Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel WeinCourtesy

These two parshiyot together form the final bookend of the book of Vayikra. This conclusion of Vayikra is a rather somber one, with the dominant theme being the prediction of Jewish dereliction from Torah values and practices and the resultant exile from their land and sovereignty. Yet in these parshiyot there are also promises of prosperity and well-being and successful Jewish life.

The Torah generally conforms to such a pattern of great blessings and stern warnings. It really allows the Jews very little middle ground in which to maneuver the private and national lives of Israel. Our entire history is one of great vacillation between exalted and miraculous moments and dire events.

This certainly is true regarding the story of the Jewish people and the Jewish State over the past century. Our tears are always mixed with joy and our joy is always laden with a heavy dose of accompanying tears. The Torah’s message to us is that life constantly presents different emotions and scenarios that are rarely if ever completely positive or completely negative.

Perhaps this is one of the meanings of the words of the rabbis of the Talmud that everything that Heaven does has good within it. Even if the general event may be deemed to be a negative one, there always is a kernel of good buried within it. So, our parshiyot reflect this duality of blessing and accomplishment as well as of defeat and hardship. This duality also applies to our daily dealings with others. Always try to see the good lurking within another person whenever possible – though I admit that there are situations that make it look impossible to do so. This has always been a premier Jewish trait. The rabbis in Avot taught us that every person has his moment so to speak. Seizing and exploiting that moment is the main accomplishment.

But that requires a sense of realism. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that everything is always correct and well with ourselves and our society, nor can we be so pessimistic and down on the situation that it precludes honest attempts at improvement. The balance of hope and warning that these concluding parshiyot of Vayikra exude is an important lesson and guidepost.

This lesson lies embedded in another teaching of the rabbis in Avot: “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the entire task at hand, but neither are you free to discard it entirely.” Reality dictates to us that we face our world and its dangers squarely and honestly. But we should not abandon hope and the effort to improve our lot.

We believe that positive effort and wise decisions, coupled with faith and tradition allow us to survive and prosper. Therefore at the conclusion of the public reading of these mixed messages at the end of the book of Vayikra we rise and strengthen ourselves “Chazak chazak v’nitchzeik.”