This week’s Parasha is Bechukotai, (in My statutes) Leviticus 26:3–27:34.[i] The Haftarah is from Jeremiah 16:19–17:14 and the reading from the Besorah is Luke 16:10–17.
In this week’s Haftarah there is an abundance of information that beckons our attention. “The biblical prophet Jeremiah is perhaps best remembered for his doomsday prophecies. He criticised his generation for their wayward behaviour, and then watched them fall at the hands of their geopolitical enemies. Needless to say, Jeremiah lived through a tumultuous time in world history.” [ii] However, with all of the turmoil that Jeremiah experienced, this week’s reading begins with Jeremiah’s proclamation,
ADONAI, my strength, my stronghold, my refuge in the day of affliction… (16:19a)
This is reminiscent of the Psalmist’s words,
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me: Your rod and Your staff comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
Interestingly, it is the rod and the staff that brings comfort for the Psalmist. The rod carries the understanding of a scepter, which is a symbol of political authority. As a symbol of authority it denotes the possibility of discipline or chastisement. The staff, on the other hand, likewise carries the idea of political authority, but additionally the item used by a shepherd to guide, direct and protect the flock. Discipline and protection, two-sides of the same coin exhibiting the care of HaShem for His people.
In the second part of the verse we read the lament that the nations will confess,
“Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies, futility and useless things.” (16:19b)
At some point in the future, the nations of the world will realise that the idols of their fathers are in fact not gods at all, but merely the work of human hands without the power or authority to care for or guide them. At that time, they will turn to the God of Israel knowing that He alone is ADONAI. Rav Shaul eludes to this yearning in his letter to the Yeshua-believers in Rome,
For I consider the sufferings of this present time not worthy to be compared with the coming glory to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons of God. (Romans 8:18-19)
Israel, according to Scripture, is the sons (and daughters) of God, (Hosea 1:10; 2:1 in Christian Bibles). I am not discounting here that the people from the nations who come to the LORD are children of Abraham, the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3) as affirmed by Rav Shaul, “And if you belong to Messiah, then you are Abraham’s seed—heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). However, the nations being heir to the promises to Abraham does not nullify or negate HaShem’s promises to His covenant people Israel. It is not only the Apostolic Writings that foresee the nations coming to the God of Israel. In the Aleinu, the closing prayer of Judaism’s three daily prayer services, we read,
Therefore, we place our hope in You, Lord our God, that we may soon see the glory of Your power, when You will remove abominations from the earth and idols will be utterly destroyed, when the world will be perfected under the sovereignty of the Almighty when all humanity will call upon Your name, to turn all the earth’s wicked toward You. All the world’s inhabitants will realise and know that to You every knew must bow and every tongue swear loyalty.[iii] (cf. Philippians 2:10-11)
In chapter 17, Jeremiah turns his attention to Judah’s transgressions that are inscribed on the altar with a diamond tipped pen and engraved on their hearts with an iron chisel. This illustrates the use of a rod or staff for discipline. Rashi notes that this is an allegorious illusion indicating that Judah’s sins were so “deeply engraved and could not be erased.”[iv] Here we have one of the ambiguities found in Scripture. He who so indelibly engraved Israel’s sins also has the power and authority to deal with those transgressions. ADONAI proclaims,
I, I am the One who blots out your transgressions for My own sake and will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25)
However Israel, as we ourselves, have a part to play in the “blotting out of our transgressions.” We must actively seek ADONAI with the attitude Jeremiah expresses, for himself as well as all Israel
Heal me, ADONAI, and I will be healed. Save me, and I will be saved. For You are my praise. (Jeremiah 17:14)
Perhaps it is in memorial of Jeremiah’s plea that we recite the 6th brachot of the daily Amidah, רפואה,[v] “Heal us, Lord, and we shall be healed. Save us and we shall be saved, for You are our praise.” There is an expectation in the hearts and minds Jews that ADONAI is the source, not only of physical healing but of all that is encompassed by the concept of being saved. As believers in Yeshua, we expand this understanding in agreement with the author of the book of Hebrews, so that we are “looking to Yeshua, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2). It is often easy for Yeshua believers to think of being “saved” as merely a spiritual condition that allows us entrance to the World to Come. But in the Judaic mindset being “saved” is more of a daily, physical reality in which HaShem works on our behalf so that we might experience true shalom – not the absence of adversity but the strength and assistance to move through the situation.
I close with the words from the Haftara and the Book of Hebrews, “Heal me, ADONAI, and I will be healed. Save me, and I will be saved” “… for Yeshua our Messiah is the Initiator and Completer[vi] of our faith.” (Jeremiah 17:14 & Hebrews 12:2)
[i] Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
[iii] The Koren Siddur, Nusah Ashkenaz, Jerusalm, Koren Publishers, 2009, p 180.
[v] The Koren Siddur, Nusah Ashkenaz, Jerusalm, Koren Publishers, 2009, p 118.
[vi] Initiator and Completer is from the Complete Jewish Bible, Copyright © 1998 by David H. Stern.