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Parshat Behar-Bechukotai (5769)

This week's double Torah portion contains 36 commandments and ends with 49 curses awaiting the Jews if they don't follow G-d's Torah.

At first glance this is not understood. G-d created this world with human beings that have egos which want to be natural. So why do we get punished?

NO ONE naturally desires to keep the Sabbath, eat kosher food or do most of the other commandments. So why should we get cursed for just following our G-d given natures? And why so MANY curses?

And conversely; if G-d doesn't want us to sin then why did HE give us the natural tendency to defy Him?

To understand this, here is a story that was told by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Shabbat B'reshis 5735. (Ma Sh'siper li HaRebbe vol. 2 pg. 32)

Some two hundred years ago in Russia, near the area where the first Rebbe of Chabad, Rebbe Shneur Zalman, lived, there was a crazy man. He had been a normal, sensible religious Jew until one day he suddenly lost his mind and began screaming and thrashing about for no apparent reason.

His family was shocked, his friends tried to help, his neighbors shook their heads in pity and the Rabbis prayed but it didn't help.

The doctors just scratched their heads and shrugged their shoulders with no idea what to do and hoped that just as it came suddenly so it would go suddenly. There had been such cases. Or perhaps in the course of time his madness would gradually fade away. But it didn't.

To have him committed to an asylum was out of the question. There, at best, he would be put in a room alone or with other dangerous maniacs.

Then someone suggested that they try the Rebbe. So the madman's wife and sons somehow managed to calm him down and get into the carriage, and in a short time they entered the Rebbe's office.

In the presence of the Rebbe the madman was fairly still, once in a while giving a grunt or some other non-human sound and occasionally waving his hands but it was possible for the Rebbe to have a good look at him, realize what the problem was and begin treatment.

He asked the family to be seated, to keep an eye on the sick man while he told them a story.

A story? They looked at each other with question marks in their eyes but, seeing as they had no other choice, they listened.

The Rebbe began. "It says in the Talmud (Gittin 57b) that when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the First Temple one of his Generals noticed a pool of blood bubbling and boiling on the ground of the Temple courtyard and when he asked of it's origin he was told it was the blood of Zechariah the Prophet who had been killed there unjustly. (This is not the Prophet Zechariah, one of the 12 prophets, who lived in the beginning of the Second Temple)

"The accepted story is that when he stood in the Temple courtyard and began enumerating the sins of all those present, with harsh words of warning and reproof to all the Jews he so angered everyone that, in their fury, they stoned him to death.

"But, in fact, the story is quite different. The motive in killing him was much more positive."

The Rebbe looked at the crazy man and then at his family to make sure they were listening and continued.

"The fact is that those men who stoned Zechariah were really Tzadikim; holy, refined, and totally righteous men, perhaps the only Jews that had not sinned in those days. And they had hoped that they could turn the tide of sin and convince their brothers to repent.

"As soon as Zechariah began to speak they understood what he was about to say. He was about to prophecy the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jews from Israel into Babylon. They knew that his words were prophesy and that as soon they would be uttered the decree would be sealed and they wanted to stop or at least delay it.

"So they decided, in one instant, that they had to make the ultimate sacrifice even if it would cost them everything in both this world and the next! They knew that by killing him they would be killed and die as sinners… but they didn't care about themselves; so great was their brotherly love that they only thought about stopping that prophesy from actually being said giving the Jews even another few days, to repent.

"And the only way they could do it was by killing him.

"But, perhaps you will ask why didn't the prophet himself refuse to make his prophesy? He certainly must have known that once his words were uttered the fate of the Jews was sealed. Why didn't Zechariah just keep quiet?

"And if you try to explain that if he did so he would be punishable by death (which is the law regarding a prophet that refuses to prophecy). If so, then why didn't he give his life? After all, those who killed him were willing to do so to save the Jews. Certainly Zechariah had no less brotherly love than they did!

"The answer is that a true prophet has virtually no ego of his own; he is nothing more than a conduit for G-d's messages. Therefore when he was commanded by G-d to prophecy he had no possibility of doing otherwise; his entire essence existed only to give over the word of G-d.

"But those who killed him did have free will and they used it in a futile attempt to try to save the Jewish people from tragedy and exile."

Suddenly the insane man trembled for a few seconds, closed his eyes briefly, smiled with relief and began to breathe easily. He was cured!!

The Rebbe saw this and explained to the amazed family.

"The tortured souls of those Tzadikim who murdered Zechariah entered your father's body in the hope that they would be brought to someone who could find some redeeming quality in their sin and free them from eternal limbo.

"For almost two and a half thousand years they have been seeking to be corrected. They couldn't enter heaven because of their sin of murder. And the gates of hell also would not admit them because of their pure intentions.

"That is why you came to me." The Rebbe concluded

"When I learned "Zechut" (merit) on those who killed Zechariah I made a 'Tikun' (correction) on their souls and both they and your father were healed."

This answers our questions. The reason that G-d gives the impulse to sin and so many curses with it, is for us to transform it all into blessings.

Just as the story of Zechariah began with sin and sickness and ended with freedom and redemption. So too will be the story of the entire exile we Jews are in today.

But we must learn from the Rebbe's example in our story. We must see the potential good, in everything, talk about it and even do all we can to make it revealed (i.e. putting Tefillin on and giving Shabbat candles to unaffiliated Jews).

Then we can be emissaries of the Creator, bring out the good and positive even from the past and transform all the curses of exile, to blessings.

It all depends on us to do, say, even think one more good thing and bring...

Moshiach NOW!

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