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  • Writer's pictureEve Was Right

33. Creating a Culture of Fear

Parshah Bechukotai


TL;DR of the Text

More “or else” threats to the Israelites if they don’t follow the commandments. How do you put a price on living beings?


Major Themes

  • What do we trade for safety?

  • Using atrocities to justify atrocities

  • What does it mean to be “better” than human?


*Important attribution note: All quotes listed in this article are credited to the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash. Here is an Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash: the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.


Leviticus 26:3-4, 6*

“If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them; then I will provide your rains in their time… I will provide peace in the Land, and you will lie down with none to frighten you.”

What do they get for the racism, slavery, slaughter, oppression, and dispossession? Safety. As always, right?


Maybe we’re a little too concerned with being safe. Or maybe our politics don’t provide enough of a sense of safety. There’s a reason it’s called a safety net! 


To some extent, we have to accept risk. We engage in genuine efforts to minimize risk while also accepting the reality of living in an uncertain world. Take the plight of teenagers, for example: they’re old enough to realize how little freedom they have while still being denied most freedoms. All they’d need is free public transportation and a lack of restrictions on harmless leisure, and they’d be good. 


Leviticus 26:7*

“You will pursue your enemies; and they will fall before you by the sword.” 

The chicken or the egg: did a violent environment come first, or was it the propensity to solve things with violence? 


What if, instead of the incredibly flawed military doctrine of “deterrence,” we invested in science? What if we discovered scientific advancements valuable enough that we always had leverage for any aggressive state? “Oh, you want to start a war? But if you start a war, you won’t get [insert civil advancement here.]


We could totally do it. Humans are smart enough. 



Leviticus 26:13*

“I am Hashem, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt from being their slaves; I broke the staves of your yoke and I led you erect.” 

They were led out of slavery only to turn right around and condone slavery? Recent history shows the exact same progression; some Jews, fresh from suffering unspeakable horrors during the Holocaust, used tragedy to justify the Nakba. 


Leviticus 26: 14, 17*

“If you will not listen to Me and will not perform all of these commandments… you will flee with no one pursuing you.” 

The culture of fear started here. 


I’m paraphrasing here - unfortunately, I don’t remember where exactly I read this. A Palestinian was quoted in a journalism piece about how the Palestinians are always surprised to see images of Israelis screaming and ducking on the side of a road or in their safe rooms in response to an air siren. Why were they so scared, the Palestinian wondered, when nothing was happening to them, and when Palestinians had nowhere to hide while drones and bombs were raining down on their children?


When you consider the relative scale of destruction between Israel and Palestine - both before October 7 and after - you realize this prophecy has come true. Comparatively, nothing is happening, yet Israelis are still fleeing. They have barely any risk of danger compared to people in the West Bank, Gaza, or southern Lebanon, yet they are terrified. Fascist fear pervades the entire society, as it has from the very beginning. 


Leviticus 26: 27-29*

“If despite this you will not heed Me, and you behave toward Me with casualness, I will behave toward you with a fury of casualness; I will chastise you, even I, seven ways for your sins. You will eat the flesh of your sons; and the flesh of your daughters will you eat.” 

It is a peculiar aspect of being human to assume that “spiritual” beings - those in higher dimensions - are more prone to negative human qualities than we are. They’re more jealous, more exacting, and less forgiving. It is probably because we are scared, which is only to be expected considering the world we grew up in. We assume the worst. 


What if these beings are, in fact, better? Not better in the sense of better people, but more empathetic than we imagined? More forgiving? Less formal? More easygoing? More equal? What if they see us and think, “whew, we’ve been there”? What a hard time (similar to how we feel about the idea of repeating middle school.) They’re doing such a great job given everything they’ve dealt with. Go humans. 


You know? 


What if the same is true for the Earth and the animals who dwell upon it? I know I feel guilty about the plight of the Earth, factory farming, and how animals are being squeezed out of their habitats. Sometimes, it’s easy for me to assume they would also be angry at me, because I am angry at myself. 


But what if the opposite is true? What if the Earth is angry for us? What if she knows we feel for her? What if she knows how much pain it causes us to no longer be able to see the sunset through the smog, or to avoid visiting the beach because of toxic waste? 


And similarly, what about the animals? They’re far more intelligent than we can even begin to imagine. What if they, too, look at us and see a dying species? What if they see the cargo ships and the oil factories as signs of the empire that is killing the whole planet, humans included? 


What if we’re the last to know that everyone knows we’re all in this together? 


Leviticus 26:42*

“I will remember My covenant with Jacob and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember, and I will remember the Land.” 

Even the Torah didn’t really describe God’s feelings towards the Patriarchs as anything other than duty. It was primarily framed as: He made a promise to them and He’s keeping it. There wasn’t much positive reflection from God about the Patriarch’s characteristics, nor should there have been. Also, the Land was the last, and therefore most important, mention on this list. 


Leviticus:27:2-4, 8*

“If a man articulates a vow to Hashem regarding a valuation of living beings, the valuation of a male shall be: for someone twenty years to sixty years of age, the valuation shall be fifty silver shekels, of the sacred shekel. 

If she is female, the valuation shall be thirty shekels…but if he is too poor for the valuation, then he should cause him to stand before the Kohen, and the Kohen should evaluate him.”

 

Wow. There you go, in black and white - the value of living beings, denoted by age and sex. 


The priests were the ultimate collaborators. They even helped assign monetary value to living beings in cases of ambiguity!


Leviticus 27:26*

“However, a firstborn that will become a firstling for Hashem among livestock, a man shall not consecrate it.” 

This idea of the “firstborn” needs to be thrown in the trash along with other forms of privilege-by-birth. As we are well familiar with now, even determining who is a firstborn can be difficult given male extramarital activities. 


Hopefully, one day, bloodlines won’t even be a factor; instead, we’ll focus on children’s humanity. Until then, at the very least, we can stop worrying about who came out of the womb first. 


*Again with the Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash : the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.

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