Why is it that two people can witness the same event but have opposite accounts of what transpired? Perceptions, agendas, biases, and allegiances to narrativesTruth is pretty much up for grabs create for us the realities that we can or are willing to see. Truth is pretty much up for grabs. But we live in a world created by G‑d, and therefore, we live in His reality. While Torah, the guidebook to navigate this created reality, explains the very nature of that existence, that doesn’t mean we always like it. In a culture indoctrinated with the avoidance of that which causes discomfort, some of the passages of Bechukotai are downright terrifying:

“If you will not listen to Me and will not fulfill My commandments, if you despise my statutes and your souls despise My laws … thereby breaking My covenant, then I will do the same with you. I will impose terror upon you. … I will set my Face against you and you will be defeated before your enemies... (Leviticus 26:14-17)

The Risk-Avoidant Life

In this created reality, it sure sounds like G‑d is using fear to induce obedience. Many, in fact, point to such passages to justify their contempt of Torah observance. After all, what kind of G‑d resorts to threats of terror and violence to engender compliance? Although I wasn’t exposed to Torah until my mid-30s, my former “understanding” of G‑d more or less was that He was out to “get” me. The best I could hope for, therefore, would be to be ignored by G‑d, and so I tried to fly under the G‑d radar, so to speak, and not make Him too mad. How sad—for both of us!

Trying to stay safe and avoid risk is not just an unfulfilling way to live, it’s not how we were designed, and, therefore, it’s out of alignment with reality. The thought or hope that we could ignore our spiritual contract and covenant with G‑d—and there not be any attendant consequences—is to try to live in a reality of one’s own making. And that’s not real.

Truth or Consequence?

When I was a kid, we were either “bad” or “good;” as such, we were rewarded for good behavior and punished for bad. These days, the word I hear parents using to control their children is “consequence.” As in: “If you do or not do some version of what I am requesting, you’re going to be dealt a consequence.” As parents try to create reality for their children, the trick is to employ this device in a rational and believable manner. And so, the consequence should be related sensibly to the conduct, so that kids learn how cause and effect usually manifest in our created world. (Note: I am not addressing questions of theodicy in this article.)

I’ve noticed that “consequences” tend to be the unwanted kind, but to be consistent, they should be for good things, too. Just as parents genuinely want their children to act in a way that good consequences follow their behaviors, so does G‑d want us to benefit and enjoy good consequences as well. In the reality that He created are blessings, abundance, peace; they flow as natural consequences of us living in harmony in the world He designed. If we override the system or use it in unintended ways, we will cause consequences that we don’t like.

By way of a silly example, I just bought a hand-held garment steamer. I can’t believe how harebrained some of the warnings are in the instruction booklet. No one, I think, would ever do some of the inane and farfetched behaviors described, except for one, perhaps. “Do not use the steamer on people.” Anyway, the point is that if I use the steamer correctly, I will get wrinkle-free clothes. If I do not, I might inadvertently burn myself with hot steam. That’s neither reward nor punishment—just a consequence of usage.

Moral Consequences

In Bechukotai, G‑d is not threatening us into obedient subservience; rather, He is explaining the nature of His created reality. If we disconnect ourselvesDisconnect a bone from its source of life, and the results can be life threatening from the very source of life, then it doesn’t look pretty. A few years ago, I did a stint of work on Fosamax femur-fracture litigation. Ironically, the very drug prescribed to strengthen bones was causing traumatic fractures to the femur (the hardest bone in the body) when elderly women were doing simple activities, like getting up from the couch. I was fascinated with the X-rays showing these broken femurs because in them, I saw a metaphor for my relationship with G‑d.

Disconnect a bone from its source of life, and the results can be life-threatening. For a soul designed to be in a loving relationship with G‑d, a break in that relationship can have traumatic consequences as well. Note the word: consequence. Created with free will, we can opt out and live in a purely physical world, a world that we think we can control, morality that we believe we can define, and rules we decide to live by. A bit actor in a movie could never demand “artistic control.” And yet, G‑d lets us do exactly that. But not with indifference. The parent who can’t give the keys to the car to a teen with a drinking problem, for example, is heartbroken, for loving parents want nothing more than to give to their children. And certainly not without consequence.

Denying the Undeniable

I don’t understand quantum physics and please don’t ever try to explain it to me. But I’m not so arrogant and ignorant to disbelieve that the theory exists. You won’t find me saying something idiotic like, “Yeah, I just don’t buy into that.” Some things are true, whether you believe them or not. G‑d created a Holy Reality, which doesn’t depend on your buy-in to make it true. Nevertheless, He wants so very much for you to understand that it is so.

What’s at Stake?

Everything—simply everything—is on the line. In case you haven’t noticed, the world that man creates can be a pretty heinous place. If we reject G‑d, override the system, disconnect from the source of life and ultimate truth, then we can create a living hell. On the other hand, if we live as designed, in G‑d’s created reality, we can create heaven on earth. It’s up to us. The dire warnings of Bechukotai come from the place of the deepest love imaginable. And right now, the stakes couldn’t be higher.