Torah Fax

Friday, September 23, 2004 - 17 Elul, 5764

Torah Reading: Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1 - 29:8)
Candle Lighting Time: 7:06 PM
Shabbat Ends: 8:05 PM

Do You See What I Mean? 

This week's Parshah, Ki Tavo, contains the "Tochachah, reprimand," a portion which details numerous curses that would befall those would did not adhere steadfastly to the Torah. The Talmud tells us that the reading of this portion before Rosh HaShannah is intentional - in fact, the Jewish calendar was set up specifically so that the Tochachah would always be read just before the New Year.

The reason for this enactment is twofold. First, it is intended to jolt us into realizing our responsibilities. The Torah does not tell us of the harsh punishments it has in store for those who abandon it merely as scare tactic. By telling us how terrible the punishments are for those who go against G‑d's will, the Torah wants us to take seriously our weighty responsibility in upholding that will.

The second reason that we conclude the year by reading the Tochachah is to symbolically put an end to all curses and suffering. We implore G‑d that just as we have concluded the year, so too should we end all of the suffering that has plagued us in the past.

But, with all of this explanation, a question (especially from the Chassidic perspective) remains. The Torah is called a Torah of Chesed, kindness. Proverbs refers to the Torah this way: "Its ways are pleasant and all of its paths are peace." How, then, can even a small portion of the Torah discuss such dire threats and condemnations?

The answer is (are you thinking like a Chassid yet?) that in reality these verses do not contain curses at all. True, on the surface the words in our Parshah appear to be unbearably harsh, but they are actually hidden blessings of the highest order. Chassidic thought explains that these blessings are so sublime that they cannot be expressed in conventional terms. No normal terminology could do justice to the phenomenal nature of goodness contained in these blessings so they are instead alluded to in "code." The Torah employs negative terminology to convey these sublime blessings.

To be sure, one needs to have a healthy dose of spiritual sensitivity to be able to see beyond the literal meaning of these verses and uncover the treasure of blessings hidden therein. But G‑d has blessed the Jewish people with just such "visionaries" who indeed see beyond the apparent and obvious; people that can unearth the "story behind the story." It is up to us to try to view creation, ourselves and - in this case - the Torah itself through their eyes and from their deeper, more spiritual perspective.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, was one such visionary. A story is told of his twelve year old son - later to become the second Rebbe of Lubavitch - Rabbi DovBer. On the week when Ki Tavo was to be read, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, who usually read the Torah, was out of town. When the young DovBer heard the curses read by another Torah reader instead of his father, he was so devastated that he fainted and became dangerously ill. He was so weakened by the ordeal that several weeks later, on the eve of Yom Kippur, his doctors were not sure whether he was strong enough to fast.

After he fully recovered, people asked DovBer why the curses caused him to faint this year in particular. Hadn't he heard the curses read from the Torah in past years as well? He answered that when his father, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, read that same portion from the Torah he heard no curses - only blessings. This year, when someone else read the Torah, he heard the words of the Tochachah without their sublime inner meaning. For the first time the Tochachah terrified Rabbi DovBer, because the literal "outer" meaning of the words crept to the surface.

A message for us: all too often, we jump to the conclusion that certain situations, places or even people are barren of holiness - when in fact, if we would only look a bit harder, we would uncover untold spiritual treasures. Sadly, we are often quick to judge ourselves in the same superficial (and dishonest!) light. We don't want to dig a little deeper and see the great wealth of G‑dly energy we have inside ourselves. But the Rebbe, the visionary of our generation, has taught us that we cannot let our (imagined) negative surface distract us from our true - though not always visible - great spiritual self worth.

We conclude the year with the Tochachah in the hope that we will not to be blinded by what our eye sees superficially' that we will be able to uncover the "blessings in disguise" that we have inside of ourselves. We must be able to tap into the spiritual potential we have within us, which - when accessed - can take us to the greatest of heights and will certainly guarantee that we will be blessed with a good sweet year - together with Moshiach. 
Moshiach Matters

The advance of scientific understanding is increasingly revealing the inherent unity in the universe, as expressed in the forces of nature. Being aware of this can serve as a preparation and prologue to the Era of Moshiach, for at that time the Creator's simple, uncompounded Unity will become evident. That time will also reveal the way in which G‑d's Unity finds expression in the unity that is inherent in all of Creation.

Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit

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