This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Lag B'omer (5763)
This week's section contains forty nine curses.
The word 'Torah' means 'Teaching'. What is the Torah trying to teach us with all this gory detail? Why doesn't it just say something general like; 'If you don't keep my Torah you'll burn in hell'?
Not only that but we see that throughout history the Jews didn't learn much of a lesson from these curses: both of our Temples were destroyed and today Jews seem to be as far as ever from the Torah. So what is the purpose of writing them all down?
Here are two stories that might help explain.
A few days ago was Lag B'Omer (33rd day after Passover) the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi).
Although he passed away almost two thousand years ago hundreds of thousands of Jews flock to his grave every year at this time (!) and for a good reason; he was perhaps the greatest Jew that ever lived.
His greatness is found in the book he authored called the Zohar which G-d promised him would be the main instrument for bringing Moshiach (who will bring world peace, an end to all suffering etc).
The Talmud (Moed Katan 9b) tells us that once Rabbi Shimon met some other Rabbis that so impressed him that he told his son, Rabbi Elezer, to go to them and ask for their blessing.
His son obeyed, but returned almost in tears.
"Not only did they not bless me" he said obviously shocked, "but they did the opposite! Perhaps I did something wrong, maybe I disturbed them. But they cursed me!! I thought they were great men, why did they have to curse me?!" He was trembling as he spoke.
"Curse?" asked his father. "Exactly what did they tell you? What did they say? Perhaps you didn't hear properly, perhaps you didn't understand? Just repeat what they said"
His son tried to calm down as he answered.
'May it be G-d's will that you plant and do not reap,
That you bring in merchandise and not sell it,
That you invest and bring nothing home,
That your house be destroyed and your guests live in it.
That your table be confused,
and that you not see a new year.'
"Do those sound like blessings? He moaned.
Rabbi Shimon smiled and answered. "They are blessings of the highest order. Listen and I will explain.
'Planting and not reaping' means your wife will have children and their lives will not be cut short.
'Bringing in merchandise that doesn't sell' means your sons will take in wives and their lives together will be long and happy so their wives will never leave.
'Investing with no return' means your daughters will marry and will never have to return home for support.
'Your house will be destroyed' means your grave will not see your presence for a long time but rather your 'guests', namely your earthly desires, will be buried.
'Your table will be disordered' with children and grandchildren
And 'you won't see a new year', means your wife will have a long life and you won't have to marry another.
Rebbe Shimon 'transformed' the curses to blessings.
A similar story is to be found in the Midrash (Shir HaShirim Raba 1)
Once there was a couple that had been married for ten years without children and the husband decided that it was time for him to divorce and remarry.
He brought his wife before Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai and asked if he would preside over the divorce; according to the Torah if a woman does not bear children in ten years it is sufficient grounds.
"Aha!" Said Rabbi Shimon, "a wise decision! But may I suggest that just as you got married amidst festivities so you should separate. After all this will be a new beginning for the both of you. I take it that you still love your wife, am I not correct?"
"Yes" said the man, "Of course I have nothing against her, she is a wonderful woman. But I want children and, well, according to the Torah… "
"Of course, of course!" said the Rashbi. "Very good then, you will make the festivities with all the details of a wedding and afterwards I will write the bill of divorce."
Sure enough in a week's time their home was filled with chattering guests and lively music while the divorcees-to-be sat at the head table smiling, looking on and occasionally his wife suggested a le'chiam (toast) on their new separate futures.
In fact his good hearted wife suggested and poured her husband so many "le'chiams" that after an hour he almost couldn't lift his cup and in soon thereafter he was out cold on the table.....
The next morning he woke up in a strange house.
"Ehh? Where am I?" He had a throbbing headache and the morning light didn't help matters. He squinted and looked around again. Why, it was his father-in-law's house and his smiling wife was standing at his bedside with a bowl for washing his hands. "Where am I?" he asked her again. "What am I doing here… in your father's house?"
"Well" she answered. "Rebbe Shimon told me to do it. Remember last night when we were making toasts you good-naturedly said that I could take anything I want from our house, even the most valuable thing, and return to my father's house to start a new life? Do you remember?"
"Ehh? Toasts? Ahh, yes I do remember something like that." he said as he sat up in bed, washed his hands, dried them, and took the cup of tea. "It was a lovely party last night wasn't it? But what am I doing here? Right, I said you could take valuables when you leave. I mean I have no hard feelings or anything. I want that you should never lack anything so I meant you should take money or jewels or something valuable."
"Well, that's exactly what I did" She answered. "The most valuable thing in the house to me is …. You! Mazal Tov!!
They returned to Rebbe Shimon, he gave his blessing and it wasn't long before she became pregnant and gave birth to their first child."
But at first glance both of these stories are strange. If the Rabbis wanted to bless Rashbi's son why did they have to disguise it in curses? And if Rebbe Shimon wanted to bless the couple why didn't he just tell the husband not to get divorced ? What was the purpose of that weird divorce party?
The answer to both questions seems to be the same: It's not difficult for Tzadikim to give blessings, the difficulty is to be able to accept them.
For instance, the Jews received the Torah, and had two Holy Temples. But in each case it was too much for them to accept; they turned to idolatry and other egoistic pursuits.
Similarly the Jews rejected all the true prophets beginning with Moses. Even King David (who according to Maimonides was the Messiah) was rejected and despised. The people weren't ready for the revelations.
So in our stories; in order that Rebbe Shimon's son could receive the blessings (which according to Kabala contained great mystical powers) and for the couple to receive a blessing for children they all had to first undergo a 'shock' or a 'divorce party' in order to leave their old selves and open their souls to new revelations.
That is the reason for the many curses in our section; in order to shock us and 'divorce' us from our false egos and then become tranformed into the blessings, revelations and powers which will be given to the Jewish people through Moshiach.
We just need the Rashbi to translate the curses into blessings and barrenness into joy. Namely the learning of his book the Zohar as explained by the Baal Shem Tov and his followers especially the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Moshiach of our generation.
And in just one INSTANT we will open our eyes and SEE….
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