Skip to content

Parsha Notes: B’huqqothai

May 18, 2014

My daughter came home this week with one of those shabbos-table parsha sheets the kids are supposed to read to their proud parents. There was a good question on it.

If you look at Leviticus 26:6-8,

And I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid; and I will cause vicious beasts to cease out of the land, neither shall the sword pass through your land. And you shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword.  And five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand; and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword…

you might ask “why, if verse 6 promises peace, do verses 7 and 8 promise lopsided victories of the enemies? Shouldn’t the blessing of peace preclude the necessity of even waging war? At the very least, lopsided victories should lead to peace!”

The answer the sheet gave went along like this: The peace referred to in verse 6 is domestic, between the Jews themselves, and once they have proper unity, they can defeat all their enemies.

This sounds very nice, maybe even relevant to current politics, which themselves are just reruns of the same politics that have been plaguing us for millennia. However, most Biblical promises like these point to parallel instances in later books, instances that help us understand both texts. The blessings described in this week’s parsha came true for the first time during the reigns of David and Solomon. After taking the throne over all of Israel, II Samuel 5 describes how David subdued the Philistines, the foreign overlords who had occupied the land of Israel for at least the century preceding his reign. Then, when “it came to pass, when the king dwelt in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies round about,” (II Samuel 6:1) he sought to build the Temple. That is, first David eliminated the internal gentile threat, and then he secured the nation’s borders. After that, chapters 8 and 10 describe how David subsequently took the fight beyond his own borders, going on the attack against the Philistines, Ammonites, Edomites, and Arameans in their own territories. The sequence of these events parallels the blessings in our parasha. “I shall give peace in the land” refers to eliminating the threat from the enemies within, “neither shall the sword pass through your land” refers to securing the borders from foreign invasion and attack, and “And you shall chase your enemies, etc.” refers to eliminating the threat from the enemies without.

Verse 6 has four separate blessings as indicated by the cantillation notes:

1. And I will give peace in the land, 2. and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid; 3. and I will cause vicious beasts to cease out of the land, 4. neither shall the sword pass through your land.

Now, which of these blessings does not fit with the others? Number 3, because all the others refer to human relations, whereas 3 refers to us being free of some bestial threat. Pursuant to what we wrote above, how blessing 1 refers to eliminating the internal yet foreign military threat and blessing 4 refers to securing the borders, blessings 2 and 3 are to be understood thusly:

And you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid because I will cause those vicious bipedal beasts, the kind that may resemble humans and seek to make you afraid of lying down in your houses, to cease out of the land.

Our sages instituted that the tochaha of B’huqqothai be read before Shavuoth, similar to the way that they instituted that Zachor be read before Purim. Nahmanides was the one who claimed that the tochaha in Leviticus describes the destruction of the First Temple, and that the second tochacha, in Deuteronomy, describes the destruction of the Second Temple. He brings ample proof to his position, but it is important to remember that 1. Hazal did not make that claim, and on the contrary, used verses from the first tochaha to describe situations that existed after the failed revolts against the Romans, 2. Abravanel claims that although specific parts of the first tochaha describe the destruction of the first commonwealth, both tochahoth are applicable to the entirety of Jewish history, and 3. according to the system that I have expounded previously, whereby prophecy is less about sitting back and waiting for things to happen and more about actively making prophecy, which is in essence an extension of the divine command, come about, not only are both tochahoth not restricted to any particular time period, they can still come true at any time. I have heard a tradition, similar to the one the late Rabbi Herzog had, that because there are only two tochahoth and they already came true, there can not be another destruction. However, being that there is an ancient enactment that both tochahoth be read at specific times of the year, every year, it is apparent that the sages believed that just like Zachor is still eminently relevant because our enemies have yet to be neutralized, so too, the tochahoth are also constantly relevant, as if we do not heed His voice, and instead “walk with Him matter-of-factly,” then He will bring upon us all the curses enumerated in both parashiyoth.

Advertisements

From → logic, parasha

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: