There is an age-old adage that was and continues to be used invariably by those bearing unpleasant reports: “Well, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.” The beginning of Parshat Bechukotai reflects this notion perfectly. Hashem has but two themes He wishes to express to the nation: Do good, and be rewarded; do evil, and be doomed. Verses 1-13 express the joys and benefits of following the Mitzvot, and the next 28 or so verses after that discuss the oft-gruesome ordeals that Bnai Yisrael will be subjected to if they reject the ordinances of Hashem. This negative portion is known as the Tochacha, and because of its sinister nature is read in a softer, quicker tone by the Baal Koreh.
Looking at the juxtaposition and layout of these blessings and curses, two questions jumped out at me. Going back to our analogy, usually, when presented with the choice, one would choose to hear the bad news first, so that after it takes its potentially devastating effect, the good news can provide some form of consolation. Yet here, as well as in the corresponding Tochacha/blessing set in Parshat Ki Tavo, the positive rewards are listed before the terrible punishments. What’s more, in both cases the number of verses that contains the list of blessings does not even approach the number of verses that the salvo of assured destruction spans. What could be the reasoning behind these two logistical curiosities?
While the actual answers to a question of this nature are known only in the heavens, the lessons that they can teach are here for the taking. From this particular example, one can glean a little brevity about the resilience of the Jewish spirit. To display this, I take the risk of employing yet another maxim of the English language, Murphy’s Law. The law goes, “If anything can go wrong, it will, and at the worst possible time.” Right when things are starting to sound all right, when blessings and good times are all around, that is when troubles hit hardest. Once in the midst of hardship, pain seems interminable, and the once felt joy becomes a distant, fleeting memory, almost totally overtaken by the current plight. And yet, the very first verse after the Tochacha gives us three all important words: “Veaf Gam Zot”- “and despite all this.” Despite all the pain and suffering, the eternal hope that we cherish will win the day. Despite the blood, sweat, and tears, our everlasting faith will bring peace and joy to each person and to the Jewish nation as a whole; for, as the old saying goes, “If you will it, it is no dream.”