Behar-Bechukotai by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Torah: Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34
Haftarah: Jeremiah 16:19 – 17:14

Dear God,

It is true that Your wisdom is infinite, and that our mortal wisdom is lacking and incomplete,
But I have studied Your Laws to the best of my ability
Limited though it may be
And I have some disagreements, if You will forgive me.

The laws that You give us in these Torah portions
May have sufficed in their time—such as, lending money, but only to Jews, at no interest;
Selling people who owed money into slavery so that they could work to pay off their debts;
Showing a prejudice against the gentiles in your midst
In favor of the Israelites; and other, similar laws—

These may have been considered true and just and right and proper
For establishing a good and fair society
In which both Jews and gentiles could dwell in equality and safety
Thousands of years, ago,
But they don’t ring as true, today.

I well understand Your intentions at the time of their writing,
Since Israel feared its neighbors round about (so do we learn from the Five Books of Moses),
And skirmished with them from time to time,
But we see from the Book of Ruth and hints in the Books of Samuel and Kings
That the Israelites usually co-habited well and peaceably with their pagan neighbors—

And so, with respect, I question the need
For exclusionary laws favoring the Jews over the gentiles;
In particular, those which encouraged the practice of enslaving our pagan neighbors led to racism,
And race-hatred persists in scourging humanity today—

And how could this have been Your intention?

Moving on to the second of the Torah portions,
I note that old canard stating that if the people are not faithful to Torah,
You will stop the land from bearing its fruit or flocks,
And I heartily and respectfully disagree with this practice—
Though I accept that You wrote (or inspired its writing) in a pre-scientific age
When our people were more likely to accept it,
And that rainfall in Israel was scarce and unreliable.

Today, however, theodicy causes fear among humanity:
If someone gets sick, they first ask themselves:
“What did I do wrong? Was I unfaithful to God?
“Why is God angry with me?”

And so I ask that it be removed, along with the curses for disobeying You,
Such as, “I will make your skies like iron and your earth like copper,”
Meaning that the ground will not yield its fruit
If people do not perform Your mitzvote properly.

Should we not see our God as more merciful than short-tempered?

I offer my thoughts in a spirit of love for You,
And with the concept of Progress and evolving Theology,
For we humans—Jews, here—are a stubborn bunch,
And thrive more on encouragement than the rod.

Bless You, our God.


Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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