An old time Hebrew children’s song, long a staple of Jewish summer camp and preschool, celebrates having one’s cake and eating it too. Sung while dancing in a circle, the song’s very few words are these: oo-gah, oo-gah, oo-gah, b’ma’agal nacho-gah (Cake, Cake, Cake, we celebrate in a circle!); nis’to’ve’vah kol hayom, ‘ad asher nimtzah makom (We’ll spin around all the day, until we find a spot); la-shevet, la-koom, la-shevet la-koom, la-shevet v’la-koom (to sit, to stand up, to sit, to stand up, to sit, and to stand up!). (Hear the best known version of the song here –

Finding a proper place in which to sit (let alone knowing when to sit down) is no simple matter. Summoning up the courage to stand up (let alone when and how to do so) strikes me as even more complex.


[Darren Thompson “Standing Sitting”]

Parashat Behukotai features a fascinating interplay of the same two verbs – la-shevet (to sit or to settle) and la-koom (to stand up straight). Behukotai’s central passage describes the blessings enjoyed upon walking in the Divine path and, at much greater length, the curses suffered as consequence of defiance and denial of that path. On the blessing side – ‘you will dwell (vi’shavtem) securely in your land’ and the culminating good: ‘I made you walk upright (kom’miyut)’.

At the other end of the passage, the curse section concludes with these horrors:

“Then shall the land make up for its sabbath years throughout the time that it is desolate and you are in the land of your enemies; then shall the land rest and make up for its sabbath years. Throughout the time that it is desolate, it shall observe the rest (az tish’bat ha’aretz)that it did not observe in your sabbath years while you were dwelling upon it. As for those of you who survive, I will cast a faintness into their hearts in the land of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight. Fleeing as though from the sword, they shall fall though none pursues. With no one pursuing, they shall stumble over one another as before the sword. You shall not be able to stand your ground (v’lo tihiyeh lakhem t’kumah)before your enemies, but shall perish among the nations; and the land of your enemies shall consume you.” [Leviticus 26:34-38]

An inability to stand up represents the epitome of cursedness. Standing tall (as my friend and teacher R Shai Held translates kom’miyut) connotes blessedness. At the end of the day, blessing and curse are a choice. Another old time song, this one courtesy of Bob Marley, completes the circle. Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight! []

Shabbat Shalom!