Parashat B'hukotai

Faith In Difficult Times

Jeremiah's deep faith despite the impending exile predicted in Parashat B'hukotai can teach us to turn to God in the most troubling of times.

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Conversely, many people wonder at these moments of pain and disappointment if God is indeed there at all. The question of today is different. We ask ourselves, "How does one continue to believe, to let God in, when such devastation surrounds us at times?" Pain can harden one's heart. It can make a person cynical, mistrustful of others.

These days are the in-between days--days of reflection and sadness between Pesach and Shavuot. Why? Because during these days we commemorate the wandering in the wilderness. The time between our freedom from Pharaoh and our receiving the gift of Torah at Mt. Sinai.

During that time we were lawless. We had no Torah. We had too much freedom. Instead of it being a wonderful party, it was awful. We complained bitterly. The law, as the midrash learns, brought true freedom to the world, a freedom that we could sustain.

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, this season also means that the summer warmth is coming. Some of us feel relief, now that the academic year is ending, granting us a liberation from the constraints of imposed order. Now, as summer approaches, we experience the freedom without laws. We feel rootless.

Maintaining faith in difficult times is a struggle for each of us. And yet, Jeremiah's beautiful, poetic words strike a chord for us, who want so desperately to feel God's presence beside us as we struggle. Jeremiah offers these words of consolation and hope, describing that a person who has faith in God can survive even the toughest times.

Lag B'Omer, a holiday day that is a reprieve in our 50 days of mourning between Pesach and Shavuot, also occurs during this time. In the spirit of Lag B'Omer, let us feel the reprieve of the water around us, soothing our roots, caring for our leaves. And may we soon yield fruit again. As Jeremiah says, "Heal me, O Lord, and let me be healed. Save me, and let me be saved. For you are my glory."

Parashat B'hukotai ends the book of Leviticus. When the Torah reading is completed, it is customary for the congregation to chant, "Chazak, chazak, v'nithazek." Be Strong. Be Strong. And let us be strengthened by one another.

So may it be.

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Rabbi Andrea Steinberger serves as a rabbi at the Hillel Foundation at the University of Wisconsin. Rabbi Steinberger received her ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1997 and her BA from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.