“‘I myself will lay waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled.’” — Leviticus 26:32
The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Behar-Bechukotai, from Leviticus 25:1–27:34. Behar means “the mountain,” and Bechukotai means “My decrees.” The Haftorah is from Jeremiah 16:19–17:14.
On May 24th, 1626, Peter Minuit purchased a small island off the coast of America. Local Native Americans sold it to him for a load of cloth, beads, and other goods that were worth 60 guilders. Today, it is estimated that 60 guilders is equivalent to as little as $24 or as much as $1,000. But either way, it’s a pretty small price to pay for the island that is now known as Manhattan. If those Native Americans would have known what Manhattan would become, surely they would have never sold it.
This week’s Torah reading deals with the unpleasant consequences that would come to the children of Israel if they failed to follow the Word of God. Among the punishments that the Israelites would have to bear would be exile from their land and the complete destruction of their homeland. God told them, “I myself will lay waste the land . . .” God would make His own land desolate as part of the punishment.
Reading the list of punishments isn’t easy – especially since history has shown that these predictions came true. It is hard to feel God’s love when reading about these harsh consequences. But when we look a bit closer, we see His everlasting love shining through. Even when God punishes us, He is loving us. And everything that He causes to happen in our lives – even the hard stuff – is ultimately a blessing.
While God promised to utterly destroy the land of Israel and keep the land desolate while they were in exile, this curse was ultimately one of the greatest blessings that the people of Israel have ever received. As we read on in the verse, we see why this is true: “ . . . so that your enemies who live there will be appalled.”
For over 2,000 years, Israel was not a desirable land. No empire in the world was able to make the land blossom or profitable. Though many tried, Israel would not yield her fruit. And thank God for that! Because had Israel been the blooming and blossoming garden that she is today, there is no way that the Jewish people would have been able to return to her as they have. Starting in the early 1800s, Jews began to purchase parts of the Holy Land that didn’t cost much at the time, but were priceless to the Jews who bought them.
The lesson for us is that God is always on our side. Even when it seems like our circumstances in life are less than desirable, there is always a hidden blessing. As the psalmist put it: “your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalms 23:4). Thank you, God, that everything You do is ultimately for our very best.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President