SERMON PORTION BECHUKOTAI 2016
Once upon time, there was a meeting in a synagogue. Like many meetings in a synagogue, it was getting heated! It happened in this week, the week when the Torah portion, Bechukotai, was approaching; and, the Gabbai was adamant!
During that portion, a section known as the, “Tochacha,” is read. There are a number of such passages in the Torah; and what they have in common, is that the Torah details with great foresight, the misfortunes that the Jewish people will face, if they disregard the Torah. Usually, they have a positive section first, which says, “these are the blessings that will come to you if you follow God’s laws.”
But then comes the second section, with the harrowing curses and the gruesome details of what will happen to you if you do not follow God’s laws; and they are enough to send a shutter up anyone’s spine!
Because of that, most people are reluctant to be called up to the Torah to receive that Aliyah. Someone has to do it, so the job usually falls on the Ba’al korei, or, the Gabbai.
But nobody wanted it! Everybody seemed to have had their share of bad luck the previous year, and nobody wanted to push the envelope. No one, therefore, wanted the honor.
And so, on the Wednesday before that Shabbat, the meeting was called. The Gabbi was the first to call out. He shouted,
“I will not take the Tochcha this year.”
Two weeks after the previous year’s Aliyah, his life went kaput! And, he added for the curious and the equally, eager congregants,
“I’m not going to elaborate!”
Another voice, a mile or two away from this one, screamed out from the crowd and said,
“It’s time to give it to the Rabbi!”
But, the Rabbi demurred. He said,
“Gentlemen, if you take a look at my contract, it says I get Shlishi, the third Aliyah, every week. The Tochacha this year, is the fifth Aliyah.”
So, smiling he said,
“I am exempt!”
Well, pre emptorly, the Shammas stormed up quickly, and said,
“Don’t expect me to be called for the Tochacha! It’s not going to happen! My job is to tidy up the shule, and make sure that everything is in order. I won’t stand up there to hear the curses of the Tochacha.”
Well, the men were about to cancel the service for that Shabbat; when an elderly gentleman spoke up in the back. He said,
“If you pay me one hundred and fifty dollars, I will take the Tochacha.”
There was silence. And then in unison, all heads nodded.
The men had never met the stranger, but he was their salvation. They told him when the dovening began; and he said that he would see them that Shabbat.
When Shabbat came, the Hazzan began, but the old man was not there. It came time
to take out the Torah, and he was still not there.
The Rabbi decided to speak before the Torah reading, just to stall and draw out the length of the service a little bit, in the hopes that he might arrive. And then they started reading the Torah- very slowly.
It was not until the fourth Aliyah, that the old man burst into the shule, panting. He had made it!
He got his Aliyah. But, as soon as he stepped off the bima, the Gabbai cornered him.
“Where were you? Do you know how much you scared us?”
The old man said,
“Do you think a Jew can make a living from just one Tochacha?”
This year we were lucky and the Tochacha did not fall in the section we read.
But listen to how it works.
The opening of the portion says,
“Eem bechukkotai. If you follow my laws and favorably observe my commandments, I will grant you rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce, and the trees, the field of their fruit...”
And then, after thirteen good verses, it says,
“But if you do not obey me, and do not observe all these commandments; if you reject my laws, and spurn my rules...I, in turn, will do this to you. I will wreak misery upon you; consumption and fever, which causes the eyes to pine, and the body languish, and you will sow your seeds for no purpose, for your enemy shall eat it...”
And then it gets grosser, and grosser!
So, what is the Torah trying to teach us?
I believe what the Torah wants to tell us is, that actions have consequences; that there is reward and there is punishment. If you do something, something will happen and you have to stand up, and take responsibility for it.
Not in our world- it’s always someone else’s fault. Listen to the report of the 2006 Stella Awards.
“Time once again to review the winners of the Annual "Stella Awards." The Stella Awards are named after 81 year-old Stella Liebeck who spilled hot coffee on herself and successfully sued McDonald's (in NM). That case inspired the Stella Awards for the most frivolous, ridiculous, successful lawsuits in the United States Here are this year's winners:
5th Place (tie):
Kathleen Robertson of Austin , Texas , was awarded $80,000. by a jury of her peers after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store. The owners of the store were understandably surprised at the verdict, considering the misbehaving little toddler was Ms. Robertson's son.
5th Place (tie):
19-year-old Carl Truman of Los Angeles won $74,000 and medical expenses when his neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord. Mr. Truman apparently didn't notice there was someone at the wheel of the car when he was trying to steal his neighbor's hubcaps.
5th Place (tie):
Terrence Dickson of Bristol , Pennsylvania , was leaving a house he had just finished robbing by way of the garage. He was not able to get the garage door to go up since the automatic door opener was malfunctioning. He couldn't re-enter the house because the door connecting the house and garage locked when he pulled it shut. The family was on vacation, and Mr. Dickson found himself locked in the garage for eight days. He subsisted on a case of Pepsi he found, and a large bag of dry dog food. He sued the homeowner's insurance claiming the situation caused him undue mental anguish. The jury agreed, to the tune of $500,000. In my opinion this is so outrageous that it should have been 2nd Place!
4th Place :
Jerry Williams of Little Rock , Arkansas , was awarded $14,500. and medical expenses after being bitten on the buttocks by his next door neighbor's beagle. The beagle was on a chain in its owner's fenced yard. The award was less than sought because the jury felt the dog might have been just a little provoked at the time by Mr. Williams who had climbed over the fence into the yard and was shooting it repeatedly with a pellet gun.
3rd Place :
A Philadelphia restaurant was ordered to pay Amber Carson of Lancaster , Pennsylvania , $113,500. after she slipped on a soft drink and broke her coccyx (tailbone). The beverage was on the floor because Ms. Carson had thrown it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an argument.
Kara Walton of Claymont , Delaware , successfully sued the owner of a night club in a neighboring city when she fell from the bathroom window to the floor and knocked out her two front teeth. This occurred while Ms. Walton was trying to sneak through the window in the ladies room to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge . She was awarded $12,000 and dental expenses
This year's runaway winner was Mrs. Merv Grazinski of Oklahoma City , Oklahoma . Mrs. Grazinski purchased a brand new 32-foot Winnebago motor home. On her first trip home, (from an OU football game), having driven onto the freeway, she set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the driver's seat to go into the back & make herself a sandwich. Not surprisingly, the RV left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Mrs.Grazinski sued Winnebago for not advising her in the owner's manual that she couldn't actually do this. The jury awarded her $1,750,000. plus a new motor home. The company actually changed their manuals on the basis of this suit, just in case there were any other complete morons around.”
This concept is so pervasive! Listen to this story.
Jane and her older sister had been fighting a lot this year. Jane’s parents warned her that Santa Clause was watching, and Santa does not like it when children fight.
Well, that did not have much of an impact! So, the mother said,
“I’ll just have to tell Santa about your misbehavior;” and she picked up the phone and dialed.
Jane’s eyes grew big, as her mother said,
“Hello, Mrs. Clause? [It was really Jane’s aunt; Santa’s real line was apparently busy] Mrs. Clause, is it okay if you could put Santa on the line?”
Jane’s mouth dropped open, as mom described to Santa [Jane’s uncle], how the three year old was acting. And then mom put Jane on the phone.
Santa, in a deepened voice, explained to Jane how there would be no presents on Christmas morning to children who fought with their sisters. He would be watching and expect that things would be better from now on.
Jane solemnly nodded to each of Santa’s remarks, and silently hung the phone up, when he was done.
After a long moment, mom asked,
“What did Santa say to you, dear?”
And in almost a whisper, Jane, sadly, but matter-of-factly, stated,
“Santa said he won’t be bringing toys to my sister this year.”
Jane was three, and already had it figured out! It’s not about me! I can’t be held responsible for what I do! It must be somebody else. If Santa is not going to give a gift because we are fighting, it’s my sister’s fault, not mine!
Preachers have this all the time. We give a sermon, and sometimes we have that particular person in the congregation in mind, but of course, we generalize it to everyone. And, inevitably, that person that we had in mind, comes up at the end of the sermon and says,
“Way to give it to them, Rabbi, they really needed to hear that message!”
When you do things, they have consequences, and you have to bear the responsibility.
Do you remember what the first sin in the bible was? It was Adam and Eve who committed the sin that caused great cosmic consequences. Man was kicked out of the garden of Eden.
Do you member with the second sin was? It was Caine killing Abel . Based on the punishment why is it that Adam and Eve's sin was greater than Caine's? Shouldn't Caine's be much worse? After all he was a murderer. His crime was way worse. Yet his punishment was private and personal but Adam and Eve's was cosmic?
The difference lies in how each sinner reacted to his or her own sin .
According to the Midrash Caine accepted his guilt but Adam and Eve did not. Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. Only later when Adam saw how Caine accepted his guilt and repented did Adam realize,
"Oh my God, repentance works and I didn't understand it"
Don't many of us use the Adam and Eve approach, and blame everyone else for our mistakes.
Let me conclude with a legend told about one of our ancient sages who was about to travel from Israel to Rome.
The night before he left, he had a dream in which he saw a beggar dressed in rags, sitting at the gates of Rome. A voice in that dream said to him,
“Do you see that man? That is the Messiah dressed as a beggar.”
The Rabbi woke up, and he could not get the dream out of his mind. He kept thinking about it; and finally, as he approached Rome at the end of the journey, there was, in fact, the very same figure dressed in rags, sitting exactly where he had seen him in the dream.
The Rabbi went up to him and said,
“Is it true that you are the Messiah?”
And the man nodded.
And the Rabbi said,
“Well, what are you doing here at the gates of Rome?”
And the man answered,
And the Rabbi said,
“In a world so full of misery and hatred and war; in a world in which the people of Israel are scattered and oppressed; in a world in which children go hungry, and innocent people suffer— you sit here waiting? Messiah, in the name of God, what are you waiting for?”
And the messiah answered,
“I have been waiting for you, so that I could ask you, in the name of God, what are you waiting for?”
This week we saw 3 women in a restaurant see a man slip a roofie into his date’s drink. They could have ignored it but instead they reported it and a woman was saved from being violated.
Everyone needs to take responsibility. When they do, the world will be a much better place.