Truth in advertising
This week’s Torah portion (B’chukotai) starts off amiably enough: If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments, I will grant your rains in their season… I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down untroubled by anyone… I will look with favor upon you, and make you fertile & multiply you and maintain My covenant with you.
But then we get down to business. If we don’t follow the rules & regs, then (and this is a direct quote): I will wreak misery upon you. Land will lie fallow. Our foes will dominate us. We will become scared of the slightest thing (the sound of a blowing leaf, for instance).
No produce in the fields. Wild beasts. Cattle disease. Pestilence. Famine. Cities in ruin.
Sort of what God did to Pharaoh & Egypt, only more so. If we don’t pay attention and end our wicked ways, then even more so. If we still don’t pay attention, even more so. If we do not allow the land to have its sabbath years, if we do not do what we’re supposed to – kaboom! We’re toast.
In short, we might forget to take care of business, but God will remember.
What I find so compelling about this description is its specificity. This is not metaphor. Our bellies will distend, our children will die of thirst, plague & locust will destroy all we hold near and dear. Would that real life were like that. Not so much the part about following all 613 or else (that would take care of me and everyone I know), but a clear and immediate relationship between how we behave as a community/species and what happens to us and the land/Earth on which we live.
Imagine if every time we tossed a plastic bottle out of car window instead of taking it to the recycling center, hail would pelt our car windows. Or if we had a 10-fold plague of frogs every time we used non-organic pesticides. I’ll bet that Big Oil executives would think twice if their face sprouted nasty boils every time they went before Congress for a tax cut. There is something so clean, so appealing about this kind of cause & effect scenario. It’s easy to ignore our communal bad behavior if the consequences come on slowly or won’t really kick in for another generation. Maybe it’s not really happening. Maybe there’s still time to change after I buy my next gas guzzling car. But it’s a whole other matter if we get whacked on the figurative hand within 5 minutes of screwing up.
Admittedly, this is even beyond the toughest of love. Plus it mitigates against free will more than might be comfortable at first reading. But damn, it sure would work.
We humans are so thick. So slow to change. So convinced that God or the land or the future (take your pick) isn’t talking to us. For a poem on this general subject, see Postcard From the Avenue of Forgetting. It was written after a trip to Beit Shean archaeological park in Israel, a place where many different people have worked the same plot of land and called it home – and where each was convinced they were the last ones to lay claim to it (after killing or enslaving or humiliating the former inhabitants). Four thousand years from now, I hope there’s still some land left as witness to all our 21st Century mistakes.