HaMirpeset Shelanu 185: From Rabbi Rebecca Ben-Gideon

This week’s parashah, Bechukotai, lays out a detailed set of blessings and curses, that, depending on their behavior, will befall the people of Israel.  In some respects, this is a difficult parashah to understand, for as we know, sometimes good things happen to those whose behavior is reprehensible, while the worst befalls those whom we admire most.On the other hand, certain blessings and curses in the parashah do resonate on a number of levels.  On the blessings side, we read:  “You will eat your food to satiety.” (26:5)  It’s corresponding curse: “You will eat, yet not be satisfied.” (26:26)On a literal level, you might think that this is a simple threat about food abundance.  Behave and you’ll have enough to eat; rebel and you won’t.  Limiting our understanding of the Torah to this level forces a shallow reading in a place where greater depth of meaning is present.

So many of these curses go beyond the physical to the psychological.  For instance, my favorite curse in Torah, found in the book of Deuteronomy, involves never being happy in the moment and wishing time would pass quickly:  “In the morning you will say, “If only it were evening!” and in the evening, “If only it were morning!”

Reading the curses in our parashah this way, the Torah is saying that we must learn to appreciate the food on our plates.  Not to be able to do so is a true curse. We can eat and eat and eat….and never feel satisfied.  We will never feel we have enough.

At Camp Ramah, we take action to avoid this horrible fate.  After every meal, we recite in birkat hamazon (Blessings After the Meal), “ve’achalta ve’savata, u’verachta.”  You will eat and be satisfied–and you shall bless the Lord your God. (Deut 8:10)

By blessing God before and after meals, we make sure that we do not take our food for granted. By reciting the right blessings, we take a moment to be conscious of what we are eating and where it came from.  By raising our own consciousness at the moment of eating and just afterwards, we increase the happiness and satisfaction we feel by focusing on our good fortune. By blessing, we become aware of the ways we are blessed.

Food is plentiful and delicious at camp.  Kids and staff alike love the salad bar, the chicken soup on Friday nights, the hamburgers for Wednesday dinner.  We rejoice to see the snack cart in the morning and refresh ourselves with an apple or pear from the always stocked fruit bowl in the afternoon.

Beyond taking care of our physical needs, Ramah makes sure that we become blessed in the way that our parashah describes.  By blessing three times a day after meals, campers learn to bless and be blessed, to eat and be satisfied, and to find moments of gratitude every day.

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