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Mystical Numbers of this week’s Torah

Parshat Behar-Behukotai

Leviticus 25:1 –Leviticus 27:34 

This double portion ends the book of Leviticus.  With 36 blessings and 49 curses contained in this portion, the third book of the Torah ends.  The double portion takes place at Mt. Sinai—behar—at the mountain.  And the closing verse of Behukotai tells us (Lev. 27:34) “These are the commandments that Adonai gave Moses for the Israelite people on Mount Sinai.”  These blessings and curses are wrapped in the knowledge that we heard them from on high at the covenantal moment.

  The number of the blessings and curses are interesting.  There are 36 blessings in this portion.  Thirty six is of course double chai-2 times life.   The blessings in this portion are indeed about the promises of life and security in the land when one observes the covenant.  The perspective of the Torah portion is the promise of God’s goodness and reward when the Torah commandments are observed.  This brings overflowing blessing and grants a double portion of life.

The curses or rebukes that are in this week’s portion number 49.  This is also a significant number because of the cycle of the years that is outlined at the beginning of the portion; seven times seven years leading to the 50th year of Jubilee.  The 49 curses or rebukes are directed at the children of Israel if they stray from the commandments and their responsibilities as a holy nation.  The further Children of Israel move from God-God hides from them.  In many communities these rebukes are read by the rabbi of the community because no one wants the “aliyah” the honor of this section.

But at the beginning of the portion we also read about the Jubilee year—a year of remission of debts and a year that returns everything back to an original state-the land that has been sold-reverts to its original owners, slaves are released and the world is put right according to the Biblical order of things.  So too with each of these rebukes or punishments.  There are 49 of them—but in the end we are assured that God’s covenant cannot be broken.  There is hope that God will be with us no matter what. And the land eventually will atone for our iniquities and God will remember the covenant.

While the reward and punishments listed in the Torah are tied to the land—the truth is if we turn away from God and our tradition then we further alienate ourselves from the system of meaning making that is our inheritance.  The idea of God and the holy breath of life that connects all humanity can help shape our realities. But we have to honor and recognize this and honor and recognize the mitzvot that help us live upright and holy lives.  When we reject this holiness that is within us and we move farther and farther into idolatry then we can poison our own existence-we don’t have to wait for a punishment.  The choice is always given to us.  Blessing or curse?  Which to choose? Death or life?   Therefore Choose life-teaches another part of our Torah. 

And as we end the portion-and end the book of Leviticus we ask that our lives be strengthened—Chazak Chazak V’nitchazek. The words we state at the end of a book of Torah.  And so may we be strengthened by the blessings and chastened by the rebuke and seek to draw closer to the holiness of life that we call God.