OF REWARD AND PUNISHMENT: THE HAFTARAH FOR B’CHUKKOTAI
Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah
In parashat B’chukkotai we find the ‘small print’ of the b’rit, the covenant: The people will be rewarded with prosperity, peace and the presence of God if they obey, and punished with death – and a very long list of gruesome punishments – if they disobey. These don’t make very pleasant reading… And just in case we might be inclined to forget, parashat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8) serves as a reminder…
The theology of ‘reward and punishment’ is central to the Torah – and is echoed in the Haftarah for B’chukkotai from the prophet Jeremiah (16:19-17:14), who prophesied in Judah for forty years during the 7th century BCE: ‘Cursed – Arur – is the one who trusts in human beings’ (17:5); ‘Blessed – Baruch – is the one who trusts in the Eternal One’ (17:7) – a phrase you may recognise from the traditional version of Birkat Ha-Mazon, ‘the blessing of food’.
However, like all the Haftarot this one has a homiletical purpose – to reassure the congregation. And so while, the parashah begins with rewards and goes on to list the dire punishments, Jeremiah states the curse – and then the blessing. Nevertheless, those who do wrong do not get off lightly: ‘One who gains wealth by unjust means is like a partridge brooding [eggs] that do not hatch: in the middle of life it will forsake him, and at its end he will be a fool’ (17:11)
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