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The Rambam and the Shela HaKadosh find in our haftara a paradigm for the utter refutation of doctrines that are completely wrong. This haftara is always read at this time, whether Behar and Bechukotai are read together or apart. The most obvious common touchstone is the depiction of the “Yuval” later in the haftara, and Yovel in Parshat Behar. A couple of years ago we examined the comments of Rabbi David ben Yehuda HaChassid on this topic. But this year we aren’t even reading Behar and we still read this haftara. Another theme which prevails both in Bechukotai and in the haftara is that everybody gets what they deserve in the end, and that those who cling to false beliefs will learn in time how wrong they were and how they have damaged themselves and their societies by persisting in these beliefs.

The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim, the Guide for the Perplexed (III: 49), examines the “reasons” for the mitzvot. In this final section of the Guide, having established good principles of reason and of understanding texts, and laid out a coherent theological framework, Rambam is working to situate the supernatural and transcendental in a logical system of beliefs. The chapter that references our haftara is chiefly concerned with what Catholic theologians like Thomas Aquinas (himself a self-styled student of the Rambam) would refer to as “Cardinal Sins.” The Rambam here concerns himself with prohibitions against sexual immorality and how the failure to properly observe these mores corrupt an individual – perhaps even irredeemably – and by extension also societies and nations.

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The Rambam asserts that there is a connection to the practice of idolatry, but he declines to flesh it out. He does, however, remind us that intermarriage with idolaters is one of the worst things a Jewish person can do in the way of distancing himself from Hashem and His covenant. The Rambam cites the verse in our haftara where the nations of the world bemoan their errors once the Truth of Hashem is revealed at the end of days: “They will say only falsehood was the inheritance of our forefathers, nothingness of no benefit to anyone” (Yirmiyahu 16:19).

On this verse, the Rambam tells us, only think of what a terrible void this creates in the thinking mind, a total absence of meaning and purpose. It is even more crushing when you consider the lengths these people had once gone to in service of their idolatry – the terrible sacrifices they made and the torment they caused themselves and others. Always keep in mind, therefore, that the mitzvot of Hashem are intended to provide your own life with meaning and purpose. Every mitzvah you perform heals some spiritual malaise that you might not even know you were suffering from.

In fact, the Rambam concludes, you don’t even really need to learn the reasons for mitzvot at all. The only reason that matters is that they keep you out of the abyss of amorality and spiritual negation.

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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He has written on Israeli art, music, and spirituality and is working to reawaken interest in medieval Jewish mysticism. He can be reached at avraham@thegeula.com.