This week, another double portion – Behar and Bechukotai. I am going to focus on the latter which literally means “by my decree”. There are three types of commandments that we encounter in the bible. Mishpat (plural mishpatim), chok (plural chukim) and eid (plural eidot). The eid are testimonials or “witnessing” given to the Jewish people and have to do with their relationship with God – they are a kind of identity marker. For example: placing a mezuzah on the door, keeping the sabbath or the seder at passover. Generally, the eidot have reasons or explanations that are clear as to why we are commanded thus.
The mishpatim are laws/commandments that have to do with our horizontal relationships; our interactions between ourselves and other people. They are about how we treat each other. Typically these also are explained, a reason why is given, do this because of that. We don’t kill, steal or lie; we treat one another with kindness, etc.
By the way, when you read the bible in english you aren’t reading synonyms for the commandments. For example in Proverbs when it says “my laws, statutes and decrees” this is not embellishment, it refers to these three types of commandments.
This particular one, the one referred to in this portion, the chukim are those like the laws of kasruth (kosher eating), blowing (hearing) the shofar, waving the lulav on sukkot, etc. These are commandments that are given and we are supposed to do them, but no real reason or explanation is given as to why we are supposed to do them.
For some, this can be frustrating, it can remind us of when we were small and were told by a parent to do something for which the parent was unwilling to give an answer or explanation. The answer in those cases always being “because I said so”. So, for example, why does God want the Jewish people to keep kosher? There are those that would try to give a rational explanation, or even attribute a benefit to keeping kosher for health reasons, or the detrimental potential of pork. This is not the reason God commanded keeping kosher. (I also go through this in my Kosher Pastor course!) God did not give the kosher rules to the Jewish people to keep them healthy. God gave these rules to keep the Jewish people holy, special and to keep them different than all the other nations of the earth. So although there might be health benefits, that is not why we keep kosher. We do it because God “said so”.This is one of those commandments that we have no real explanation for.
This reminds me of members of my family that have served in the military – when you are told by a commanding officer to do something you just do it without question, just because they said so and are higher in the chain that you are. Just like the chukim.
Think about this in your/our lives. There are three kinds of commandments, the mishpatim that are very important because they inform our integrity in our dealings with other people. And the eidot are important because they inform the rituals that establish identity. But any right thinking nation could probably come up with rules governing human behavior: don’t cheat, kill or steal. And they might come up with identity markers if that was their desire. But these chukim are given simply because God wants us to do them, wants us to live a certain way.
For those of us raised with a gentile background, we are not bound by these Torah rules as the Jewish people are. We are invited to participate in them as we are, after all, grafted in and we can willingly graft ourselves into Israel by doing the things Israel does. I don’t have to cover my head, for example, but I do. It is a Jewish tradition and I live out a Jewish expression of faith. There are many things that I do, like keeping kosher, that I don’t have to do, but I choose to do. Honestly there are many Jews that do not follow these rules, but I do because I choose it. I could eat bacon if I wanted to; I am not Jewish.
So, some of these rules are to mark the Jewish people as different and some are just because God says so. I think that doing it just because He said to do it can increase my relation with God rather than hindering it if we are willing to do just because!
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