Growing up, I had to learn like most people that there are consequences for our actions.
If you treat someone nicely, they will respond in kind. If you are mean to someone, they will avoid you.
This week Torah portion Bechukotai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34) speaks about consequences. In this case, God outlines the exile, persecution, and other evils that will befall the Jewish people if they abandon their covenant with Him.
As terrifying as these warnings sound, there is a ray of hope. God promises that we can earn a life full of blessing by following the Torah, and even if we renege on our obligations, God will never abandon us or annul the covenant.
We are assured this when God says, לֹֽא־מְאַסְתִּ֤ים וְלֹֽא־גְעַלְתִּים֙ לְכַלֹּתָ֔ם לְהָפֵ֥ר בְּרִיתִ֖י אִתָּ֑ם “I will not despise them nor reject them to annihilate them, to break My covenant with them” (Leviticus 26:44).
Some Christian missionaries mistakenly believe that God broke his covenant with the Jewish people and replaced it with a “New Covenant.” This is the reason they claim the New Testament supersedes the Torah.
Their mistake is based on a mistranslation of Jeremiah.
In context and based on a correct translation, Jeremiah reiterates the statement in Leviticus that although we may break the covenant, God will remain faithful to us. Jeremiah says it this way, “I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel…It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers, when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, a covenant which they broke, though I remained a husband to them” (Jeremiah 31:31-32).
The New Testament misrepresents Jeremiah’s statement. Instead of saying that God remained a faithful “husband” to the Jewish people, the New Testament claims that God “turned away from (or rejected) them” (Hebrews 8:9).
This is not the only mistake made by missionaries. They falsely accuse the rabbis of hiding the truth from the Jewish people by concealing some “sensitive” passages.
There are many responses to this accusation. However, in this week portion, this conspiracy theory is blatantly refuted by the great biblical commentator Rashi. Commenting on the reaffirming words “I will maintain My covenant with you” (Jeremiah 26:9), Rashi does not hesitate to mention Jeremiah 31 and a New Covenant.
Rashi explains that the New Covenant will be called “new” because it will be enhanced so that not only will God keep his promise never break it, but even the Jewish people will no longer break it. This will possible because in the future, our desire to rebel against God will be eradicated, and we will serve God wholeheartedly (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
We can experience a taste of this holy service by immersing ourselves into this week’s Shabbat with happiness, holiness, and solitude with God.
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz