Sign In Forgot Password

From the Rabbi - May 30, 2024

Rabbi Chaitovsky

Following her personal reading of this week’s Torah portion, Bechukotai, a congregant emailed me and asked if this week’s Torah portion contains the secret to understanding all that is going wrong in the Jewish world right now – antisemitism, Israel’s low approval rating in the world, college campus encampments, and more. The congregant noticed a word that occurs seven times in this parasha but does not appear anywhere is in Tanach.  Her take on the word made her think about the world…and the Jews who live in it.

The Torah reading contains a series of blessings that will be bestowed upon us as the reward for observing the mitzvot and “keeping the Torah.” But it does not stop with the blessings. The portion continues to describe curses, or execrations, that will befall us as punishment for non-compliance and for non-observance. The list of curses is much longer than the list of blessings. They are difficult to read and horrifying to think about. The word that dots the passages of the curses is keri, pronounced kerry. In context the word seems to convey the idea that if you behave towards me with keri, I will be keri with you. But what does keri  mean?

The various translations include rebelliousness, obstinacy, indifference,
hard-heartedness and reluctance. Maimonides, however, relates it to the word mikreh, meaning “by chance.” The overall message is: if you behave as if history were mere chance, and not the product of Divine Providence, then, says God, I will leave you to chance. The result will be that Israel – a small nation set in a highly hostile neighborhood, then and now – will eventually be defeated, devastated, and come close to destruction.

In the thinking of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, this points to a distinction that we sometimes forget: between Divine punishment on the one hand, and the withdrawal of Divine Providence on the other – what the Torah calls “the hiding of the face” of God. When God punishes, He punishes the guilty. When God withdraws, the innocent are punished, as well. The Torah says that we will be left blowing in the wind, we will be navigating the waters but totally rudderless.

I like to translate keri as casual. My congregant may have been right. The Torah is telling us that our relationship with God should not be a casual one. There must be commitment and consistency, for without them, God’s relationship with each of us…and all of us…could likewise be casual and occasional. Nobody really wants that. Strengthening our Jewish commitment and consistency will prevent that from happening.

Let’s not wait!

Shabbat shalom…and see you in shul.

Mon, July 22 2024 16 Tammuz 5784