If I was to paraphrase Samuel Coleridge’s ancient mariner’s words, “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink,” I might say, “Friends, friends everywhere and not a one to trust.”
There are many reasons that relationships, including those of friendship, marriage, and business are in trouble today. Social media leads us to think we have connections with others while it is often only a myth; our appliances wear out after many fewer years than they used to and we treat our marriages and jobs in the same way; as a society, we mock and scorn those tested rules that used to bond people together.
The Torah describes how to build a successful society. It teaches how men and women ought to relate; how lenders and borrowers must behave; details of how families should be structured.
Leviticus 26: 3-13 contains ten delightful verses enumerating all the good times that smart societies following these rules will enjoy.
In contrast, Leviticus 26:14-44 sounds a bit like a veteran airplane designer warning interns of what will happen if they ignore gravity and mathematics when designing new aircraft. Thirty harrowing verses detail the horrendous consequences that will befall any society that ignores certain permanent principles.
Which raises this question: Do the words, “…and my soul will not be disgusted by you,” occur within the ten happy verses or in the thirty fearsome verses?
If it appeared in the tragic verses, it would be a bit of consolation amidst the horror. Instead, it appears among the verses of blessing, providing a strikingly discordant note. Wouldn’t it be nice for the pleasant verses to be completely pleasant? If something must be said, why does God use such harsh language, saying that He won’t be disgusted by Israel?
Let’s deal with the jarring language first. The stronger anything is, the more damage it can cause if something goes wrong. Nuclear power has the capacity to free mankind from drudgery but if, heaven forbid, anything goes wrong the destructive potential is incalculable. A coal-fired boiler does not provide much energy but neither does it fail catastrophically. Marriage is a powerful relationship, but when things go wrong, enmity is often the result. Close family and business relationships can be equally volatile.
God’s relationship with His people is more powerful even than marriage. God is reassuring Israel that His commitment to them will never undergo a reversal changing intense love to extreme disgust.
But why is it among the blessings? Well, what greater blessing is there than knowing that God will never burn His bridges with Israel? Even though He knows that Israel will sin and violate the rules, He will never find Israel disgusting.
When times are good, God tells Israel, “Look, I know that in the future, things might go wrong but I want you to know that our relationship is all-important and will endure regardless.” One lesson for human interaction is that we need to articulate our commitment to each other while times are good, emphasizing that we won’t abandon one another when the going gets rough.
We must seize opportunities to stress how much we cherish our relationships. While this may seem more obvious among parents and children, or between spouses, this idea is important in business and communities as well. While these affiliations sometimes do need to end, relationships need not. Estrangement is less likely if we take care during the good times to make clear how much we value each other. We can acknowledge that we know there will be taxing times and disappointments, but that we are committed to the bond between us.
Seen correctly, the Bible is the relationship manual for our world. Many of the important teachings only become clear when you analyze the Hebrew words and the accompanying ancient Jewish wisdom that delves beneath the text. We are incredibly excited to introduce our new online course, Scrolling through Scripture, in which I teach Scripture verse by verse, starting with Genesis 1:1. Unit 1 is now available. You will want to check this out!
AMAZING NEW VIDEO COURSE!
Scrolling through Scripture
Are you ready to go verse-by-verse through the Bible with Rabbi Daniel Lapin?
Unit One is available now.