This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Ki Tavo (5762)
The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the 'Chassidic' movement some 300 years ago, preached that we must stress ONLY the positive side of everything, especially when it comes to preaching to the Jews; G-d's 'sons' and chosen people, especially before Rosh HaShanna. He was very opposed to those Rabbis who, especially in these weeks preceding the 'Days of Judgement', preached negative, fire-and-brimstone speeches.
But this seems to contradict what we read in the Torah this week!
Every year precisely at this time we read, Parshat Ki Tavo, a frightening list of ninety eight negative, awful ……. curses!
Even the most casual reader can't help but notice that G-d is making some pretty gruesome threats to His people here. And it's no secret that He has carried them out in shockingly large doses throughout the ages.
So it is only natural that this provides excellent material for rabbis to scare the wits out of their congregations before the High Holidays.
But the Baal Shem Tov couldn't have been wrong. There must be some positive message in these curses that G-d wants us to internalize for Rosh HaShanna. What could it be?
Here is a story to help understand.
Some two hundred years ago the Jewish community in Turkey numbered tens of thousands of observant Jews; there was no such thing as a non-religious Jew in Turkey.
But life wasn't so easy. Jews by definition were, at best, second-class citizens and, at worst, in danger of extermination. The Arabs outnumbered them a thousand to one and were officially not tolerant to infidels who denied their religion. So only G-d stood between the Jews and total annihilation by their Arab neighbors.
Our story begins when a young Turkish Jew named Shlomo got tired of living on miracles, separating himself from his gentile neighbors and, most important of all, not getting the attention he thought he deserved.
Although he often led the Synagogue in prayer and was always chosen to sound the Shofar on Rosh HaShanna, so he was in the center of things, it wasn't enough. Among Jews he was basically like everyone else.
With his Arab friends it was completely different. They laughed at his jokes, appreciated his talents and treated him like someone special. It wasn't long before Shomo spent all his time with them, away from the Jewish community, enjoying life and dreaming of bigger things on the horizon.
And eventually his big break came. One of the richest Arabs in Istanbul made a birthday party for his wife, somehow Shlomo's name had been brought up as an entertainer and he was brought there to play.
He was an instant hit! His witty remarks, clever jokes and charming manner and voice had everyone smiling, laughing, and really enjoying themselves and afterwards the invitations came pouring from more and more important people. Until one wonderful day he received an official invitation to perform in the palace of the Sultan himself!
The Sultan!! Wow!! Most important people in Turkey would be there! He had a new suit specially tailored for himself, prepared his best songs and jokes, went and…………. was a smashing success!
The next day a royal messenger appeared at Shlomo's door, handed him an official letter from the Sultan and a bag of golden coins. Shlomo opened it and read:
"His Highness the Sultan wishes to thank you and graciously reward you for your magnificent performance last night and the impression it made on his family and guests.
"His Highness the Sultan recognizes the talents which Allah has bestowed upon you and wishes to express his gratitude by appointing you to the exalted position of permanent chief royal court musician.
"Consequently His Highness the Sultan extends to you the precious opportunity of accepting upon yourself the True Religion of our Glorious Prophet Mohammed as a condition to etc. etc. .
At first Shlomo was flushed with success, but when he saw the last clause he briefly paled; to leave the religion of his fathers that Jews were willing to sacrifice their lives for?
But then, he began to think about it and concluded that maybe it wasn't so bad.
After all, Islam wasn't really idolatry. In fact according to some it was permissible for a Jew to pray in a Mosque. So what if they didn't do the commandments? I'm headed to the palace of the Sultan, earning a fortune, surrounded by luxury, fame and …. attention! Let the other Jews do the commandments! I anyway already stopped doing some of the commandments etc. etc.
The next day Shlomo went to the main Mosque, showed them the letter, accepted Islam changed his name to Salaman and became a new man with a new title and a new glorious future!
He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. He became rich, popular, and famous almost overnight. It was like a dream. He always managed to say the right thing at the right time, his music was the rave of the court and the people in the streets were humming his tunes. And it kept going that way for almost a year.
Until suddenly the balloon burst.
One day in the middle of a large festivity, Salaman was, as usual, on a 'roll' when someone happened to mention that 'today is the second day of the Jewish New Year; Rosh Hashanah'.
Salaman made a few clever remarks and then suddenly got an idea.
"Want to hear what the Jewish New Year is?" He asked rhetorically in a humorous voice.
He went to a large bag of 'tricks' he kept in the corner and pulled out what looked like a ram's horn; "It's a Shofar!!!" He shouted loudly holding it up theatrically for all to see. A Jewish Shofar!!!"
The crowd burst into laughter and all eyes were on him as he spun and danced around holding the Shofar high, putting on his nose and to his ear.
"Play a little New Year's tune, heh heh!" chuckled the Sultan.
Shlomo put the shofar to his mouth, the room was silent. He made another humorous comment, everyone laughed …….. and he blew a a long straight blast. "'T'kiah'" he shouted.
The crowd applauded. Shlomo bowed deeply, made another quip, called for silence and explained. "What you have just heard is one of three sounds the Jews make on their New Years; a T'kiah; one straight blast.
The one I'm going to do now is called a Sh'varim, it means broken up. Are you ready to break up in laughter?!"
Again the crowd, chuckled, fell silent, and when he was sure he had everyone's attention he blew three shorter blasts. The crowd merrily applauded. "That's called a Shvarim!"
"And the third and last" Said Shlomo exaggeratedly is the T'ruah; at least nine very short blasts. Here it goes!!!"
Again the crowd was silent but this time something happened. He tried a few times but all that came out were a few raspy croaks and squeaks. The crowd burst into gales of laughter and Shlomo laughed with them as though he had done it intentionally. But he hadn't, and when he tried again and again and didn't succeed people began to sense that maybe he wasn't joking.
"Play that thing Salaman!" someone said. "Yes! Show it who the boss is!" yelled another. "Hey, Jew where is your music!" shouted a third.
They were mocking him. He knew he should just stop and make some sort of clever remark but he couldn't; he had to blow that T'ruah. It didn't make sense! He'd done it a thousand times before, he just had to!!
But the more he tried and failed the more ludicrous he became until it was obvious that he was loosing it.
The crowd began booing him, calling him a stupid Jew, throwing things at him, laughing and laughing until he ran from the room, shofar in hand, out of the Sultan's palace and back to the Jewish quarter in time to hear the last hour of the Rosh Hashanna prayers in the Synagogue.
He was so ashamed. He entered the house of prayer, took a prayer shawl, threw it over his head so no one would recognize him and sat in the corner weeping and regretting every instant of the last year.
Before the prayers ended he slipped outside so no one would notice him and that evening, after the holiday he made his way to one of the great Tzadikim in the town to ask him for an explanation. It now had become an obsession. He had blown the Shofar for years. Why suddenly was he able to make all the shofar sounds except the T'ruah? What was so different about that sound?
The Tzadik listened, asked a question or two and then replied that he knew the answer. Shlomo was all ears as the Tzadik began.
"Rosh HaShanna celebrates the last day of Creation. On that day G-d created man and, so to speak became 'King' of the universe.
"We Jewish people have been chosen by G-d to remind humanity of this. It is up to us, especially on the day of Rosh HaShanna, to 'coronate' G-d. And we do it with the Shofar.
"The Shofar" continued the Rabbi, "is the screaming out of the Jewish soul from a 'narrow place' saying; "G-d we are your people, your servants, please be our King! Be King of the Universe!"
"Now, according to Kaballa, each of the three types of Shofar blasts, T'kiah, Shevorim and T'rua are connected mystically to one of the Fathers of Judaism; the T'kiah to Abraham, the Sh'varim to Issac and the T'ruah to Jacob.
"The T'kiah, corresponds to Abraham who had a son called Ishmael that left Judaism and became the father of the Arabs with their religions.
"The S'hvarim corresponds to Issac who bore Asev who also left Judaism and became the father of the Arian peoples with their religions.
"That is why you, Shlomo, could make these first two sounds although you separated yourself from the Jewish people.
"But the T'ruah is connected to the third and final forefather Jacob, or Yisroel as he was later called. His 'offspring were the 'perfect' twelve tribes of Israel, and were connected only to Judaism.
That is why you were unable to make the T'ruah. As soon as you left Judaism you lost enough of your connection to 'Yisroel' to become unable to make the sound corresponding to him."
When Shlomo heard the explanation he was shaken to the very core of his soul and returned to his true self, to his true identity as a Jew.
This answers our question.
The curses mentioned in this week's section come when the Jews try to deny their true identity, and obligation, as G-d's chosen people.
The Jews were chosen by the Creator to 'coronate' G-d and fill the world with meaning, blessing and joy. But when they refuse, as did Shomo in our story they deny the world all this and bring the opposite upon themselves and the entire world; confusion, sorrow and …… curses.
This also explains the reason the Torah gives for these curses (27:37) "Because you did not serve G-d with joy."
That the Jewish people should feel joyous and privileged to have such an important task because without them the result is chaos, and they are the first to feel it.
So the curses are really reminding the Jews of their true identity. Just as the derision of the Sultan's guests made Shlomo return home.
This is the importance of Moshiach.
According to Maimonides there will arise a great leader like King David who will awaken the Jews and inspire them to do their job; transform all curses into blessings.
Only then will the 'Great Shofar be sounded' and the G-d of Israel, the people of Israel and the Torah of Israel will truly manifest the truth in the Land of Israel.
As we say in the prayers of Rosh HaShanna "The G-d of Israel, is the King, and He rules over all creation"
But it all depends on us to make it happen even one moment sooner.
Just one more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales of destiny and bring….
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