual re-acceptance of the Torah on Shavuot. Normally we think of the curses as the challenge and the blessings as the reward. However, I believe that a careful reading of the blessings presents us with challenges as well. Do I really desire this idyllic world as described in these verses? Maybe people aren't sure. Most teenagers I've talked to about the potential coming of Mashiach claim that they would prefer he not arrive. They are quite happy with their present lives and possessions, thank you. So, these blessings aren't seen as an improvement by every reader. That's sad. Let's take a look at one small aspect of these blessings and try to understand what the new reality will expect from us.
There's a phrase in our blessings at the beginning of Bechukotai which already appeared twice in parshat Behar. When the Torah describes the glory and compensation for fulfilling the mitzvah of the Jubilee year, we are told: You shall perform My statutes, keep My ordinances and perform them, then you will live on the land securely (Leviticus 25:18). The very next verse repeats this concept by saying: And the land will then yield its fruit and you will eat to satiety, and live upon it securely. So, there must be two types of security. The first seems to be spiritual, connected to mitzvah performance, and the second seems to be financial based upon crop production. But the word for securely is betach, and it's not so clear exactly how to translate this term. The English translation of the commentary by Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888, the translation into English was done by Isaac Levy) renders this expression as dwell in the land without worry. When I read that I immediately thought of the Lion King and the philosophy of Hakuna Matata, which is described as: It means no worries for the rest of your days. It's our problem-free philosophy! Ultimately, even this cartoon has to reject this world view, because it's necessary to confront life's issues.
What do we think of this phrase? Does it mean in those two verses and when it gets repeated in the blessings (26:5) that someday we'll live without any worries, concerns or problems? Some authorities would say yes, but not me (not that I'm an authority). The Rambam (Maimonides, 1137-1204) is clear that there is no difference between our era and the Messianic Age except in the arena of political power. To be human is to have worries and concerns, because we able to see beyond this moment, we must fret about the future. So, now what is the bitachon or faith that we are supposed to achieve?
There are two words in Hebrew for belief or faith, emunah and bitachon. I think that emunah is more of an intellectual activity, to believe firmly in an idea. Bitachon, on the hand, is more about behavior. Since, I believe in perfect faith in a certain concept or reality, then I behave differently. In other words, first I must have a system of believe in God and the power of our Creator, then I must have faith that the Holy One will be there for me in time of need. This doesn't absolve me from my own efforts to improve my situation, but assuming I remain loyal to God, divine help will be extended. This is idea is crucial to how I lead my life. The rabbis agree. When setting up the order of our prayer book, the rabbis arranged material in strategic locations to guide us in our lives. Before leaving synagogue on weekdays, we have a compilation of verses designed to guide our thinking and behavior. This synopsis of major Jewish ideals is called U'vah L'tziyon Goel, May the Redeemer Come to
This arrangement is not accidental. As we prepare ourselves to leave synagogue and enter the realm of work and business, we are encouraged to have bitachon, faith and trust, in God. This sentiment should carry us into our corporate world with the spirit of ethics and morality to behave honestly in all our commercial transactions, because we have faith in God and divine providence. We work hard and God blesses our sincere and conscientious efforts. This attitude is much more than belief in God's existence or past exploits; it is a firmly held faith in God's love and concern for Jews and the Jewish people, which should help us continue our lives.
The Talmud (Sotah 49a) mentions this prayer (Kedusha D'sidra), and Rashi comments that this material was placed here to make sure everyone studied some Torah daily. But the reason that our Sages chose this material is for the message I've discussed. There is a more recent custom over the last couple of centuries to recite Maimonides' Thirteen Articles of Faith at the end of tefila. That reflects a more modern attempt at philosophic purity within the religion. I'm not enamored of that idea.
Judaism as been described as a praxis, a system of behavior rather than of belief. I like that idea. Ultimately, I'd like to think that how we behave is more important than what we believe. So, let's behave in a manner which demonstrates our secure faith in a God who observes and rewards our conduct. This requires bitachon. I hope we all can respond effectively to that challenge.
You can subscribe to Rabbi Walk's weekly articles at WalkThroughTheParshafirstname.lastname@example.org
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