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This week's portion: either/or (Behukkotai)


If you will follow my laws
and observe my commandments
I will grant you rain in its season
you will eat your fill
I will live in your midst.

I will untie your tangles.
Where there is rye bread
there will always be pastrami.
You and your mother will remain
on good terms, no matter what.

But if you do not obey
if you break my laws and spurn my rules
if you break my covenant
I will set my face against you
I will shatter your glory.

I will leave your boat becalmed.
You will never find
a good parking place again.
You will poison the skies
and your fields will not feed you.

I can be infinitely more hostile
than you, but I won't be.
In the end you'll realize
I was here all along,
waiting for you.

This week we're in Behukkotai, the last portion in the book of Leviticus. This portion begins with some truly fabulous homiletics: God telling the Israelites that if they follow the mitzvot (connective commandments) God will reward them, but if they break the covenant all manner of dreadful things will transpire.

I read this more as a descriptive text than a prescriptive one. I don't think the Torah is ecessarily offering a direct equivalency between righteousness and good fortune (or the inverses thereof.) I choose to read it instead as a suggestion that being in conscious relationship with holiness enriches our lives on emotional and spiritual levels, and that breaking that covenant damages our lives in those same ways.

The first and third verses of this poem are a patchwork of citations from the portion.

Writing these Torah poems has changed my relationship with the text. For the first time I find I'm genuinely sorry to see Leviticus go. But I'm curious to see where the book of Bamidbar -- which in English we call Numbers, though the Hebrew name ("In the Wilderness") is much more evocative! -- will take me.

As usual, if you can't see the audio player at the top of this post or if you'd like a copy of the recording, you can download EitherOr.mp3.

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