Torah, consequences and the Akiba clause

Bechukotai:
Leviticus 26:3 – 27:34
Jeremiah 16:19-17:4

I sat in a small room at the back of the bank, just me and the notary, Ms. Bechukotai. She placed the closing documents before me. So many items to initial and sign!

“Let’s do the good stuff first. Please read all your benefits, check the boxes, and sign at the bottom.”

I read “The Landlord promises to: ‘Give you rain in due season. The land will yield produce. The trees will yield their fruit.’”

Check, check, check. I like fruit and rain.

“Your bread box will be full. You will live in safety. You will never be afraid. You will never see war nor see bad beasties.”

I hate beasties. Check.

“You will never see war and your enemies will run away from you.”

I check those boxes with glee, thinking about my middle school bullies. Run away… from me!

“You will be fruitful, and I will multiply you.”

Check. “This is great. All these benefits just for not making idols, keeping Shabbat, or not enslaving myself.” I signed.

“Which of these ‘statutes and commandments’ are optional,” I inquired.

“None, it says, ‘All these statutes and commandments.’”

“Not the basic 10-pack?”

“No, all.”

“All?”

“I don’t have much time,” she said. “You agreed to the benefits, and except for the liability clause, we are done here.”

“What liabilities?”

“But if you do not listen to Me and do not do these statutes and commandments I will appoint over you terror, consumption, and fever, that will consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart; and you will sow your seed in vain, for your enemies will eat it.”

“What? Eat my stuff?”

“I will set my face against you, and you will be slain before your enemies; they who hate you will reign over you; and you will flee when none pursues you.”

“Say what?”

“Your strength will be spent in vain; for your land will not yield her produce, nor will the trees of the land yield their fruits.”

Hold on here. “No fruit? Can we talk about this? And what about this? ‘I will also send wild beasts among you, which will rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your highways will be desolate.’ Driving in the Bay Area is hard enough without making the highways desolate.”

“Then you probably won’t like, ‘I will send the pestilence among you; and you will be delivered into the hand of the enemy.’ ”

“All of this for just not listening and skipping a few commandments?”

“I’ll go over the critical points while I stand with one foot in this room and the other on the pedal of my scooter.”

“Did you say, ‘On one foot?’ ”

“This is an old form,” she explained, putting on her safety helmet, “a template, if you will. You are not living in the land where a majority of these commandments apply. You’re not seeing a lot of Nazarites around here, not to mention sacrificial cults.”

“Oh, what a relief, it’s all a metaphor.”

“Uh, no, the Akiba clause is irreducible.”

“What’s that?’

“The rabbis of the Mishnah asked: What is the most important principle of the Torah? Rabbi Akiba said ‘Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, Sifra, Kedoshim 4:12).

“My neighbors?”

“And protect the poor, the widow and the orphan. The Landlord is very focused on that.”

“And if I don’t?”

She hit the road and called over her shoulder, “Watch out for beasties.”

wolf-prusan-rabbi-peretz-WEB
Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan

Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan is the chief program officer and senior educator at Lehrhaus Judaica. He can be reached at peretz@lehrhaus.org.