This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Ki Tavo (5770)
This week’s Torah portion contains a lot of curses; 98 to be exact awaiting the Jews if they sin. A cursory glance will reveal that many of them are unspeakably grotesque but surprisingly there is no mention of hell or the afterlife!
This makes no sense. The Talmud explains that even one instant in hell is more painful and horrendous than 70 years of all the curses mentioned here together. Why doesn’t G-d at least give hell an honorable mention here or ANYWHERE in the Torah.
To understand this here is a story (Sichot Hashavua #1233)
Our story takes place in the city of Braditchev some 250 years ago. One day a strange case was presented to the Rabbi of the city; Rabbi Levi Yitzchak who besides being a Torah genius was also known for his knowledge of the Kabala and his ability to do great miracles.
The plaintiff was a young man named Avraham. For several years after his marriage he sat at home and learned from the holy books: Talmud, Halacha, Midrash and more, but twenty and several children of marriageable age later he realized he had no choice but to look for some means to pay for their weddings.
He had a sense of business and the idea fell into his mind to become a broker; namely a middleman who links businessmen who wanted to sell to potential buyers.
He began his work slowly and miraculously he made a few deals, albeit very small ones but sufficient to provide a bit of money and a lot of optimism.
He got into the custom of taking a daily stroll near the docks to see what was being imported, maybe he could pick up some business, and it paid off. He noticed twenty carriages laden with shipping crates that had been sitting idly in a corner of the docks for over a week.
Avraham smelled opportunity. The owner’s name, a very rich importer, was written on all the shipping crates. He probably hadn’t found a buyer. Then the name of a big buyer popped into Avraham’s head, someone really big. But Avraham was no fool. He knew that he was out of his league and such tycoons would probably pay no attention to him, so he decided he would go a known broker by the name of Reb Shmuel and ask his advice.
This Reb Shmuel was a real wheeler and dealer; friendly with everyone and a shrewd businessman who could sell anything to anyone. Worse come to worse, Avraham could give him the idea, let him make the connections and it would net both of them a nice profit. Who knows, maybe they would become partners, in any case this would be a brake for Avraham into ‘big’ business!
But when Reb Shmuel heard the idea he wasn’t excited. “Listen, Avraham, you’re still young and fresh. Big businessmen like these are set up months in advance and don’t need either of us, my boy!” He said in the most fatherly tone as he put his arm around Avraham’s shoulder. “But it’s good that you are thinking! That’s the way to do it my boy! Keep up the good work!!”
So Avraham dropped the idea totally.But imagine his surprise when two days later he happened to hear that Reb Shmuel had approached the two wealthy merchants, made the connection, consummated the sale and took the broker money, which amounted to quite a huge sum, for himself! If so, he owed Avraham for the idea.
But when Avraham approached Reb Shmuel the latter claimed that he didn’t know what Avraham was talking about! “Your idea!? What?! Why that’s insane!”
Reb Shmuel claimed the idea was his own, he’d been thinking about it for days and even if it was Avraham’s idea, so what!? After all, who did all the work; the running around and talking?! And in any case Avraham was just a beginner and could never have cinched the deal. And since when do you get paid just for ideas?
Reb Shmuel gave Avraham twenty dollars ‘charity’, patted him on the shoulder and told him to go away or he’d call the police.
Avraham threatened to go to court but it didn’t seem to affect his adversary at all. And in a few weeks he found out why.
When, in fact, he took him to the rabbinical court and they decided that Reb Shmuel was wrong, Shmuel calmly announced that because the judges had no concept of business and certainly not of such big enterprises he refused to accept their verdict and would not pay a penny! This rabbinical courts back then had no means of enforcement. So poor Avraham had no choice but to refer his case to the great and holy Rabbi;Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Braditchev.
Shortly after Rosh HaShanna Reb Shmuel received his subpoena to appear in Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s presence and, seeing that the Rabbi would be as helpless as the other court to enforce his decisions and, who knows, perhaps he would decide in his favor, Reb Shmuel with nothing to lose, decided to appear.
The next day they stood before the Rabbi; Avraham in awe and trepidation and Reb Shmuel half bored and half curious to see how things would turn out.
The Rebbe heard both sides and they finished presenting their cases and answering questions the he turned to Reb Shmuel and said.
“I understand and appreciate your rejection of the Rabbis’ decision. You are certainly right that they have no experience in business especially in matters of such big business as yours.”
Reb Shmuel was pleasantly surprised and a warm smile covered his face, especially when he noticed how Avraham was sinking into despair.
“But,” the Rebbe continued, “I DO have experience! In fact just a few days ago on Rosh HaShanna (Jewish New Year which is also a judgment day) I just closed a deal that was much greater than any you have ever seen!
Avraham began to regain his composure and Reb Shmuel again went into his scoffing mode.
The Rabbi continued. “Just before the holiday I happened to be strolling in heaven and noticed thousands of wagons filled with some sort of wares. I took a closer look and saw they were filled with sins and transgressions produced by the Jews!
I knew that if presented properly they could be a very precious commodity to G-d. After all G-d doesn’t want such things to fall into the hands of the ‘accusing angles’ and there is nothing more valuable to Him than true repentance.
Anyway, after much effort I managed to get through to G-d and ask Him what he would be willing give in return for the Jews’ repentance for all these sins? G-d replied that He was willing to give total forgiveness and great spiritual merit in both this world and the next.
But I held out for a higher price. I convinced G-d that the Jews deserve a higher price for returning to Him. He has to throw in blessing for health, wealth and children as well. Are you listening Reb Shmuel?”
Reb Shmuel was looking alternately at his watch and at the door… clearly not impressed by any of this but when the question caught his attention the Rebbe continued.
“Anyway, it worked! I had to work hard and it took a lot of talking, patience, love and prayer but I finally convinced all the Jews in the area, even the biggest sinners, to regret their sins, return to the Torah and resolve to do only good things in the future.
“So I delivered the goods to G-d and G-d kept His part of the deal! He both forgave everyone’s sins and promised to bless them with health, money and good families in this world.
“But then G-d reminded me that I was owed a broker’s fee; I had worked hard, both parties got what they wanted and were satisfied and now I should set a price for my efforts.
“I answered that from the Jews I don’t expect any payment but if G-d so desires He can give me whatever he thinks is fair. So you know what He said?” Reb Shmuel was trying not to fall asleep but managed to shrug his shoulders. “He said that I can have the power to control the blessing of health, children and earnings and decide who would get these things. And so it was!
“So you see that I am just as an experienced broker as you are, right Reb Shmuel? So you have no excuse not to listen to my decision. And my decision is you must pay Avraham what he demands. Do you hear me Reb Shmuel! And please remember that in this case I am both the judge and the policeman; I have the power to decide if you deserve health and wealth, G-d just gave it to me. So, if you want to remain healthy….. pay what you owe!”
Reb Shmuel looked at the Rabbi, shook his head incredulously as though to say, ‘you really want me to take this seriously?’ stood, slowly made for the door and didn’t even look back as he waived over his shoulder and said, “Good luck Rabbis! Don’t hold your breaths for the money.”
He slammed the door behind him but to his great dismay after a few minutes his face and limbs started twitching and by the time he made it home they were contorted like a pretzel. He tried to tell his horrified family something but his tongue wagged around in his mouth and all he could get out of his mouth were the words, ‘Pay, Rabbi, rarrgullll’
When they figured out what he meant his wife took all the money in their safe, rushed toRabbiLevi Yitzchak, paid the entire debt and when she returned home found a repentant, humble and healthy husband. It seems that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was a better broker than Reb Shmuel had reckoned.
This answers our questions. Hell is certainly a terrible punishment but it is not mentioned anywhere in the Five Books of Moses because it de-emphasizes this physical world… and the point of the Bible is to stress the importance of our mundane, material, temporal existence.
It is here that G-d wants us to serve Him, make blessings and transform this ‘dark’ into a meaningful heaven on earth while heaven and hell are but temporary abodes for souls awaiting their return to bodies; either through re-incarnation or in the raising of the dead.
As we saw in our story, nothing is more precious to the Creator than repentance in this world and no reward is greater than freedom to serve G-d in this world without distractions from health, poverty etc.
As it will be in the days of Moshiach (Rambam, Kings 12:5)
This is what we pray for on Rosh HaShanna. For a good, healthy, happy, successful new year namely that G-d should reveal Himself until all mankind exclaims that “the G-d of Israel is King and His kingship is over the entire Creation!”
It all depends on us to make it happen. One more good thought, word or deed can tip the scales and bring..
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