Friday, May 19, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat - B'har-Bekhukotai 5777 - Keri Is so Very... (Revisted from 5763)

[Author's Note - 5777 - only folks above a certain age will get the title of this musing. In the mid 1980s, Westwood Phamaceuticals introduced a new dry skin lotion, with the name "Keri" and marketed it with the slogan "Keri is so very..." You can see one of their commercials at]

In parashat Bechukotai, G"d tells us what will happen if we follow the commandments, and what will happen if we don't. In the end, there is a built in forgiveness for our sins - Gd telling us that the covenant will not be abrogated, at least on G"d's part. But the forgiveness only comes after all the suffering we have endured because of our failure to keep the holy commandments.

There is another model of faith that grew from ours that posits a forgiveness for all things through the act of the sacrifice of a certain itinerant rabbi from the Galil. It's sometimes popular, in Jewish circles, to pose the difference thusly: Forgive me before I sin, and what is there to restrain me from sinning? Forgive me after I have suffered the consequences of my choices, and I have to think a little harder about sinning in the first place. It's an unfair comparison, and somewhat disingenuous. Yes, our religions differ in how forgiveness is approached. Yet they are not so different. Parashat Bechukotai makes it clear that, in the end, G"d will forgive, and not destroy us completely. (26:44) Yes, there are consequences to our sinning, to not following the mitzvot. That's made abundantly clear (26:14-43.) Our daughter religion is no less devoid of consequences.

Yet there is still something that rings true for me about the Torah's approach.
Leviticus 26:39 "The few of you who survive in your enemies' lands will [realize that] your survival is threatened as a result of your non-observance. [These few] will also [realize] that their survival has been threatened because of the non-observance of their fathers."

I think of it as a gift. Not the easiest way to learn, perhaps, but effective. The gift to be able to learn from the consequences of our choices and actions. Or from inactions.

Which brings me to an interesting aspect of parashat Bechukotai. What is it that brings on this long list of consequences? Is it flouting G"d's commandments? Ignoring them? Accidentally violating them?

Within chapter 26 are contained the only seven occurrences of one word, "keri." קרי  Scholars and commentators are divided on the exact meaning of the term. (Even Rashi provides more than one acceptable understanding.)

Most commonly, it is translated as "hostile." Perhaps meaning to refuse, or to withhold. It implies a conscious and deliberate position in opposition to the other. (And it is important to note that of the seven times "keri' is found, four times it refers to how the people were treating G"d and G"d's mitzvot--Lev 26:21,23,27,40, and three times it refers to how G"d is treating the people--Lev 26:24,28,41.)

That last makes it difficult for me to accept "hostile" as a translation. It's difficult for me to imagine G"d being hostile to G"d's own creations, to G"d's covenanted people. Upset, yes. Angry, yes. Using "tough love" yes. But hostile? (Well, there is Nadav and Avihu--that seems pretty hostile. S'dom and Gomorrah, too. The flood. None of these are conclusive, however. Though I'm often not prone to do so I'll give G"d a break.)

To the rescue comes another acceptable understanding of what the word "keri" means. In this context it can mean "an event," "something that happens," "an occurrence," a "happenstance." It implies action that may not be deliberate. I might even take the liberty of stretching the definition a bit to mean "indifference." Or maybe even "casually."

This can be either thought of as liberating or restraining. It liberates because it acknowledges that not all our transgressions are deliberate, and that G"d recognizes this. So it provides a little lubrication between us and G"d. It restrains, because we realize that, whether by intent or happenstance, violating the mitzvot will bring the same consequences. And that is precisely the kind of tension that one finds throughout the Torah, and the kind of tension that will always exist between G"d and the people Israel.

If we treat G"d and G"d's mitzvot casually, then G"d will treat us casually as well, allowing the misfortunes of happenstance to happen to us, rather than protecting us from them ( I recognize that those who adhere to particular theological viewpoints might have trouble c wrapping their heads around that concept.) I somehow think this is more likely to occur than simply treating G"d with hostility (and vice versa.)

Whatever "keri" truly is, it exists only as part of a relationship. It is a thing that both G"d and those that G"d made b'tzelmo--in G"d's own image, are capable of showing towards each other in relationship. While I don't particularly care for the idea of G"d acting with hostility, I can certainly imagine humans treating G"d with hostility. (Some might suggest this lends credence to the idea that rather than our being b'tzelem Elokim, that G"d is b'tzelem anashim--G"d made in the image of people. My personal answer to that question is my understanding that for us to be b'tzelem Elokim means that all those things we are capable of--the good and the bad--G"d is also capable--not because we fashioned and formed G"d (which may or may not be the case) from our own ideas, but rather the opposite. But I digress.) That acting b'keri is not clearly one thing or another allows a relationship between G"d and Israel that has some flexibility. And G"d knows we certainly need that.

Adding to these thoughts from years ago, as I sit here in 5775 (2017) I can't help but think about all the hostility floating around. These times are challenging to our abilities to avoid treating each other with hostility. 

I hope that we neither treat each other nor G"d with "keri." That way, we can each keep the covenant we have between us.

Shabbat Shalom,


©2017 (portions  ©2000 and 2003 by Adrian A. Durlester)

Other musings on this Parasha:

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