This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Behar-Bechukotai (5766)
This week's double section begins with a disappointment and ends with a curse.
It begins with a powerful introduction: "G-d spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai saying the following" and then goes on to explain only ONE commandment called Shmita (farmers in Israel must not work the land on the seventh year). Shmita is only relevant to farmers in Israel once every seven years.
Then, near the end of the second section, the Torah lists forty-nine depressing curses awaiting Jews who don't keep the Torah (and later in Deuteronomy 28:15-69, the Torah lists 98 more!).
What is so special about Shmita and why does G-d have to list SO MANY curses. Is there any connection between them?
To understand this, here is a story:
This story happened some thirty years ago in Minnesota. The heroes are Yigal and Nechama, two typical Israeli kibbutzniks. They were intelligent, sensitive, anti-religious (especially Judaism), and living in America.
Both had good jobs and would have lived happily ever after if it wasn't for the day that Nechama became.....possessed.
It was early one Monday morning when it happened. They were both getting ready to go to work. Nechama was making coffee for the two of them and Yigal was in the bathroom just finishing shaving when he heard her shouting from the other room.
"Hey! You don't have to yell! One minute, I'm coming!" he shouted above her voice as he dried his face and went to her. And there she was, standing in the middle of the living room shaking her hands and head strangely and shouting at the ceiling.
He tried to calm her down and even got her seated on the couch but it didn't help. She stood and began shouting again until, after fifteen more minutes, she finally sat down on her own and became silent. After a few minutes she began talking normally and didn't remember a thing.
Yigal called his and her bosses to say they wouldn't be in and took her to the doctor. But the checkup and the tests he took showed nothing. He suggested they wait, and if it happened again to go to a psychiatrist for more comprehensive testing.
Two days later it happened again but this time for half an hour and they went to the hospital for neurological tests. But they too gave no clue as to what was going on.
Yigal didn't know what to do. The attacks came without warning and were becoming more severe. The next week she had four; one lasted over an hour.
Going to work was out of the question for either of them. He couldn't leave her alone and certainly not with the children. But on the other hand, she couldn't be hospitalized; when she wasn't having a fit she was completely normal and didn't even recall anything she had done. The only chance was to try other doctors or perhaps alternative medicine.
For months they ran from office to office and from treatment to treatment. Poor Nechama took pills, shots, massages, acupuncture, changed her diet, and did tens of other things but the attacks continued.
But help often comes from strange places. Someone suggested to her that since everything else failed maybe she should consult with a Rabbi.
At first she refused. "No, no!" she protested, "not a Rabbi! How could a Rabbi possibly help? Rabbis are for weddings and burials and things not about life."
"But this Rabbi is different," her friend said. "I heard him speak and he was very practical and positive." With no other choice Nechama agreed. "But don't let my husband know!" she warned her friend.
The Rabbi was the well-known Chabad Chassid, teacher, world lecturer, and author Rabbi Manis Friedman, and when he heard her story he immediately suggested that they write to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
"G-d is the source of all health and life and the Rebbe has a special way of connecting people to the Creator of the Universe," he explained.
She wrote and the answer was soon in coming.
The Rebbe wrote that he was pained to hear of her illness but assured her that if she and her family would be careful from now on to eat only kosher food, she would return to normal health.
It didn't take much to convince her to try, she was desperate! She threw caution to the winds and decided to go for it.
It wasn't really that hard. She and Rabbi Friedman's wife hit it off well and after a conversation of an hour or so they went shopping. Meanwhile, Rabbi Friedman sent a group of young Chassidim to make her kitchen kosher; the stove, the dishes, the pots and pans, even the spoons and forks had to be boiled or torched to make them fit for Torah standards.
Nechama returned home with ten shopping bags full of kosher food and new orders for the family.
But Yigal held his head in agony. Just when he thought that things couldn't get worse....now this! Before it was only her but now she wanted to “infect” him and the kids as well!
He was trying to be calm and speak to her logically when the bell rang and the young Chassidim that Rabbi Friedman sent entered with a huge pot, a blow torch, and other implements to work on the kitchen.
That night Yigal called a friend and asked for help, and he called the right person. "There is a fortune teller!" his friend said with great certainty. "Not just a fortune teller but a healer and miracle worker. Everyone goes to her and she is amazing! I think she's a gypsy from India or something but if anyone can help, she can. I'll make an appointment for tonight and we'll go together."
“Phew!” Yigal sighed with relief. "Finally something normal!"
That evening he was seated opposite the miracle lady, pouring out his heart while his friend sat next to him, looking alternatively at him and her to see what she would respond.
She heard the story, thought for a moment in silence, looked at him seriously and said, "Wait a minute, you are Israeli, right? I mean....you are Jewish? Correct? So why do you come to me? You Jews have a grand Jewish Rabbi in Brooklyn that has a thousand times my powers! Even more than that! And he is never wrong. Why don't you go to him?"
Yigal tried to explain that Rabbis are not healers and that Judaism is too archaic, complicated, and meaningless for him but the fortune teller just shrugged her shoulders. She couldn't understand what he was getting at.
That night Yigal returned home a defeated man....or rather a victorious one. He had begun to defeat all his false conceptions about G-d and His commandments. He announced that he was willing to be a partner in Nechama's kosher craze. Until the next attack, that is.
But the next attack never came. In fact, Yigal and his wife, although they still do not consider themselves to be at all religious, keep kosher, Shabbat, and he even puts on tefillin daily to add health to the world.
And, of course, a big picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe adorns the most prominent wall in their living room.
Now we can answer the above questions. The name of the first of the double portions this week is "On the Mountain (Sinai)," which the Talmud tells us was the “lowest” of mountains. G-d gave the Torah on a mountain to show that Torah elevates the physical world for all to see (as the Moshiach will eventually elevate the entire world to holiness).
But He gave it on a “low” mountain to show that humility is of prime importance. In fact, humility before the Creator and before our fellow man is the vehicle to transform the world through Torah.
This is the purpose of Shmita: to remind us that everything we have, even the earth and all the profit we make with the sweat of our brow, is all miracles from the Creator. We must be humble and take nothing for granted.
Similarly, the second portion is called "In my Chukim (statutes)." Chukim are Torah laws which cannot be understood.
So also the curses; it is not understood how a father (G-d is our father) could possibly bring such horrors on His children. And also it is not understood how the Jews have rebelled and suffered all these curses for thousands of years and STILL EXIST....longer than even the empires that oppressed them.
In other words, G-d is demonstrating that, no matter what, He still loves His people.
And one day very soon He will transform all the curses to blessings (Deuteronomy 23:1)! That is why there are so many curses: they come as a reminder to humble us and remind us that G-d cares what we do and how they all will become blessings.
So too the heroes of our story came to realize that the lowest things like Nechama's sickness can be transformed to blessings.
And the Lubavitcher Rebbe says this will happen at any moment. Moshiach will be revealed and will transform all the curses to blessings. All mankind will come to give thanks and prayer to the Creator alone and all pain will become joy and all sorrow laughter.
It's up to us to do all we can to bring....
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