Yom Rishon, 20 Tammuz 5780
Sunday, 12 July 2020
Parashat Behukkotai 2014

Parashat Bechukotai
Rabbi Pete Tobias
16th May 2014

The traditional cycle of Torah readings brings us this week to the end of the priestly regulations in the book of Leviticus and then we will find ourselves once more pitched into the wilderness, following our ancestors’ on their journey, filled with argument and controversy, shortages and complaints.
The book of Leviticus comes at a rather unusual place in the in the sequence of Torah readings. Several weeks ago we left our ancestors standing at the foot of Mount Sinai, having witnessed the astonishing revelation that accompanied the giving of the Ten Commandments. Following that, the people were reported as having taken part in contributing to the construction of the sanctuary in the wilderness. The book of Exodus concludes with the information that when the cloud covered the ark at the centre of the sanctuary, the people remained where they were and when the cloud lifted, the people would continue on their journey towards the Promised Land.
It could be argued that the rules and regulations contained in Leviticus interrupt the flow of the Israelite journey. There is a clear link between the end of Exodus and the beginning of the book of Numbers, while the priestly requirements sit rather awkwardly in between the two biblical books, seemingly extending the length of the stay in the wilderness, or even distracting from it.
Perhaps the insertion of the book of Leviticus at this point in the Israelites’ journey is to provide guidance for the travellers. They have made their escape from Egyptian slavery, have travelled from the Sea of Reeds to the foot of the mountain, and have already irritated God and Moses with their complaints about the food and the arduous nature of the journey they have undertaken. The message of freedom, so central to their experience and their mission has been drowned out by their personal, and perhaps, selfish needs.
By the time the journey restarts, they have had a full explanation of the task with which they have been charged: to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Although it is not long before the realities of life in the wilderness will intrude once again, our ancestors can recommence their journey with a renewed awareness of their task and an awareness of the purpose with which they have been charged.
As the rabbinic myth would have us believe, all Jews, present and future, stood at the foot of Mount Sinai when the revelation took place. Some of us retain an awareness of that memory, for others it is but a distant echo. Those for whom that awareness remains in some form or other retain a connection with their ancient task and experience a sense of their role in realising its age-old vision.··Those are the people, I think, who feel inspired to attend Liberal Judaism’s biennial conference. This event has just concluded, having been attended by over three hundred Liberal Jews. Those who took part are mostly Liberal Judaism’s movers and shakers, those who have been stirred by and are driven to promote our movement’s unique message.
Even the most enthusiastic of those Liberal Jews can be forgiven for occasionally growing weary, sometimes believing perhaps that their task is an impossible one in these challenging times. Like their ancestors more than three thousand years ago, even those who are the beating heart of Liberal Judaism can lose their sense of purpose and direction in an unsympathetic and hostile wilderness. And like their ancestors, today’s Jewish visionaries need an opportunity to be reminded of their task, a chance temporarily to cease their exhausting journey and reflect on what inspires them and to share that renewed enthusiasm with their fellow travellers through the wilderness.
We have experienced our Liberal equivalent of the book of Leviticus. We have reflected on what makes us·kadosh, what makes us distinct, both in a world of many faiths and visions and within the world of Judaism. Inspired by the visions of so many, brought together under the leadership of our modern day Moses, Rabbi Charley Baginsky, we now return to the wilderness to continue our journeys, seeking to bring Liberal Judaism’s message and vision to those who want and need to hear it.