This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Ki Tavo (5769)
In week's Torah reading; Moses' message to the Jews just before they enter Israel, contains 98 terrible curses that await them if they don't follow the Torah.
Moses concludes, "You have seen all that G-d did before your eyes...great miracles etc. ...but G-d did not give you a heart to feel, eyes to see and ears to hear till this very day."
In other words, he was telling the Jews that they never really sensed the miracles G-d was doing for them.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe asks a question on this: How could Moses say such a thing when there were several instances that the Jews did thank G-d for His miracles? Some of the best examples are the songs of thanks they sang after G-d spilt the sea (Ex. 15:1-19) and after He saved them from the Amorites (21:17-20) and how they sacrificed the Passover lamb and were sad when they couldn't do so to give thanks for leaving Egypt.
To understand this and also to understand what this has to do with the 98 curses, here are two stories.
The first was told to me by Rabbi Mendel Futerfass some 20 years ago about a person he met while he was serving 'time' in Siberia for anti-communist (Jewish) activities in Russia some 30 years before that.
As we know, Stalin (may he be forever cursed) exiled tens of millions of people in various desolate places in Russia. One was a disillusioned communist who had been a loyal party member until one day the police knocked at his door and arrested him. He was found guilty of he-wasn't-exactly-sure-what and sentenced to a long term in exile.
Although he was a Jew, he totally rejected Judaism. "Maybe Zionism" he said, "but NOT G-d". He even told Reb Mendel a story to prove what an atheist he was.
When he was just a youth and just beginning his infatuation with the Communist movement (or perhaps it was the Jewish socialist "Bundist" movement before Communism) he and a bunch of his friends were walking down the street on the way to the factory where they worked when they saw a group of Chassidim dressed in black, earlocks waiving in the wind walking on the other side of the street in the opposite direction. It was the Rudziner Rebbe with a group of young pupils. As soon as their leader saw the Chassidim he began heckling, cursing them out and encouraging his followers to do the same.
The Chassidim just ignored all this but when the leader yelled out "Look at the little horses following the big horse" and all his boys laughed, the Rebbe had enough. He turned to the leader and said in a firm voice that everyone heard, "Ahhhh. Du vilst a misa m'shuna" (I see you want a strange death!).
They all laughed and scoffed at the Rebbe but a few minutes later, just moments after they entered the factory, the edge of the leader's coat got caught in a huge grinding mill and before he was able to extricate himself the mill pulled him slowly in and, amidst screams and blood....ground him up!
Before their eyes the Rebbe's curse manifested!
"You know what we did?" he rhetorically asked Rabbi Mendel. "We cleaned up the place and resumed work fifteen minutes later as though nothing happened. That's how much an atheist I am!"
The second story was told by the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe (Ma Sh'siper Li HaRebbi vol. 2 pg. 86)
In the days of the Rebbe Maharash (Shmuel, the fourth Rebbe of Chabad 1832-1884) there were tens of thousands of Russian Jews that decided to oppose Judaism. They were called maskilim (intellectuals) and they claimed to be 'sure' that G-d does not exist, only nature, and that Judaism was a barrier to progress and culture. Truth, according to them, could be found only in the University.
The city of Zitomer was a great center of these maskilim, but one of these haughty people especially stood out. The man's name is not mentioned in the story but he obviously was a very talented, brilliant leader with a 'golden tongue' to get his point across.
He gathered more and more followers and supporters, many of whom were the richest and most influential Jews in Russia, perhaps the most prominent of which was one Baron Ginzberg. He prepared a detailed plan of re-educating all the Jewish children in Russia to his poisonous ideas.
He worked, schemed, spoke and succeeded until he managed to secure a private audience with the Minister of Culture and Education. This was a big break. If he succeeded convincing this minister it would mean the end of religious Judaism in Russia.
The religious Jews were deeply worried; the real goal of the Maskilim was not just to 'normalize' Judaism but rather to destroy it totally by ignorance and intermarriage. They had to do something but their hands were tied. What could they do to influence the anti-Semitic Czar and his ministers who themselves wanted Judaism to disappear from the face of the earth?
But the Lubavitcher Rebbe, then the fourth Rebbe, Rebbe Shmuel, knew what to do. He went to the grave of his father, the Tzemach Tzedek, to pray to G-d for a miracle.
He was deep in prayer for some time, the situation looked bad. But then he suddenly smiled, broke into laughter and said,
"The spies that Moses sent were punished by their tongues growing to their stomachs." (see Rashi Num.14:37) "Why till their stomachs?? Till the chin is enough!"
His son in law, who was accompanying him didn't understand a word, but he didn't ask any questions. He just waited for the Rebbe to finish and accompanied him home. The Rebbe was in a good mood.
The next day the news spread like wildfire. The group of maskilim had failed miraculously and totally!
But the cause of their failure was totally unexpected.
There were thirteen of them when they entered the Minister's office; the leader and twelve of the richest Jews in the country, among them Baron Ginzberg, and they were very well prepared. The leader proudly stepped forward, bowed deeply, looked into the eyes of the minister and cleared his throat.
But before he could begin speaking his tongue slowly jutted out from between his lips and didn't stop until it reached his chin! The minister watched in amazement as the poor fellow and his honorable friends tried in vain to get the thing back where it was supposed to be, until finally they had no chance but to beg the minister to summon a doctor and have the man taken to the hospital. The doctors there were also not able to help him.
This all happened exactly at the same time that the Rebbe was laughing.
The next day, the Rebbe summoned one of his wealthier Chassidim (followers) by the name of Rabbi Nachum Germant, and requested that he go to Baron Ginzburg and tell him in no uncertain terms that if he continues to support the maskilim the Rebbe promises that will become a pauper. And if the he doesn't believe it then as a sign, all the investments he buys in the next ten days will fail.
Now usually such a threat would have no effect on the Baron. Besides being wealthy and of nobility; both causes of great arrogance, he was a total atheist and had absolutely no belief in miracles or Bible stories only nature. He would attribute the losses to nature, the economy or luck.
But when he had witnessed the growing tongue episode and heard that the Rebbe caused it, it put a crack in his atheism. This was certainly not nature.
Up till that episode he was certain that belief in G-d was only for weak fools. He really believed that his wealth, title and success came from himself and himself alone. But when he saw that man's tongue stick to his chin something happened to him.
If anyone was more arrogant and self-centered than himself about his power it was that 'Maskil' about his own tongue. His tongue was god! It was his power his comfort and his future. It drew all the rich men to his side, turned them, and hundreds like them, against the Torah and almost convinced the Russian Government to declare war on G-d! When the Baron saw that tongue grow and heard that the Lubavitcher Rebbe caused it, something inside of him broke.
Baron Ginzberg promised he would never support the Maskilim again and on the spot took a huge sum that he was about to give them and on the Rebbe's advice, built with it a large Synagogue for the businessmen of Petersburg.
This answers our questions. The Jewish people certainly recognized G-d's miracles like the ten plagues, splitting of the sea and the defeat of the Amorites.
But what Moses meant when he said they didn't have hearts, eyes or ears was regarding the daily miracles that accompanied them in their forty years of wandering in desert that could be interpreted as nature. The water from the rock, the manna from heaven the protective clouds of glory; they took totally for granted.
Something like the man in the first story did when he saw the Rudziner Rebbe's curse. And like we do when we fail to realize that every moment of our lives is a miracle from G-d.
Indeed, if we realized that every moment of creation is a gift of the Creator we would never get angry, depressed or desperate. Rather we would be like the Baron in our second story and change our priorities in life.
That is the connection to the 'curses' in this weeks section; that we should realize, like he did, that nature is not supreme and nothing is accidental (See Rashi Num. 26:21).
This is the lesson that Moshiach will teach the world and that the Rebbes of Chabad bring as preparation for Moshiach in their Chassidic teachings. We must thank G-d every moment, see His loving miracles in every creation and 'repay' Him by using our potential to improve the world according to the teachings of the Torah.
Then we will truly finish our wandering in the desert, have hearts, eyes and ears to sense G-dliness, and every single Jew in the world, with no exception, will enter the Holy Land with...
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