Thursday, September 08, 2011

Bhukotai 5771 a Nice Apocalypse

This was supposed to get out two days ago. Saturday we read if we are good, we'll get the good stuff. If we are bad, well things are going to go very bad. In a strange coincidence, this Saturday May 21st some people believe is also supposed to be the apocalypse. I have some opinions about all this.

This simplistic idea of quid pro quo has a lot of problems. It is not clear from the text exactly what brings on this

3 If ye walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them; 4 then I will give your rains in their season, and the land shall yield her produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. 5 And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time; and ye shall eat your bread until ye have enough, and dwell in your land safely. lev 26

The great and good things continue, but there is a catch:

14 But if ye will not hearken unto Me, and will not do all these commandments; 15 and if ye shall reject My statutes, and if your soul abhor Mine ordinances, so that ye will not do all My commandments, but break My covenant; 16 I also will do this unto you: I will appoint terror over you, even consumption and fever, that shall make the eyes to fail, and the soul to languish; and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.

It gets worse: disease famine, and exile are all in the cards depending if people repent or not. BUt even in exile there is the chance of return.

There lots of questions about such a simplistic system. Do good, get good. Do bad get bad. As I wrote a few weeks ago, a death to a close relative is one of those things that frames this as nonsense. When bad things happen to good people, none of this is helpful or meaningful. I wanted nothing more in my life than my mom at my wedding, and only a few months from the date of the wedding, that was snatched from me. When such a thing happens, it's hard to believe in such a simple system.

In contrast, the claims of some fundamentalists that the end of the world is May 21 have me thinking. the whole idea of a violent end time is odd to me. I'm not the only one -- the Rabbis in Tractate Sanhedrin couldn't come to any conclusions about the end times either. There is not a lot that makes sense about it. What I find particularly interesting is the idea that there is some kind of justice at the end of the world -- those who are good get good, those who are bad get bad. Of course those proclaiming the end are the "good ones."

Of course the current crop are also the same people who put a government in place that wants to make absolutely sure the widows and orphans of the world are totally and completely ignored in their needs. This is against the words of the same prophets they figure out their prophecies of a May 21 end of days. National economic health is more important than the poor. Isaiah and Jeremiah probably would not agree with that, and this weeks portion in it's literal context would seem to say treating the poor well leads to economic health, not the converse.

As a reader of comedic science fiction, I have liked what two authors have said about the destruction of the universe. Douglas Adams wrote that if we ever made sense of the universe, it would be immediately destroyed and replaced with a more inexplicable one. This may have already happened. Terry Prattchett in his parody of the apocalypse The thief of time follows the idea that every second the universe is destroyed and remade. Interestingly in the same novel, the keys that saves the universe from a an ultimate doom is a milkman with a curious past, one of the Horsemen of the apocalypse's granddaughter, and a lot of chocolate truffles.

A year ago I could have written more definitively, but the tragedy of this year in my life makes me far more cynical. A god who would not let my mother live is a god sadistic enough to go through with such thing as an end of days. Yet, even as a write that, I cannot believe that is Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu. Much of the Bible makes no sense if it is.

There is a Hasidic tale which I cherish about the coming of the messiah. It concerns an abbot of a monastery who was at the end of his rope. His monks were always fighting, the place was a mess, and the grounds unkept. Not knowing what else to do he went and talked to the Baal Shem Tov, in a desperate hope he might be able to give him some insight from Heaven. The Baal Shem Tov considered for a moment, then said: "I have it on good authority that one of your monks is the Messiah, though I do not know which one." THe Abbot went back with this information, and told the monks. Strangely things changed. the garden was kept, the halls was cleaned and no one fought. The abbot found that when everyone thought the messiah might be dwelling among them they treated each other with respect. I believe the BESHT knew it was not one, but all the monks were the messiah. When we all treat each other with that level of respect, when we see everything as an aspect of God and not an aspect of our own arrogance things change.

Given the end of the rebuke in this weeks chapter it is not clear if all the mizvot need be violated. God seems to concentrate on the sabbaticals and jubilees.

33 And you will I scatter among the nations, and I will draw out the sword after you; and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste. 34 Then shall the land be paid her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye are in your enemies' land; even then shall the land rest, and repay her sabbaths. 35 As long as it lieth desolate it shall have rest; even the rest which it had not in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it.[leviticus 26]

verse 43 repeats this. It is not only respect for people, but a healthy respect for the environment as well. We are taken off the land so the land heals from our abuse. This was only for over plowing. What of bleeding it dry of its resources and then taking all those substances and emitting them into the atmosphere? The Earth is the Lord's the psalmist exclaims, do we have the right to exploit what is the Lords?

The rabbis debate with no definitive answer if the messiah will come at the end of days when the world is thoroughly wicked or thoroughly good. I for one, believe it is when we are all good, for the messiah as a person will be redundant -- we all will be one with God of our own free will. We are far from that day as we cannot even decide what is "good." this week's rebuke was aimed at the whole nation, and even more so all humanity. Yet somehow, I still believe that there will be a time when we finally understand that lesson.

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