Between the Lines—B'har-B'hukkotai

Weekly Midrash Learning with Rabbi Abigail Treu

ויקרא פרק כו פסוק מב

וְזָכַרְתִּי אֶת בְּרִיתִי יַעֲקוֹב וְאַף אֶת בְּרִיתִי יִצְחָק וְאַף אֶת בְּרִיתִי אַבְרָהָם אֶזְכֹּר וְהָאָרֶץ אֶזְכֹּר:

ויקרא רבה (וילנא) פרשה לו

ר' יודן ברבי בשם רבי ברכיה אמר אם ראיתה זכות אבות שמטה וזכות אמהות שנתמטטה לך והטפל בחסדים הה"ד (שם /ישעיהו/ נד) כי ההרים ימושו והגבעות תמוטינה, הרים אלו אבות והגבעות אלו אמהות ואח"כ וחסדי מאתך לא ימוש א"ר אחא לעולם זכות אבות קיימת לעולם מזכירין ואומרין (דברים ד) כי אל רחום ה' אלהיך לא ירפך ולא ישחיתך ולא ישכח את ברית אבותיך וגו'.

Leviticus 26:42

Then I will remember My covenant with Jacob; I will remember also My covenant with Isaac; and also My covenant with Abraham; and I will remember the land.

Leviticus Rabbah 36:6

Rabbi Yudan ben Rabbi in the name of Rabbi Berekhiah said: If you see that the merit of the Patriarchs is failing and the merit of the Matriarchs slipping away, go and occupy yourself with benevolence, as is written: For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed; but My love shall not depart from you (Isaiah 54:10). 'Mountains' signify the Patriarchs, 'hills,' the Matriarchs, and after that 'My love shall not depart from you.' Rabbi Aha said: The merit of the Patriarchs shall endure for ever. We shall always mention them and say: For the Lord your God is a merciful God; He will not fail you, neither destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers. (Deuteronomy 4:31)

God's everlasting love: the core of the religious promise and the most comforting offering of religious life. No matter what natural or man-made disaster may befall you, know that God's love and mercy for us is eternal.

We live in a world in which we don't always see evidence of God's eternal love. Natural disasters and man-made problems afflict us, their threat ever lurking in the shadows of our lives and their reality shattering the rhythms of our daily existence. "For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed." The midrash equates these with the "merits of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs"—the sense, when disaster strikes, that God's love has run its course and the covenantal promise at the core of our tradition in shambles. Not so. God "will not fail, nor destroy, nor forget the covenant of your fathers."

In response to disaster, we must love more. In Hebrew, the word translated above in Leviticus Rabbah 36:6 as "benevolence" is hasidim. We must take more care (l'hitafel, a causative construction of a verb normally used in the non-causative) to be kind, loving, and full of giving tenderness to those around us. More pious, perhaps, too; but the thrust of the final verse from Deuteronomy is to focus us on our mercy. In response to disaster and our own sense of the slipping away of goodness in the world, we are to become the loving, merciful, ever-reliably benevolent creatures that we want God to be. The Jewish response to suffering is to do good in the world.