This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Bechukotai (5763)
This week's section contains forty nine curses that will befall the Jews if they abandon the Torah.
The word 'Torah' means 'Teaching'. What is the Torah trying to teach us with all this gory detail? Why 49 curses? Why not just write 'If you don't keep my Torah you'll get cursed?
Also, interestingly all of the curses are mundane, no mention of heaven or hell. Why isn't hell mentioned here? Judaism certainly believes it exists.
On the other hand we see it probably wouldn't have helped to mention hell. Throughout history the Jews weren't deterred by these curses: both of our Temples were destroyed and today most Jews totally ignore the Torah, curses and all.
So what is the purpose of writing so many threats if they were ignored anyway?
Also this coming Sunday will be the holiday of Lag B'Omer (33rd day after Passover) the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (nicknamed Rashb'i) who passed away almost two thousand years ago.
Some 500,000 Jews will flock to his grave as every year because he wrote a mystical book called The Zohar (the basis of Cabbalistic Judaism) which G-d promised would bring Moshiach and fill the world with joy, meaning, blessing and the awareness of the Creator.
Is there a connection between this and the 49 curses?
Perhaps we can explain with the following two stories about Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
The Talmud (Moed Katan 9b) tells us that once Rabbi Shimon met some other Rabbis whose holiness so impressed him that he sent his young son, Rabbi Elazar, to ask for their blessing.
His son obeyed, but returned almost in tears.
"Not only did they not bless me" he said obviously shocked, "but…… perhaps I did something wrong, maybe I disturbed them…. they cursed me!!
"Cursed you?" 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.
The curses were really blessings in disguise but it took Rabbi Shimon to reveal it.
The second story: 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 a sign that they should divorce and find different spouses.
"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 we want children and, well, according to the Torah… "
"Of course, of course!" said the Rashb"i. "Very good then, you will make the festivities according to my directions 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 they sat at the head table forcing smiles and occasionally making a le'chiam (toast) on their new separate futures at his wife's suggestion.
In fact his good hearted wife poured her husband so many "le'chiams" that after an hour he almost couldn't lift his cup at which point she requested that he give a farewell speech. 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. He recognized the place; 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. Maybe you don't remember but last night at the divorce party after we made toasts you gave a great speech and good-naturedly said that I could take anything I want from our house, regardless of its value, and return to my father's house to start a new life? Do you remember?"
"Ehh? Toasts? Speech? 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. "But what am I doing here? Oh yes, I remember now. 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!! Now you are mine and have to do as I say. Let's go back to Rabbi Shimon as new people.
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." (Midrash Shir HaShirim Raba 1)
At first glance both of these stories are strange. In the first story if the Rabbis wanted to bless Rashbi's son why did they have to disguise it in curses? And in the second; if Rebbe Shimon wanted to bless the couple what was the purpose of that semi-divorce party?
The answer to both questions is the same: It's not difficult for G-d or His Tzadikim to give blessings, the difficulty is for us to RECEIVE them.
For instance, G-d gave the Jews the Torah, the land of Israel, prophets and two Holy Temples. But each time they turned to idolatry and other egoistic pursuits because they couldn't accept the blessings.
So in our stories; in order for Rebbe Shimon's son and the childless couple to receive blessings they had to first undergo a 'shock' in order to become new, open people that can accept them.
So too the curses in our section.
The reason there have to be so many is in order to shock us and 'divorce' us from our selfish traits so we can open ourselves to the blessings, revelations and powers hidden within them.
And this is what Moshiach will do … in the biggest way.
Just as the people in our stories needed Rabbi Shimon to translate curses into blessings and barrenness into joy, so to, the ideas of the Zohar as explained by the Baal Shem Tov and his followers will reveal the blessings of the Moshiach in our generation.
But it all depends on us. We Jewish people have undergone enough 'shocks. Now only a little is lacking; just one more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales, all the curses will transform to blessings and in just one INSTANT we will open our eyes and SEE….
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