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Parashat Bechukotai

May 27, 2022
26 Iyyar 5782
Leviticus 26:3 – 27
41st Day of the Omer

Dear Friends,

Yesterday my soul was replenished in the wake of tragedy. In giving the invocation and benediction at Lehman College’s Graduation ceremony, I was given the privilege of experiencing hope in a time where so much that we see and feel is clouded with darkness.

There were over 3,000 students who graduated yesterday. Many of these students are the first in their family to go to college; they come from a multitude of cultures. As I looked over the sea of faces before, I truly saw the rainbow that is the Bronx and New York at its best. Being present at this moment in the lives of these individuals, who managed to get to this moment of completion and accomplishment, despite the challenges of Covid and distance learning and along with the other challenges of their lives was heartening. Over and over, I heard from the faculty and members of the administration that the students inspired them. As I waited to process, I had the opportunity to spend a little time with two students. I was the first rabbi that they had ever met. In ten minutes of waiting, I had the joy of having a truly thoughtful conversation about making the world better. Together we planted a seed of hope.

We have been in our own confined circles through these past few Covid years. During these years of isolation, many of us have been operating out of silos, unable to connect with others in the ways to which we are accustomed.

In reading Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s essay about this week’s Torah portion, Bechukotai, through the lens of leadership, he provides us with a road map for these challenging times. The question for all of us is are we willing to follow it. 

The Torah portion begins on a positive note but then devolves into what will happen to the people if they do not follow God’s commandments.

“As for those of you who survive, I will cast a faintness into their hearts in the land of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight. Fleeing as though from the sword, they shall fall though none pursues.

With no one pursuing, they shall stumble over one another as before the sword. You shall not be able to stand your ground before your enemies.” (Leviticus 26:36-37)

 Rabbi Sacks points out that the sages interpret the highlighted section as “they will stumble because of one another”, thereby making our behavior matter, as we are all responsible for one another. 

 This teaching weighs heavily on us as we ask ourselves what can we do, as the storm clouds gather. It reminds us that doing nothing is simply not an option. We are at a critical juncture where we must join with others. We need not agree on every point, save this one, that “the breath of children is holy”. This point is why we reach out to refugees, why we support organizations that combat hunger, and why we combat hate with all of the tools at our disposal.

 Yesterday I saw hope and possibility when standing before an audience of strivers. May we join them in walking through the gates of hope. We are so much stronger together. May we find the strength and courage to keep going forward even amidst the pain and anguish of the moment.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Sun, June 26 2022 27 Sivan 5782