May 22, 2024
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Parshat Bechukotai uses the classical carrot or stick approach to motivate the new Jewish nation to follow Hashem’s decrees and commandments. First we read 10 verses of blessings that will befall those who observe the Torah. The produce will be bountiful, there will be peace and security in the land, enemies will be too frightened to attack and couples will have many happy and healthy children. There are 10 verses of such blessings.

Then the tone turns more threatening. There are 29 verses of curses that are threatened to befall those who will not listen to Hashem and will stray from observing his commandments. These verses are typically read in a hushed tone by the ba’al koreh, the Torah reader. These curses include lesions, fever, anxiety attacks, crop failures, successful enemy attacks, etc. The Ibn Ezra commented that the curses are given in great detail because they are intended to awe the people into being obedient to God’s will.

One of the verses that threatened curses states that “you will sow your seed in vain.” (26:16) Rashi offers an alternative way of interpreting this verse. He posits that this refers to the sons and daughters that the Jewish people might have in the future. Despite our best efforts to raise them in the proper way, despite our hard work and efforts, they may stray from the proper path and our efforts might seem to have been in vain.

Not every child follows their parents’ example, especially when it comes to living a Torah-observant lifestyle. Parents may have tried their best and may have spent tens of thousands of dollars in yeshiva tuition. Yet, the child may succumb to the overwhelming pressures of assimilation and acculturation. They may stray “off the derech.” The parents may feel disappointed and feel there is no hope.

Rabbanit Yemimah Mizrachi suggests that even in such circumstances one must never give up hope. She offers the analogy of Pesach Sheini, the second Passover, as a model that reflects how our God is one of second chances. Specifically, she posits that the final verses in the chapter are meant for the children that Rashi described when it states, “I will not have been revolted by them, nor will I have rejected them to destroy them, breaking my covenant with them, for I am Hashem, their God. (26:44) Hashem is always willing to forgive and start anew.

The Gemara (Kiddushin 40a) offers the hope that people can change their ways and repent up until the last minute of life. Hashem is like a loving father, waiting, ready to accept His children when they are ready to start anew. The Gemara (Brachot 12b) also says that any offense can be forgiven and turned into a merit.

As for the carrot or stick approach, when it comes to raising our children we have to be judicious in deciding which choices we make. The carrot refers to offering a reward for desirable behavior while the stick refers to a negative consequence for undesirable behavior. Parents have to be careful not to create a negative atmosphere at home by constantly punishing their child. Creating attainable goals and offering rewards for desirable behaviors creates a more positive, loving feeling at home and can be part of a fair parenting approach that encourages children to do their best.

Which is better? The carrot or the stick? Do we drive within the speed limit, for example, because we might get a discount on our car insurance? Or are we afraid of being pulled over and given a speeding ticket by the police? The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle and may be different for each person. This is something to think about when we hear the parsha being read this Shabbat.

May we merit to be deserving of the many blessings that are promised to us if we observe Hashem’s decrees and commandments. By doing so, we will avoid the punishments that are later mentioned as well.


Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist and a member of the American Psychology-Law Society. He is acting president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He is the coordinator of Bikur Cholim/Chesed at Congregation Torah Ohr in Boca Raton, Florida. He can be reached at [email protected].

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