Chosen To Be Choosers

This week’s Dvar Torah was written by Rabbi Laila Haas, CAJE's Director of Adult Learning & Growth, and is dedicated in memory of the 45 souls tragically killed on Lag Ba’Omer at Mount Meron.
May their neshamot have an aliyah through the learning we do. And we wish a speedy refuah shlaymah to the over 150 people injured as well.

Painting by Yoram Raanan

“If you follow My laws and faithfully observe my commandments... I will look with favor upon you, and make you fertile and multiply you; and I will maintain my covenant with you. I will establish My abode in your midst, and I will not spurn you. I will be ever present in your midst I will be your God and you shall be My people.”

(Parashat Bechukkotai, Leviticus Chapter 26)

Parshat Bechukkotai opens with a conditional statement: If you faithfully follow in God’s ways, then you will be blessed. If you reject God’s ways, then you will experience punishment and curse. These consequences are referred to by the rabbis as tochecha/ rebuke, and it is customary for the Torah reader to read the passages outlining the curses quickly and quietly as if to protect the congregation from the uncomfortable nature of the curses.
Although the parsha begins with a semi-frightening set of conditions, if we examine the text on a deeper level Bechukkotai expands the definition of what it means to be in relationship with God by offering the concept of “choice.” The people of Israel are presented with the freedom to choose how they might engage with God and the world around them.
God empowers the People of Israel to make a conscious decision each day to live, speak, and act in such a way to bring blessing and goodness into the world. By creating this choice, God expresses the desire for us, human beings, to be active participants in our life journey.
As I was studying the parsha, I flipped through our Melton Scholars Curriculum, SHIV'IM PANIM – SEVENTY FACES OF WISDOM, on the Book of Vayikra, A Call to Holiness. In the lesson on this week’s parsha, I came across this interesting text written by Former President Shimon Peres (of blessed memory), who served Israel as Secretary of Defense, Prime Minister and President. He shared:

“Bechukkotai, which closes the Book of Leviticus... declares unequivocally, almost bluntly, that humans can choose, but that the choice must be clear and courageous… The Creator of the world chose us from all peoples. The profound meaning of the choice is not that God chose us to be a people superior over the nations, but opened our eyes to see that we can choose. We were chosen to be choosers.”

Every day we are presented with a myriad of choices. We make decisions about what we engage in, what we commit to, and what our priorities are. We make trade-offs and we sometimes find ourselves torn or pulled in multiple directions.
Our Torah portion this Shabbat helps to refocus us on our internal power to make choices that guide us as we strive to walk in God’s way.
Bechukkotai, reminds us “we were chosen to be choosers”. We were granted the ability to make choices about how we live our lives, what brings us joy, what we are passionate about so that we might find meaning and purpose along our journey.
Each of you reading this Dvar Torah has made a choice. You have chosen to be part of the CAJE family by actively reading each week about our holy work -- Ensuring a Jewish Future. You have made a choice to give your time, your energy, and your effort to our agency, our mission and the people we serve.
You help make it possible for Jews in our community, from birth to maturity, to have access to meaningful, relevant and dynamic Jewish learning and engagement. We are deeply grateful that you have chosen to partner with us.
May your choices bring you joy and fulfillment.
May your choices empower you to continue to live a life of Torah, mitzvot, and gemilut chassadim.
May your choice to make Jewish education a meaningful part of your life continue to ignite your spirit.
As we close the book of Vayikra, we say: Chazak, Chazak, v’Nitchazek.
Let us be strong, let us be strong and let us continue to strengthen one another!

Shabbat Shalom