Realities of Life
This week’s parsha which concludes the book of Vayikra deals with the
realities of Jewish national and personal life. On one hand it describes
in rapturous terms the blessings of happiness, security and serenity that
can happen to the Jewish people and to the individual Jew. But on the
other hand it vividly and graphically describes death, exile, troubles and
Jewish history bears out the accuracy of both visions. We have lived
through both experiences. Jewish history seems to have contained much
longer periods of darkness than of light, of more tragedy than of joy and
serenity. Though the Torah assigns observance of the commandments as the
prime cause of security in Jewish life and non-observance of the same as
the cause of tragedy, history and the great commentators to Torah seem to
modify this cut and dried axiom.
God’s wisdom and judgments are inscrutable and are beyond even elementary
comprehension by us mortals. As such we are left wondering as to the
tragedies that descended upon the Jewish people and that continue to
plague us today. Though there are those amongst us that are prepared to
give and accept glib answers to the causes of tragedy, the wise men of
Israel warned us against such an approach. Observance of commandments is
enormously difficult to fulfill completely and accurately.
As such it is difficult to measure the "why" part of this week's parsha.
It is sufficient to note the "how it happened" part to realize that its
message of contrasting periods of serenity and tragedy has been
painstakingly accurate and contains not one word of hyperbole. The
destruction of the Temples, the Crusades and pogroms, the Inquisition and
the Holocaust are all graphically described in this week's parsha. Such is
the prophetic power of the Torah.
In personal life, the longer one lives the more likely tragedy will
somehow visit them. The Torah makes provision for this eventuality in its
laws of mourning. We all hope for lives of goodness, pleasantness and
secure serenity. Yet almost inexorably problems, disappointments and even
tragedy intrudes on our condition.
In Vayikra, the death of the sons of Aharon remains the prime example of
tragedy suddenly destroying a scene of pride, satisfaction and seeming
accomplishment. In this week's parsha the description of the punishment of
Israel for its backsliding comes after a background of blessings and
security. The past century presented the Jewish people with horrors of
unimaginable intensity and of millennial accomplishments. The situation of
extreme flux in our national life has continued throughout the sixty years
of the existence of the State of Israel.
The unexpected and sudden, but apparently regular change of circumstances
in national Jewish life mirrors the same situation so recognizable to us
from our personal lives. We are constantly blindsided by untoward and
tragic events. So, the jarring contrast that the two main subjects of the
parsha present to us are really a candid description of life and its
omnipresent contradictions, surprises and difficulties. Though we pray
regularly for health and serenity, we must always be cognizant of how
precarious situations truly are. Thus, as we rise to hear the conclusion
of the book of Vayikra we recite the mantra of "chazak, chazak,
v'nitchazek" - let us be doubly strong and strengthen others! So may it be.
Rabbi Berel Wein