Bechukotai

Leviticus 1:1-6:8

(By My Rules)
This final portion of the Book of Leviticus consists of warnings and admonitions concerning the consequences of our disobedience against God’s Word.

THE BLESSING

ON THE SURFACE it seems that the book of Leviticus ends with a stern admonition. If you follow all these commandments that God has given you, then you will be rewarded; and if you do not, you will pay the price. If you are good, then life will go well for you; but if you are bad, you will bring suffering upon yourself.

When I look around at my world, and see good people suffering and people who have acted immorally enjoying the fruits of their crimes, I am sent to find the deeper meaning, the deeper blessing of Bechukotai.

When I open to the tone of the text, not just its content, a feeling of familiarity washes over me. I know these places. Bechukotai describes two different states of consciousness which may become the lens of perception that mediate our experiences of life’s gifts and challenges. I believe we experience Heaven and Hell right here on this Earth.

THE FIRST STATE that Bechukotai describes is what might be called “Heaven.” In this state we notice the miraculous change of the seasons and really taste the fruit of each moment. There is a sense of “enoughness” in whatever we have, and a feeling of ultimate safety, regardless of changing circumstance.

In our consciousness of Heaven, we are not ruled by fear. Thus we are not overwhelmed by whatever enemy or obstacle we encounter. In this state of consciousness there is a sense of spaciousness and possibility. The Torah awakens us to the possibility of constant grace.

As it says in Deuteronomy 11, “Then you and your children will live out on earth the Divine promise given to your ancestors to live heavenly days right here on this earth.” (Reb Zalman’s translation of Deu 11:9)

Once we fully experience this state of Heaven, it can become a seed that we carry within to remind us that the liberation from the slavery of Hell is always possible.

BECHUKOTAI GOES ON TO WARN US about the other state of consciousness we might call “Hell.” When we’re in the state of Hell, it seems that God and everyone else is against us. We are ruled by fear, and every challenge we face feels impossible. We are obsessed with a nagging feeling of lack and preoccupied with the sense that something is wrong.

Even when we eat, we are not satisfied. In this state of Hell, even the “sound of a driven leaf” (Leviticus 26:36) will frighten us and send us running. Here, we feel like strangers, and life itself seems like enemy territory.

In Hell, anxiety causes us to be always on the defensive, and our uncircumcised heart, the heart that is layered over with armor, prevents us from knowing true joy or receiving the Divine Indwelling Presence.

THE BLESSING of Bechukotai comes as we begin to recognize these two states in our own experience. This recognition is the beginning of freedom from the tyranny of the Mind. We can learn that Heaven is our true nature, and when we feel lost in Hell we can remember that grace is offered to us and that it is only a matter of time until we find a path that leads us home.

THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE

IT IS AN INCREDIBLY RADICAL REALIZATION when we discover that it is the inner state of consciousness, and not outer circumstance, that determines whether our lives are an expression of Heaven or Hell. Personally, this realization stands as the foremost challenge to my own ego, which has struggled for nearly half a century to manipulate my outer circumstances.

The fear-driven ego says, “If only I had these things, this job, that lover, a slimmer body, nicer clothes, a good teacher, friends who were more loyal to me, or more time… then, everything would be OK.” The wisdom of my soul says, “I will find Heaven here regardless of circumstances.”

I HAVE SEEN SUCH WISDOM AT WORK in the heart of a friend who although suffering through the agonies of cancer, finds himself at long last at the center of a great love. I have seen it in the heart of a woman who is so poor that she barely has enough to eat, yet joyfully shares what little she has. There are those who by all objective measures seem to be suffering in the worst that Hell has to offer, yet they bear witness to the nobility of the human spirit by radiating a flame of Joy and Love that even great rivers cannot extinguish.

If it is true that only the inner circumstances matter, why do we struggle to change the world, to alleviate outer suffering, to bring peace, to heal the afflicted? The spiritual challenge of Bechukotai is to do this work not from fear or anger but from the radiant purity of our compassion. When we are rooted in Heaven consciousness, the fullness of our compassion overflows. It becomes our natural way of being in the world. When we have recognized our own Hell-states, we know the suffering of others. We understand what it’s like, so we can reach out and offer a vision of the truth of our inheritance. We can simply radiate that truth and our presence will help transform the world. Steeped in the consciousness of Heaven, it is impossible not to act from compassion.

I ONCE HAD A VERY POWERFUL DREAM in which I experienced the depths of Hell. In this dream, I was in both physical and emotional pain. I was depressed, exhausted and demoralized, and I decided to commit suicide. There was a woman who specialized in assisting people to kill themselves so I went to her for help. She held a pill in her hand and said, “I will give you this drug. It will definitely kill you, but first it will show you the meaning of Life.” As I sat before her, I was at first incredulous. “What do you mean?” I shouted. “It’ll show me the meaning of Life and then… I’ll die?” My astonishment turned to fury and then I became curious. I sat there and tried to imagine what the drug might do, what it would be like to know the meaning of Life, and then die. Something inside me stirred and I decided not to kill myself. I chose instead to live.

GUIDANCE FOR PRACTICE

The practice for this week of Bechukotai is to perceive one state of consciousness from the vantage point of the other. This practice is one of the most powerful keys to mastery and to breaking the tyranny of the mind. Over time this practice helps us to cultivate a powerful observer within. That observer can slowly teach us the wider perspective of soul.

Cultivating the Wider Perspective of Soul

WHEN YOU ARE SUFFERING IN A STATE OF HELL, carefully note your feelings. Notice the kinds of thoughts that are manufactured by this state, take note of the memories that arise, notice feelings in the body, rhythms of your breathing, and what the world looks like.

FROM THIS DIFFICULT HELL-STATE, CALL FORTH the memory of the state of Heaven. Remember what it felt like to see beauty and meaning everywhere. Bring all your curiosity to register the contrast of the state you’re in with the one you are remembering.

WHEN YOU NEXT FIND YOURSELF IN THE STATE OF HEAVEN, take careful note of your feelings, notice the memories that arise, notice feelings in the body, rhythms of your breathing, and what the world looks like.

FROM THIS HEAVEN-STATE, REMEMBER the state of Hell. Remember what it felt like to see the world as meaningless and cruel.

BRING ALL YOUR CURIOSITY TO REGISTER THE CONTRAST of the state you’re in with the one you are remembering.

AWAKEN YOUR COMPASSION in this place of Heaven to all those who are suffering, and to yourself when you are there in Hell.


Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.