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Parshat Behar-Bechukotai (5772)

This week we finish the book of Leviticus with 49 curses! In another week will be the holiday of Shavuos commemorating the giving of the Torah over 3,300 years ago on Mount Sinai.

Everything that occurs in the world is connected to us and has meaning. Most often these connections are concealed and their meanings are not important to our daily lives. But a connection in the Torah, although it also needs to be revealed, is always relevant and vital to each of us.

So here there must be a good example; what possibly could be the hidden message that these curses have to Mount Sinai? At first glance they seem to be the opposite: curses are bad and the Torah is the ultimate good. Curses are a result of selfishness while the Torah is the key to G-dliness.

Perhaps we can explain with a story I just heard from Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Gurevitz who teaches in the Chabad Yeshiva in Migdal HaEmek.

Communism was supposed to be the solution to all problems of mankind and Stalin was its Messiah. He was revered as the 'Sun to the Nations' and the "Father and provider of Russia."

But, in fact Communism was an empty oppressive system that had no place for the human soul or spirit. Even 'potential' dissenters were jailed, exiled or murdered and it is estimated by some that 'Father Stalin' was responsible for the deaths of some fifty MILLION of his own people.

One of those people was almost Rabbi Gurevitz

He was arrested for being a Chassid, an anti-revolutionary and a suspected capitalist and sentenced, after a ten minute trial, to seven years in Siberia.

He was caught off guard. Not that he didn't know that the police were after him; the police were after EVERYONE either actually or potentially. The saying in Russia was there are two types of people; those that are in jail and those that are going to be. And as a follower of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, he was already in trouble. The Rebbe was prepared to do anything and risk everything in order to educate Jewish children, which was tantamount to treason. But getting caught and imprisoned in those days in Russia was sort of like death: everyone knows it's going to happen but no one really believes it will.

But now he was headed for a concentration, or rather re-education, camp in Siberia.

Most people did not last long in these camps but as a Chassid, our hero decided to be as positive and happy as possible and as often as possible.

He was shown his dismal barracks and assured that he would be assigned work and would prove to be a productive citizen instead of a parasitical traitor. When they asked him if he had a skill he remembered what he had been told by friends: if you don't say you are skilled they'll put you to hard labor and you won't last long. So he said he was a tailor.

Now the fact is that he was not a tailor but his mother had a sewing machine and he had watched her work a few times so he was sort-of a tailor. Anyway, he was certainly more of a tailor than Stalin was the Father of Mankind.

So they took him to a huge factory where they made wallets for the soldiers, sat him down before a sewing machine, gave him several large, neatly stacked piles of leather cut to various sizes, showed him a finished product, explained to him how to put it together, and left him.

The only problem was that it was Shabbat.

And one of the many things Jews are NOT allowed to do on Shabbat is …. sew (it's one of the 39 forbidden 'father' transgressions). He sat in the chair and looked at the sewing machine like it was a big germ. It was even forbidden by the Rabbis to touch it! What could he do? He thought and prayed for an answer. If he didn't work it could mean… the worst! But breaking the Shabbat was out of the question! What could he do!? Suddenly it dawned on him that sitting there and doing nothing was also out of the question; everyone else was furiously busy and he stuck out like a sore thumb so, before the foreman noticed his 'sin' he got up and went to the toilet…. for a half an hour.

Then he walked around a bit, then sat down at the sewing machine, rubbed his hands and stretched for a few minutes as though he was about to start work and then … he went to the bathroom again. But this time on his way there he noticed a room filled with beds. It was the room where everyone took a rest brake in the afternoon. So when he left the toilet for the second time he walked straight to that room, got into a bed, put the blanket over him and, hoping that no one saw him, didn't move.

Here there was another problem; it was in the middle of the summer! It was blazing hot outside, the factory made it hotter and the blanket he was under was a heavy duty winter special! So he was really suffering and it was hard to breath. But at least he was honoring the Shabbat.

So, the entire day he lay there like a corpse and didn't dare move. His only hope was that they did not notice his absence. And his hope came true…. Almost.

In fact, they did not notice that he was gone but they did notice that next to his name on the daily production list was written a big zero.

The next day he was summoned and escorted by two huge soldiers to appear before a board of judges for sentencing. He stood trembling before the mean looking officials and then, to his surprise, one of the judges began speaking to him in Yiddish. "What are you doing such stupid things for? You could get ten more years for not working! Why don't you work for mother Russia?"

"It was Shabbos, your honor! I couldn't work on Shabbos!" was his answer.

"But it was permissible! To save your life it's permissible! I know the law. You could get killed for refusing to work!"

"Could be, your honor but I'm not working on Shabbos. I'm sorry, but I'm not looking for leniencies. I'm a Jew and Jews don't work on Shabbos."

The judges stared at him for a minute with no expression on their faces and then turned to one another and began whispering ccasionally throwing a glance at him.

Gurevitz was expecting the worst but he prayed for the best, maybe there would be a miracle although such things were almost non existent in Russia where life was worth nothing. He imagined that they were discussing how many years to add to his sentence or perhaps which was the worst work force to assign him to.

"Okay Gurevitz" said another of the Judges in Russian. "We have the storehouse where all the leather is stored. Do you understand?" Gurevitz shrugged his shoulders and shook his head yes as to say, what has this got to do with me?

"Well, that leather is a very valuable commodity and the Russian people…. Rather… we have not yet found a way to stop the leather there from disappearing. It seems that no matter who we put to guard the place …. Well…. It get's stolen and …. Well… the guard himself takes leather. Do you understand? Instead of guarding from thieves they themselves steal the leather!"

The Jewish judge continued. "Well, we see that you are a man of principle Comrade Gurevitz! If you are willing to risk your entire life for your principles, so probably you won't be so interested in stealing leather. Do you understand?"

Gurevitz shook his head in agreement. "I never stole anything in my life" He said.

The judges all laughed "Hah hah!! Never? Haaa Haaa! Never stole?! That is what everyone here in this prison says! That is what all the previous guards said also! Ha haaa! But you are different, we SAW what you did. Now what do you say? With this new job you can keep your Shabbos too. Just make sure you keep the leather safe!"

Sure enough, for his remaining several years in Siberia he not only never had any problems with keeping Shabbat, but was also able to learn and observe the Torah and even help others to do so as well from his position as guard of the leather bank.

Perhaps this answers our questions.

Everything that G-d does (which means everything that happens) is for the good. Even the 49 curses are really blessings in disguise. But we must only know how to treat them and react to them. And that is why G-d gave the Torah; more exactly the secrets of the Torah.

For instance Rabbi Gurevitz in our story: he made up his mind when he entered Siberia that he would direct his mind and heart to positive things and would never lose his Jewish identity. In fact his Jewish identity: the Torah and its commandments was the most positive thing he had! And as a result he actually changed the world around him.

That is the connection of Shavuos and the Torah to the curses: namely that though the Torah we can not only survive but even transform, the apparent curses and difficulties of this world into blessings.

But in order to do this we must have some understanding of the secrets of the Torah and that is the purpose of the teachings of Chabad called 'Chassidut' which is called Torat HaMoshich, the teachings of Messiah. For more details see your local Chabad House.

Then we will feel the importance of each deed word and thought and will feel that it is in our power to transform even all the 'curses' in the world to blessings with the arrival of …

Moshiach NOW!

Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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