This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Ki Tavo (5766)
This week's section always falls in the month of Elul, the month of mercy. According to Kabala in this month G-d constantly reveals His Thirteen Attributes of Mercy (found in Ex. 34:6,7)
Even the initials of this month indicate G-d's love: Alef Lamed Vav Lamed stands for "I am to my beloved (G-d) and my beloved is to me (Song of Songs 6:3). G-d loves us!
And if that wasn't enough, this week's section commands us twice to be happy - once in the beginning "Rejoice with all the good that G-d has given (26:11) and later in the middle "Serve G-d with Joy and a good heart from great abundance" (28:47).
And that is why this entire month is a positive preparation month for the days of 'Repentance and Awe' (Rosh HaShanna and Yom Kippur); namely when we see and feel how much G-d loves us and wants to forgive us. It encourages us to return to Him.
If so, it doesn't seem fitting that in this very Torah portion G-d lists 98 horrific curses awaiting any Jew that transgresses the Torah!
Hardly a fitting message for the Month of Mercy'. How can we be happy with these curses hanging over our heads?
To understand this, here is a story.
I usually avoid holocaust stories because no human mind can grasp, no less explain what happened. True G-d said in this week's Torah portion that such a thing was possible. But a father simply does not allow such things happen to his children… especially when the father is the King of the Universe! In fact it is accepted that one of the first things Moshiach will have to do is make sense of the ocean of tragedies that befell the Jews since, and including, Abraham.
Nevertheless here is the story. It was told to me personally by someone who heard it from an old Vishnitz Chassid who survived the war and has a sort of positive ending, that's why I'm telling it.
"The Nazis, may their name be blotted out, spent much needed manpower and time searching for Jews of all ages in basements, attics, forests and everywhere possible. And most of those caught were sent to 'concentration' camps, where the Nazis could concentrate on torturing and exterminating them in the most 'progressive, cultured and intellectual' ways.
"In the camp where we were, were a lot of religious Jews and a lot of other Chassidim that had been captured near the end of the war.
"I had heard that the Germans were unusually cruel around the Jewish holidays and it wasn't long before I saw how true this was.
"On Rosh HaShanna, they made us work all day non-stop, then on Yom Kippur they forced us to eat, and finally on Succot they decreased our meager rations by half. But when Simchat Torah came (the final day of Succot; a joyous holiday in itself) they really went berserk.
"They rounded up fifty of us, all young Vishnetzer Chassidim, and announced that we would be taken to the gas chambers in a matter of minutes.
"Everyone began to weep uncontrollably as we were led off to our deaths. Escape or resistance was impossible; we were so weak and they were armed to the teeth and besides there was no where to run to. Barbed wire was everywhere and the guards had ferocious dogs.
"Then one of our group said, "Listen friends, tonight is Simchat Torah… we are Jews! Right?! These perverted animals can't take that from us. We have to be happy!" He began a song and at the first note everyone joined in. We sang, louder and louder moving our feet to the tune.
"Suddenly for a second or two we were in control! We were free!! The Nazis could rule our bodies but our souls were free! Free!! We sang and even danced as much as possible as we were marching.
"Abruptly the German commander shouted 'Halt'! And the soldiers stopped the procession.
We fell silent as he swaggered before us in his high, shining black boots and perfectly fit black uniform and then said with a satanic sneer on his lips.
"So you want to rejoice on your stupid holiday ehh? Well, we also want to rejoice. Why are you so selfish?" He smirked, looked around contently, and continued.
"Instead of killing you now I'm taking you back. Tomorrow morning at five a.m. I will awaken the entire camp and everyone will be forced to watch how you happy bunch are publicly and slowly tortured to death, one at a time. We want ALL the Jew to be happy! Let us see how you Jews rejoice then!!"
"He barked an order and we were led back to a sort of prison room with a thick iron door that slammed ominously behind us.
"But HaShem had different plans.
"It seems that a few hours later, in the middle of the night there came urgent orders from on high that our camp had to supply one thousand workers to another location. A special unit was even sent to pick out and gather the workers. But after a few hours of searching they could only come up with nine hundred and fifty able bodied men. Then someone remarked that he remembered seeing us fifty lively young men being led into the 'prison'. So at 2 in the morning the metal door opened and we dragged from our cell, herded into trucks and shipped away to work.
"Meanwhile at the crack of dawn the camp commander woke up, got his executioners ready, awakened all the Jews and gathered them all outside in the freezing cold morning for the 'show' but when he got to our prison he found it...empty!! There was no one to kill.
"Not all of us survived the work camp but one thing for sure; if it wasn't for our joy that night I certainly wouldn't be here to tell this story; we all would have been murdered."
This answers our questions.
The natural state of man… especially the Jews....is Joy.
Joy is when we feel we are worthwhile and the more worthwhile we feel the more the Joy.
The ultimate joy is when we feel the truth; that G-d is creating each of us constantly for a purpose.
We are ALL worthwhile. Infinitely worthwhile!!
This is the message of Elul, especially this Shabbat; the 18th of Ellul, the birthdays of both the Baal Shem Tov and the first Rebbe of Chabad, Rebbe Shneur Zalman who wrote 'The Tanya and why this month is a preparation for Rosh Hashanna; the anniversary of the creation of 'man'. (Man was created on the sixth day of creation which fell out on the first of Tishre…Rosh HaShanna!)
But when we have doubts about our purpose we can't be happy. [The letters of 'Amelek' (a race of people often equated with the Nazis who hate Jews and G-d) is the numerical value of 'Doubt' 'Suffe"k']
So that is what the Torah is telling us here with the curses.
G-d loves us, He creates each of us every instant, and He gives us the opportunity to serve him in all our deeds… in Joy.
But when we have doubts, when we make troubles for ourselves, G-d often sends difficulties, even apparent curses in order to force us to wake up to our true identity as our story showed. (And as we see today; the unexplainable rise in global Anti-Semitism and pro-Islam and the even more unexplainable miracles that G-d has done for us Jews in Israel saving us, single handedly, from over 2,000 missiles!!!)
But the Lubavitcher Rebbe promised that there will be no more holocausts, at least no more physical ones. Today's problems are different. Today we must battle ignorance and indifference. We must educate and inspire Jews to do what they were chosen by G-d for: to bring blessing, meaning and happiness to the entire world.
And the way to do it is also through optimism and joy.
Go to your local Chabad representative and ask to learn one of the Rebbe's many volumes of wisdom. Whether it is "Sichot" or even deeper teachings called "Maamarim" or perhaps one of his letters called "Igrot" and begin to see what real joy is.
The message is waiting for us to open it.
Then even one more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales and bring...
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