Parshat Bechukotai-Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald
Parshat Bechukotai concludes the book of Vayikra. The parsha opens with the covenant between Am Israel and G-d, and describes the blessing that will result from keeping the covenant, and the "curse"- the calamity that, G-d forbid, will come in the wake of violating it.
The blessing and the curse are not presented in a symmetrical way. The blessing comes completely and all at once, while the curse comes "incrementally", each stage being a "warning sign" calling for soul-searching, change and improvement in order to prevent descent to a lower and more severe level of disaster. (See Messilat Yesharim Ch. 4) The Torah repeats four times the expression "sevenfold for your sins." Rashi (on Vayikra 26:18) explains: "Seven punishments for the seven sins mentioned above." Maybe this alludes to seven levels of punishment, each more severe than the previous one. (See Rabbenu Bechayeii on Vayikra 26:16)
The divine model of the covenant, the blessing and the curse, reveals to us the way G-d runs the world, and by taking the example we can "mirror" the strategy for conduct at a time of crisis or catastrophe.
In times of distress, the human inclination is to focus on the practical dimensions, to cope with the pain, to investigate and analyze the technical factors that caused the crisis, and to adopt a course of action that will prevent a recurrence.
The Torah directs us to relate to a calamity's broader, spiritual dimension, to see it as "the hand of providence" and to try to understand its spiritual circumstances; to recognize it as a divine "call" for introspection regarding the past as well as for amending the future.
We learn the strategy for dealing with crises in the laws of Ta'anit (fasting) from tractate Ta'anit. The Rambam says that it is a positive commandment from the Torah "to cry out and to blow trumpets over any distress that befalls the community…and this is one of the ways of repentance: that when a crisis comes, to cry out and blow trumpets, and to know that because of their evil deeds, misfortune has befallen them…and this (realization) will save them from misfortune. And the Rabbis added the obligation to fast any time that trouble befalls the community, until the heavens are merciful upon us. And during these fast days, we cry out in prayers and implore and blow trumpets." (Rambam Ta'anit 1, 1-4)
The purpose of the fasting and the crying out is for us to repent over the past and resolve to improve in the future. According to the Rambam, the mitzvah to blow trumpets at a time of distress is to awaken us to search our souls. "A root of the mitzvah is: Man is a physical being and requires awakening, and without this, it's as if he is asleep. And it is known that nothing awakens like the playing of music, especially the sound of trumpets." (Sefer Hachinuch 384)
In this way we can understand the increasing levels of severity and intensity of fasts at a time of drought, a very serious crisis. (Mishnah Ta'anit 1, 4-7) If a "light" fast is not answered, then a more severe one is decreed.
Our parsha relates to the human tendency of "denial" and ignoring the "warning signs" and seeing trouble as a random event. "And if you will act toward Me in the manner of Keri (ignoring Me) and refuse to obey Me, then I will increase the chastisement for your sins sevenfold." (Vayikra 26:21) The parsha's key word, Keri, appears in the parsha seven times! (From the direction of man, and from the direction of G-d). Chazal, the Even Ezra and the Rashbam explain Keri in the sense of Mikreh (chance), meaning that "after I (G-d) smite you twice, you should understand that this isn't happening by chance! …as if the world is behaving naturally." (Malbim)
Denial is an absurd psychological phenomenon; nevertheless it is an inseparable part of human nature. When a man finds himself in a demanding situation that requires him to change or to give up something, he tends to illogically enlist all of his intellectual powers in order to ignore the situation, or to give it an alternative explanation – one that will not require him to "pay a price." And what will be the result of this denial? Having to pay a much higher price in the end!
The Rambam also refers to the denial syndrome in Hilchot Ta'anit: "But if they don't cry out and don't blow trumpets, but rather say that this misfortune is a natural occurrence, then this a cruel path which causes them to cling to their evil ways, and more catastrophes will follow, and this is what the Torah says: "You will act toward me in the manner of Keri, and I will act towards you in the wrath of Keri!" Meaning: when I bring trouble upon you in order that you should repent, if you instead say that this is a chance occurrence, I will heap upon you anger for that Keri (calling it chance).