This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Ki Tavo (5768)
This week's section contains threats; 98 different types of catastrophes that G-d can pull on the Jews if they don't do what He expects of them.
Although at first glance this seems a bit severe and unfair to pick on us like this but if we consider that all we have and all we are is really is a gift from the Creator (who creates everything constantly) it's not unreasonable at all; everything is His and He can do what He wants.
But on the other hand it really isn't so fair. The Jews are called the 'Sons of G-d" (Ex. 4:22) and although a father may threaten his son in a moment of anger with murder….he doesn't actually do it!
Also, this Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night) tens of thousands of Jews all over the world will begin saying 'Slichot'; Prayers of Forgiveness which remind us how kind and forgiving G-d is.
But it's hard to believe it after reading all those curses in the morning!! They seem to be sending the opposite message; that G-d is very VERY unforgiving and has a lot of curses awaiting the sinners!!
To understand this, here is a story. (Kolot Mag. Ellul 4, 5768)
Shlomo Zalman Shlozman was a sworn follower of Lev Dovidovich Bronstein.
Exactly how many deaths this Bronstein can be held responsible for will probably never be known, but as one of the major figures in the bloody Russian Revolution and the founder and commander of the ruthless 'Red Army' it was undoubtedly in the tens of thousands.
Bronstein was better known as Leon Trotsky.
Before he was driven from Russia in the late nineteen twenties by his arch enemy Stalin his power was almost unlimited and his influence on the youth, especially the Jewish youth, was deadly.
He was a charismatic speaker that could hold crowds of thousands spellbound for hours with his fiery rhetoric of world dominion, progress, justice, equality and total change; just the message that millions of dissatisfied Russians, especially intellectual ones like Shlomo Zalman Shlozman, were waiting for.
Shlozman grew up in a religious home. His parents were clean-living, observant Jews as were his grandparents and their grandparents before them since the giving of the Torah thousands of years ago… but now this would be different! There was a New ORDER!! Comrade Trotsky taught that the Jews had no future as a separate race; rather their destiny was intermarriage and assimilation into the new communist culture.
Shlozman took to it like a fish to water. No longer was he a private person… he had to save the world!! But first he set about convincing his Jewish friends to leave their old, superstitions beliefs and put their energies in to the fight for change; a NEW future … with a TRUE leader!!
He didn't have to work hard. Most of his Jewish friends were already as enthusiastic as he was. They formed a group, held meetings and finally broke completely from the Torah and devoted themselves to the Party body and soul 24/7.
Five years passed. Communism triumphed in Russia and conquered the hearts and minds of all its citizens. The rich were stripped of their wealth, new names popped up into the spotlight and Shlozman rose in the ranks of the revolution. So great was his devotion to 'change' and disdain for the past, especially HIS own, that he had not contacted his heartbroken parents all this time. In fact he became so detached from his family that when the news of his father's death reached him he showed no sign of emotion. He was too busy saving the world.
But several months later he woke one morning and decided, just from curiosity, to look up the Jewish date. (The Jews have a slightly different calendar than the rest of the world according to which are celebrated all Jewish holidays and Yor Tzites; the anniversary of the passing away of a loved one.
At first it was quite academic but when he found out it somehow popped into his mind that tomorrow would be the first anniversary of his father's passing.
"I'll say Kaddish." He said aloud to himself without knowing why. (Kaddish is a short prayer, also said by mourners, praising G-d. It must be said in the presence of a 'minyan' i.e. ten Jews.)
But it wasn't as simple as he thought.
In the town where he lived were three synagogues. He knew them like the back of his hand. At six a.m. sharp he strode into one of them just as they were just beginning their prayers. But to his amazement as soon as he entered everyone there took one look at him, hastily packed up their Tefillin (phylacteries) and prayer shawls and without raising their eyes, made hasty departures.
In seconds he was standing in the synagogue alone.
Shlomo Zalman was angry at first; who did they think they were!? But in seconds he realized why they ran… they were afraid of him! They knew him and figured he probably came to make some sort of trouble. Maybe even to have them all arrested!
Undaunted he made his way to the second synagogue only to have the same results; as soon as they noticed his presence they began coughing and making their ways to the exit.
He should have just forgotten the entire thing but he didn't… he couldn't. What began as a simple whim was becoming a necessity … he had to say that Kaddish!
As he walked to the last synagogue memories of his parents began to flicker in his mind and tears almost flooded his eyes but he took his mind off it. "I can take my time." He smiled and thought to himself. "This is the Chassidic Shul (Synagogue) they don't start so early, heh heh!"
But when he got there his spirit fell; he didn't want them to run from him again. After all, he was a Jew. He must have fallen pretty low if everyone ran from him like he was a monster. Maybe he really was a monster!
He put a skullcap on his head that he found at the entrance and this time when he entered he kept his eyes on the ground, hunched over a bit and walked close to the back wall. It worked! At first no one even looked at him and when they did, although they clearly suspected him, they didn't run.
An old Chassid approached and Shlomo Zalman stuck out his hand in greeting and asked if he could say Kaddish for his father.
"Kaddish?" Answered the old fellow. "What about Tefillin? Have you put on Tefillin today?"
When he didn't reply the Chassid removed his own Tefillin from his arm and head, told Shlomo to roll up his sleeve and in moments.. for the first time in years, he was home again.
The old Chassid pounded on the table and yelled out… "Kaddish!" said a few sentences and Shlozman read the age old Kaddish prayer from a prayer book someone gave him.
Shlozman never returned to his friends. That synagogue became his home. He grew a beard, changed his way of life and even changed his address. Eventually he even changed his name, married and had children that he raised to be Chassidim of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The reason we know this story is that behind that Shul is a dilapidated hut which houses an even more dilapidated Mikva (Purification pool) that has been out of use for years known as Shlomo Zalman's Mikva.
The story has it that when the communists closed the Mikva in the town as part of their plan to destroy Judaism (Married Jewish Woman must immerse in a Mikva regularly) our Shlomo Zalman, who used to be one of their most rabidly fanatic soldiers, decided he wouldn't take it laying down! He knew that if he got caught it would mean almost certain death for 'counter-revolutionary activities' but he owed too much to G-d to let the enemy win.
So he built an innocent looking shack not far from the Synagogue and then, in the guise of making it his home, spent night after night digging a hole there then bringing in pipes, cement and water all according to Torah qualifications until a few months later had built a secret mikva that no one would destroy!
It was used by the Jewish community for over forty years in the hardest times and miraculously was never discovered by the communists. In fact because of it hundreds, even thousands of Jewish children were conceived and born according to the way the Torah says they should be and a serious crack was put in the Iron Curtain of communism.
This answers our questions.
The curses in this week's section aren't just empty threats. History has shown that G-d has activated them on the Jews in frightening measure over and over again in the destructions of the first and second Temples, the Crusades, Inquisitions, Pogroms, expulsions, holocausts and more. Like the Communist oppression in our story.
But after all this, the Jews are still here. As the Talmud says "They are like one sheep surrounded by seventy hungry wolves and the sheep survives"…. And even flourishes!!
As the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbe Menachem Shneorson, said time and time again: Ours is the generation of Moshiach, the generation when G-d will protect and bless even the Jews that are furthest away from Him.
(As we see today CLEARLY in Israel; despite our bumbling, incompetent, suicidal government, millions of enemies around us that have shot thousands (!) of missiles at us (and are planning to shoot more) while the entire world vilifies us ….. Never-the-less G-d miraculously protects us CONSTANTLY from all of them!!)
This is the message of this week's Torah portion; G-d loves the Jewish people and will "Transform the curses to blessings" (Deut. 23:6). All we have to do is ask! Like Shlomo Zalman did in our story.
We must all demand that G-d end the suffering and confusion…. Answer our prayers and send us a blessed, happy, meaningful, successful New Year with....
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