Friday - Shabbat, September 12-13
KI Tavo
Blessings in Disguise
The most striking feature of this week’s parsha is the to’cha’cha. At face value, it contains Moses’ very harsh threat of Divine retribution for future transgressions. Some of the most horrific curses are mentioned in this section.
The Rebbe explains that G‑d identifies with and gives us only blessings. However, we were given the freedom to choose whether to accept these blessings or to convert them into curses. Our positive actions empower us to be receptive to these positive energies, whereas negative behavior can transform the blessings into their opposite.
Moreover, Chassidic tradition, based on the Talmud and Zohar, maintains that these curses are actually blessings in disguise. There are two forms of Divine blessing: The first category is the blessing that is limited in scope and can easily be accessed. There is, however, a second category of blessing which is so potent that it cannot be verbally expressed and it manifests itself in a negative fashion under the façade of an ostensible curse. To access this elusive dimension of Divine beneficence we must wait until the Era of Redemption.  Only at that time, will we be able to absorb the powerful energy these hidden blessings radiate.
Moreover, in the Messianic age of transformation, we will be able to convert all past negativity into unprecedented blessings. 
Based on this premise, many Chassidic Masters have reinterpreted the to’cha’cha in a positive vein. In this essay we will attempt to demonstrate how an extremely severe curse can be interpreted in a positive “Moshiach-oriented” manner. And, as we shall see, this verse (Devarim 28:23) actually alludes to the transformative power of the Messianic Age:
“Your heavens over your head will be copper and the land beneath you will be iron.”
If this curse were to materialize as written, the heavens would cease to give their rain and the earth would be so dry and hardened that it would fail to yield any produce. In short, a devastating famine would ensue.
How can this dire threat possibly be interpreted in a positive vein?
The Four Metals
To reinterpret this verse we must analyze the symbolic meanings of its key words: “copper” and “iron.”
“Copper” and “iron” are mentioned in conjunction with the construction of the Mishkan-Tabernacle and the Bais Hamikdash, respectively.
With respect to the Mishkan, the portable Sanctuary that traveled with the Jewish nation in the desert, the Torah refers to the three metals used in its construction: “Gold, silver and copper.” All three were needed to make this portable Sanctuary a place which would reveal G‑d’s presence to the world. In the subsequent Sanctuaries these three metals were also key components.
Iron, on the other hand, was not used in the construction of any of the Temples. The reason for the objection to iron is that weapons were crafted from it. And since the Temple is designed to enhance our lives and iron is used to shorten them, it would be incongruous to build a life-sustaining structure with a reminder of its very antithesis.
However, the Rebbe (Sefer HaSichos, 5752, volume 2 p. 233) argues that in the Third Temple, iron will be used liberally. The prohibition against using iron to construct the Bais Hamikdash will no longer apply in the Messianic Age, when we will enjoy eternal life. Iron will no longer be capable of shortening life and will no longer be a symbol of death and destruction.
Four Historical Periods
The Rebbe explains that the four metals (gold, silver, copper and iron) can serve as metaphors for four mindsets and four historical periods associated with the Holy Temples:
“Gold” symbolizes the First Temple Era, in which G‑d’s presence was more pronounced than in the Second Temple Era.
Moreover, the Hebrew word for gold zahav is said to be an acronym for the words, “zeh hanosain bari-this is the one who gives in a state of health.” This alludes to those who give to G‑d or to others when they are in a state of perfect health. In this ideal state, their giving takes on golden form. Similarly, in the First Temple Era spirituality was in its ideal state of health. Gold represents the spiritually elite.
“Silver” connotes the Second Temple Era. In that period, the Temple lacked the capacity to channel the Divine to the world. The Talmud states that five essential things were missing in the Second Temple, which alluded to the compromised state of G‑dly revelation in comparison with the First Temple.
Moreover, the Hebrew word for silver “kesef” is said to be an acronym for “k’sheyesh sacanas pachad-when there is a fear of mortal danger.” This alludes to those who give when they feel threatened and vulnerable. This aptly describes the Second Temple Era, when the compromised state of spirituality raised the concern that the Temple might be destroyed. It represents the person who is at a heightened state of spirituality but risks faltering and degenerating.
“Copper,” the Rebbe asserts, represents the period of galus-exile. We are bereft of the Bais Hamikdash and beseech G‑d to give us the far superior Third Temple, a Sanctuary for eternity.  The Hebrew world for copper, nechoshes, is an acronym for “nesinas choleh k’she’amar t’nu-when an ailing person says ‘give’.” This describes a state of affairs where the Jewish people are spiritually ill and ask G‑d to give them the Third Temple, which will restore them to health and vitality.
One may suggest that inasmuch as the focus of the “copper” state of exile is on our illness due to the absence of the Bais Hamikdash and our concomitant longing for the Third Temple, copper is therefore associated with Moshiach. According to the Ba’al Shem Tov’s teaching, a person’s location is where that person’s will is. When our prayers focus on Moshiach and the Redemption, that’s where we truly are.  Indeed, it has been pointed out that the root of the word nechoshes isnachash, which has the same numerical value as the word Moshiach.
“Iron,” the Rebbe continues, will become a symbol of strength and endurance. It therefore represents the Third Bais Hamikdash, which will be an eternal structure. Unlike the two Temples of the past that were destroyed, the Third Temple, constructed by G‑d Himself, cannot possibly be destroyed.
Copper and iron are both symbols of the Messianic Age. The difference is that copper represents the desire and longing for Moshiach and the Third Bais Hamikdash, while iron represents the actualization of this desire.
Copper and iron share another Messianic feature. As stated, the root of the word nechoshes is nachash, which means serpent and, as stated above, has the numerical value of the word Moshiach. How do we reconcile these diametrically opposite connotations?
Kabbalists and Chassidic masters explain that this paradox is precisely what the Messianic Age is all about. It will transform the evil of the nachash into goodness and holiness.
Likewise, iron, which symbolized the opposite of life during prior eras, becomes a most significant part of the Bais Hamikdash in the Messianic Age, during which it will endure forever. Here too, we see the transformation of total destruction and devastation caused by iron into utter and ultimate immortality.
We can now approach the verse with which we began this discussion and reinterpret it in a positive and spiritual vein:
“Your heavens over your head will be copper and the land beneath you will be iron.”
“Heaven” is generally understood to be a metaphor for the spiritual realm and “land” is the metaphor for the physical.
This “blessing in disguise” alludes to the last days of exile, symbolized by “copper.” In this period, our heavenly desires will be “over your head.” The “head” symbolizes the human being’s highest faculty of reason and intellect. Our craving for the Messianic Age will transcend our understanding, consonant with the statement of the Talmud that “Moshiach will come when our minds are distracted from it.” This, the Alter Rebbe explains, does not mean, G‑d forbid, that we should forget about Moshiach. On the contrary, we must yearn for his coming every day, as we state explicitly in our prayers thrice daily. Rather, it means that our desire for Moshiach should go beyond that which our minds can comprehend.  It should be “over our head.” We must learn about Moshiach and Redemption to the extent our minds can fathom and then recognize that there is much that remains beyond our understanding. That realization will engender a heightened sense of passion that goes beyond the passion our rational thoughts can generate.
The second part of the verse continues:  “…and the land beneath you will be iron.” “Land” implies our physical existence. Moreover, the word in Hebrew “erets” connotes desire, and the phrase “beneath you” suggests our most base desires that are beneath the norm and are the cause of our destructive behavior. However, in the Messianic Age, all of the formerly destructive forces will be transformed into the positive and powerful force of iron, which will bring about total and permanent holiness in this world.