Spiritual Practice Between Blessings and Curses

Parashat Behukotai discusses blessings and curses: if you keep my commands – you will be blessed, the rain will be given in its season… there will be peace…

If ye walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them; … 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. … And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid; and I will cause evil beasts to cease out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land.

However, if you shall not keep my commands, you will be punished: there will be war and exile:

But if ye will not hearken unto Me, and will not do all these commandments;… 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; … 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.

If we read the Parasha more mindfully, we will notice that there is a loyalty between God and the people of Israel who will not be abandoned even in their exile. With the blessings we read: “And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be My people.” With the curses it is said: “And yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break My covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God.”

If God is present in the blessings and the curses, this invites a different kind of reading and understanding. As human beings we like the permanent and steady, the secure life in which we know where we come from and where we are going. We hate change and impermanence. However, those of us who spent some time on earth probably know that seeing rain as blessing and exile as curse is very much subject to interpretation. The rain will come and go and the exile will come and go… what seems like a terrible difficulty today might be perceived as a hidden blessing in the future.

The Parasha is written in the future mode, and the form is conditional: if… then…

Let’s reframe the Parasha and see it in the here and now. What is spiritual work? It is a practice that occurs every day. Within a religious context, every day we say Mode Ani, every week we bless the Sabbath. Within a secular context, every day we look for meaning. Every day, every week, every month, every year, we create and recreate ourselves as spiritual beings.

Within the context of the present time, we live our lives The Kingdom of This World. The world in which we live, the world in which we do our work of faith and spirituality from day to day is the kingdom of this words, and it’s time is the present.

In his novel entitled The Kingdom of This World, Alejo Carpentier suggests that it is in The Kingdom of this World, as flawed and challenging as it may be, that we live our lives, that we experience faith and spirituality:

In the Kingdom of Heaven, there is no grandeur to be won, inasmuch as there all is an established hierarchy, the unknown is revealed, existence is infinite, there is no possibility of sacrifice, all is rest and joy. For this reason, bowed down by suffering and duties, beautiful in the midst of his misery, capable of loving in the face of afflictions and trials, man finds his greatness, his fullest measure, only in The Kingdom of This World.

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