This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Ki Tavo (5765)
On Thursday this week, on the 18th of Ellul, falls the birthdays of the Baal Shem Tov and Rebbe Shneur Zalman the author of the Tanya (Baal HaTanya) and founder of Chabad chassidut.
But this week's Torah portion doesn't seem to fit. It contains 98 curses; diseases, misfortunes, catastrophes and death that await Jews who don't obey the Torah....in joy (28:37).
This is not understood. According to the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov nothing occurs by accident; everything is a lesson from G-d.
So isn't it a bad omen when such terrible curses coincide with the birthdays of these Tzadikim (holy Jews)?
Also, these curses seem to be self-fulfilling; how can we obey the Torah in joy with such miserable catastrophes hanging over our heads?
Here is a story to help us understand.
After seventeen years of marriage Rabbi Yossi Mutzkin and his wife Sari had no children.
It didn't make sense. They were observant Jews, helped others, gave charity, did everything they could to be good people, were active in the Montreal community where they lived. But the thing they really wanted and prayed for constantly; the most precious gift of all, a child, was lacking.
G-d is almighty, for Him to send a child is certainly no problem. The world is filled with billions of them! But not for the Mutzkins.
But they did not fall into despair, rather they kept hoping and praying for the best, did more good deeds and were happy to be able to serve their Creator.
In fact Sari Mutzkin was far more concerned with the problems of others than her own. For instance every day she led the class she taught with a few psalms for the frightening situation in Israel and for other tragedies that only Psalms can help.
One day after the Psalms session, one of her pupils, a girl from a non-observant family, requested with tears in her eyes that the class add a prayer for her grandmother who had undergone a serious operation several months ago and never regained consciousness. Now she was in intensive care and the doctors had given up hope.
The class prayed and Mrs. Mutzkin even promised the girl that she would go to visit her home to see if she could help.
That very evening she kept her promise. The girl's mother was very grateful when Mrs. Mutzkin entered. She shook her hand with tears in her eyes and said.
"My daughter told me that you taught her how we are now entering the Jewish month of Iyar (the month after Passover) whose initials stand for 'I am G-d your doctor', right? And that now is a good time for healing.
"You don't know how depressed we were was till we heard those words..... Do you really think that this month my mother will be better?"
Mrs. Mutzkin held back her own tears and answered "With G-d's help anything can happen".
That evening at home she had an idea. The Lubavitcher Rebbe used to pass out one-dollar bills (to encourage people to give charity) every Sunday morning to tens of thousands of Jews and she had a lot of these dollars. She would give one to the girl for her grandmother!!
She searched through her collection of dollars until she found one that she had received in the month of Iyar (21st of Iyar to be exact) over fifteen years ago. The next day in school she gave the girl the dollar together with a picture of the Rebbe she added and said.
"Give this money to your mother and tell her to put it under your grandmother's pillow and whisper in her ear 'it's a gift from the Lubavitcher Rebbe'."
Then she added without knowing why, "I'm sure that by the 21st of Iyar she will be well."
As soon as it came out of her mouth she regretted it. Where did she get the brazenness to make such a prophesy?! How could she have promised such a thing? She was ashamed of herself.
But the girl's mother took it seriously. That evening she visited her unconscious mother did what Mrs. Mutzkin said, gave her mother a kiss on the forehead and went home.
The next afternoon when the relatives were standing around the bed, the grandmother opened her eyes for the first time since the operation, lifted her head a bit, looked around at the amazed faces and asked
"Where is the money?".
Everyone there almost fainted. The doctors were called in and they couldn't explain it. But the girl's mother began to understand.
As if that wasn't enough, she recovered so miraculously that she got released from the hospital in a bit over two weeks - on the 21st of Iyar!!
That was enough to make the girl's mother decide to take her Judaism more seriously....or rather more joyously.
But that isn't the end of the story.
Mrs. Mutzkin wrote a letter of thanks to the Rebbe (Tzadikim never really die) for the amazing miracle of his dollar, pulled out one of the 26 volumes of 'Egrot Kodesh' (volumes of 'Holy Letters' the Rebbe wrote in reply to questions) inserted the letter randomly in the pages and then opened to see what was written.
The answer (vol.18 pg 377 written in Iyar) said,
"Trust only in G-d, He is the miraculous healer of all flesh. May your medical treatment be a success with good news and joy."
At first Sari didn't understand what connection it had to her letter of thanks, but suddenly it dawned on her. The Rebbe was writing to her about her own problem! He was advising her to trust in G-d but take treatments for having children.
There was no mistaking that this was the intention of the letter, but it was not exactly what she wanted to hear. Oy! 'treatments'!
She had undergone tens of expensive, time consuming, promising and exasperating treatments with only traumatic disappointments. She and her husband had decided years ago - no more depressing 'treatments'!
But against all odds they decided to forget all that try once again, maybe now, with the Rebbe's answer it would be different.
They found a good doctor, one of the best, with a new method who agreed to give it a try despite Sari's records and tests.
But after a few treatments he invited her and her husband into his office, closed the door, sat them down and told them that his personal advice was that they should save their time, money and nerves and just adopt a child. It was hopeless.
Sari went home and wrote again to the Rebbe.
This time the answer came out in book 10 page 88.
"Thank you for the news of the birth of your son and his brit mila (circumcision). Remember the importance of ignoring pessimism and always being in joy. Especially after seeing such great miracles."
The next morning, full of certainty, they returned to the doctor and joyously announced that Sari wanted to continue; they were sure of a miracle.
But there was none.
In fact, after a few more treatments the doctor again invited them to his office, pulled out the results and sadly announced that, as he had suspected, there was no progress. He tried a few words of consolation and bade them good luck.
But they did not lose spirit. The Rebbe's words stood before their eyes; "joy even in the face of pessimism.´
Late that night their phone rang ominously; it was the doctor. "I have something more to say." He said. "There was one last test that hadn't returned from the laboratory and I was certain that it would be like all the others but....
"I was wrong! Mrs. Mutzkin you have received a gift from G-d!"
Nine months later she gave birth to a boy and at the Brit they named him Menachem Mendel after the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
This answers our questions. The purpose of Tzadikim is to transform all curses to blessings and joy. In fact this is the goal of Judaism; to bring Moshiach who fill the world with the joyous knowledge of G-d's oneness and eradicate all suffering until even the dead will rise!
This is because Tzadikim, indeed all Jews, are 'part' of the Creator and higher than all the tribulations of creation; time, place, sickness, even death. That is how they have power to change the entire world.
Like the Rebbe's dollar and letter of years earlier was able to transform bad to good.
And that is the 'omen' of our Torah portion coinciding with the birth of these Tzadikim. The teachings of the Baal Shem Tov especially as they were developed by the Baal HaTanya, are called 'Torat HaMoshiach, and are designed to bring transform us and the entire world.
And their main lesson is:
"Even a little light can transform much darkness."
In other words, we have the ability, even one of us with even one good deed, to bring....
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.