Torah For The Times    

Parshat Ki Tavo:
Torah Reading: Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1 - 29:8)
Haftorah:  Isaiah 60:1-22

Shabbat Candle Lighting: 7:23 PM 
Shabbat ends: 8:24 PM  

Healthy Insanity

Preparing for the New Year

One of the most difficult sections of the Torah, appears in this weeks parsha, the recitation of the 98 horrific consequences of sinful behavior, known as the “tochecha,”. These were an expression of G‑d’s “tough love”; intended to jolt the Jewish people, as they were poised to enter the Promised Land, into compliance with G‑d’s will.

According to the Talmud, we read this section of the Torah at the end of the year, as we prepare to enter the New Year. This parallels the end of the Jewish people’s preparation for their entry into a new land.

Upon reflection, this approach appears problematic; we can understand why a repeat offender who has been reprimanded politely and affectionately but who nevertheless continued in his sinful ways must be reprimanded more harshly. If the approach of love doesn’t work, we are permitted to use tough love. But why would we want to begin a New Year or enter a new land on the basis of such a negative approach?

Chassidic thought takes a different view of these “curses.” They are curses only when viewed externally; when viewed on a deeper level, they are powerful, unrestricted blessings.

By reading these hidden blessings before the onset of the New Year, we expose ourselves to infinite blessings. We have been given the free choice to unleash the hidden energy of these blessings and transform the New Year into a year of unprecedented goodness.

When Father Reads, I hear only Blessings

This transformative understanding is reflected in a story told of Rabbi Dovber, (known as the Mitteler Rebbe, the son and successor of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad movement) in his youth. On one occasion, he fainted when he heard the tochecha and remained ill for weeks. The harsh words were too much for his delicate and sensitive soul. When asked why he had not reacted so strongly to the tochecha in the past, he replied: “In the past I heard the reading from my father. And when my father reads them, I hear only blessings…”

When we read the tochecha from the vantage point of our Father in Heaven, we hear powerful but sweet words of goodness. It takes, however, the spiritual stature of a Rebbe to guide us to the inner meaning of the tochecha.

Notwithstanding the fact that these hidden blessings did not materialize in the past, we are guaranteed that they will ultimately be realized in the Messianic Age.

Thus, before the end of the year—which symbolizes the very end of our stay in exile pending the imminent arrival of Moshiach and the final Redemption—we read of these hidden blessings and eagerly anticipate their coming to fruition.

With this introduction in mind, many Chassidic masters have demonstrated how some of the verses that sound like curses can and should be interpreted as sublime blessings,

In that spirit, we will attempt to reinterpret one of the verses in the tochecha:

The Destructive Power of our Eyes

“You will go insane from the things your eyes will see.”

Understood literally, Moses was describing the utter devastation that would cause those who beheld it to lose their wits.

Some interpret this verse figuratively, asserting that what would cause us to lose our minds would be the obsessive following after our eyes. When we become hedonists and follow the dictates of our eyes and the unbridled desires of our hearts that they arouse, we lose touch with reality and become meshuga.

Others interpret this verse metaphorically, arguing that the “eyes” refer to the leaders, who are called “the eyes of the community.” In this view, the leaders will be so corrupt that they will cause us to lose our minds.

The Good Meshuga

However, from a Chassidic perspective, this same verse can be seen in an entirely different and positive light.

In the original Hebrew, the term used for “insane” in this verse is meshuga, a pungent but useful adjective which has even made its way into the English dictionary and popular usage. Although meshuga is generally considered a pejorative term, is also used Biblically to denote a prophet, a person of superior vision. This descriptive term is shared by the truly insane and the prophets because people in both categories deviate from the norm, albeit in opposite directions.

Another term associated with meshuga is shtus, which contains the dual meaning of folly and deviation. Chassidic thought explains that there are two ways one can deviate from the norm, leading to two forms of shtus-folly and two types of individuals, both of whom are called meshuga.

A person can be labeled meshuga when behaving in an irrational and self-destructive manner. But, likewise, one who behaves in a supra-rational fashion, who goes beyond the norm in goodness and devotion to G‑d, also can be accorded the title meshuga.

A prophet would be given this title because he or she goes beyond the conventions of society and rises above the spiritual norm in order to be receptive to G‑d’s communication.

Removing the Garments

This explains what appears to be a bizarre ritual that a prophet would follow before receiving his prophecy. We are told (I Samuel 19:24) that King Saul removed his garments as a prerequisite to receiving prophetic inspiration.

Chassidic thought explains that garments, in the literal sense of the word, became a necessity as a result of the sin of the Tree of Knowledge. When Adam and Eve partook of its fruit, they entered the world of sensuality which necessitated that they cover parts of their bodies. Clothing which covers the body is also a metaphor for the concealment and obscuring of the Divine reality and the emergence of a new, corporeal reality, which resulted from Adam and Eve’s transgression. Had they not sinned, there would have been no need for modesty; every aspect of human biology would have been viewed as part of a Divine scheme for existence and not as an outlet for physical and sensual desires.

On a deeper level, the garments removed by the prophet symbolized his own intellect and emotions. He had to transcend their confining aspects and detach himself from the subjective sensations of his mind and heart to be receptive to G‑d’s presence.

The prophet, therefore, sheds his clothing, literally and figuratively, to demonstrate that he has put aside his preoccupation with material matters and no longer allows his physical needs and perceptions to dominate. Only then would he become receptive to the Divine communication.

In short, a prophet had to deviate from the human norm and rise to a higher level, which he manifested by removing of his garments in both the spiritual and physical senses. This gave him the appearance of a meshuga, someone who deviates from the norm.

The Torah thus tells us in its coded blessing: “You will go meshuga-insane from the things your eyes will see.” A time will come when you will transform the negative form of insanity, that derives from being a slave to passion and allowing yourself to be driven beneath the path of decency and normalcy, into a positive form of insanity. You will become self-transcendent beings, who rise above the norm.

Seeing and Not Just Hearing

How does this transformation occur?

The Torah gives the answer in the concluding words of this verse: “…from the things your eyes will see.”

When we begin to visualize the Divine and understand it, rather than just hear about it, it motivates and empowers us to transform ourselves.

We are told that the Messianic Age will change the way we relate to G‑d and spirituality. Whereas in the past we were exposed to the teachings of Torah through the medium of our ears, as the words “Shema Yisroel-Hear O Israel” indicate, Moshiach will teach us Torah through the medium of vision. The prophet declares: “And the glory of G‑d shall be revealed and all flesh shall see that the mouth of G‑d has spoken.”

One of the salient differences between hearing/understanding and seeing is that when we grasp something based on hearing, the information is integrated piecemeal. Even when we hear and grasp the entire subject, it is based on separate pieces of information that we hear over a span of time. When we visualize something, by contrast, we see the entire picture all at once. The difference is qualitative and the visual experience can be transformational. The revelation of G‑dliness that initiates the Messianic Age will enable us to rise above the norm, and experience the positive and holy form of insanity; one that inspires us to do unconventional acts of kindness and goodness.

The transformation from the lower, negative form of insanity into the upper, positive form of insanity is occurring right now. We are on the cusp of the Messianic Age, straddling the fence between the darkness and confusion of exile and the light and clarity of Redemption. We are witnesses now to the paradoxical combination of both darkness and light. The darkness we see now is arguably greater than ever before and the light is also more intense than ever before.

On the one hand, we are seeing the breakdown of morality and the utter loss of decency and normalcy. Immorality has become pervasive and “in your face” in today’s world. All the institutions of society are riddled with corruption. Yet, we are also witness to an extraordinary outpouring of tzedakah and compassion for those who are in need. There are many people performing acts of random kindness to counter the ubiquitous random acts of violence. In addition, the explosion of spiritual knowledge brought on by the widespread teaching of Chassidus, with its focus on G‑dly reality, has given us a foretaste of what is to come in terms of visualizing G‑dliness. As we near the end of our journey in exile, the entire picture comes into focus. We are also, therefore, witnessing the desired result of this explosion: so many more people than ever before are experiencing “insanity” in its most positive and felicitous form.


Moshiach Matters

Our rabbis teach that thought serves as a catalyst, bringing about positive effects.
When people start thinking about the Redemption as the purpose of their lives — hopefully before they have time for extended contemplation — Moshiach will arrive.(From Dawn to Daylight, by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger)

For more info about Moshiach,