Concealed Blessings
It is well-known that behind the 98 so-called curses of this week’s parsha, known collectively as the tochecha(as well as the 49 “curses” at the end of the book of Vayikra) are hidden blessings. Ultimately, all these curses (many of which, if not all of them, having tragically materialized in the past), will be converted into blessings because, at their root, they always were blessings. G‑d has given us the ability to discover the inner dimension of these curses and extract the blessings from them.
This premise challenges us to ignore the negative veneer and seek the inner dynamic of every experience in life.
In this spirit, we will take a verse of the tochecha, and render it in such a way that it expresses a very positive message; we will find the opposite of its simple meaning. And as we prepare for the Final Redemption, when all curses will be transformed into blessings, we must look for the positive in everything.
Two of the hidden blessings read as follows (Deuteronomy 28:49-50):
“G‑d will carry against you a nation from afar, from the end of the earth, as an eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand. A brazen nation that will not be respectful to the old and will not be gracious to the young.”
The “external” meaning of these verses is the prediction that we will be attacked from afar by a brazen nation. The “inner” meaning describes the uniqueness of a segment of the Jewish people and how this segment makes us all ready for the ultimate Redemption.
A Nation from Afar: Ba’alei Teshuvah
The opening words “G‑d will carry [Yisa] against you a nation [goy] from afar” can be translated as “G‑d will raise upon you [not “against you”] a nation that comes from afar.”
Which nation is this?
When the Torah speaks of the word goy-nation in the singular it usually refers to the Jewish people, about whom it says, “Who is like your nation Israel, [goy echad] one nation on this earth (II Samuel, 7:23).”
But what does the Torah mean when it describes them as a “nation from afar?”
The answer is that it refers to those Jews who were alienated from Judaism and the Jewish people but who have returned to their roots. These “Ba’alei Teshuvah-returnees to Judaism” the Talmud (Berachos 34b) tells us, are superior to those who were always righteous: “The place where the Ba’alei Teshuvah stand, even perfectly righteous people cannot stand.” G‑d will place these Ba’alei Teshuvah “upon” the Tzadikim, indicating that they stand higher than the Tzadikim, and it is they who will bring the Final Redemption, as Maimonides writes in his Mishneh Torah (Hilchos Teshuvah 7:5), “Israel will do Teshuvah and they will immediately be redeemed.”
Travelling from the End of the Earth
The verse continues to describe the reason why Ba’alei Teshuvah are held in such high regard; they transcend even the perfectly righteous. The reason is that they travel, figuratively speaking, “from the end of the earth.”
This statement has several layers of meaning:
First, just as there can be a long journey in the geographic sense of the word, there can also be a long journey in the intellectual, emotional and spiritual sense. A Ba’al Teshuvah’s journey can be a long, winding and arduous one, akin to the journey of someone who must travel from one end of the world to the other.
Second, the word earth-eretz our Sages (Midrash Rabbah, Bereishis 5:8) tell us, is related to the word will. “Why is the Land [of Israel] called eretz, because it wants to do the will of its Maker.” The Hebrew word for “will” is ratzon, which is cognate to the word eretz.
The Ba’al Teshuvah must go from one extreme desire to another. The will of many people before they are exposed to Judaism is generally very materialistic. The Ba’al Teshuvah abandons his or her previous habits, lifestyle, and desires and trades them in for the opposite aspirations; a virtual trip from one end of the world to the other.
Abraham - the First Earth Traveler
G‑d told Abraham to “leave your land… and travel to the land I will show you.” Chassidic thought explains that “leaving his land” refers to Abraham leaving behind his original desires, formed when he was raised in a pagan, immoral and materialistic culture. Abraham’s greatness was measured by the degree to which he travelled to the other side of the world (read: desires).
Abraham was called ivri-Hebrew, which the Midrash explains means “the other side” and further explains: “The entire world was [figuratively speaking] on one side and Abraham was on the other side.” Abraham truly travelled from one end of the world to the other.
Running Home as the Eagle Flies
Third, the word eretz is also etymologically related to the word ratz-run. Again, to quote the abovementioned passage of the Midrash but with a slightly different translation, “Why is the Land callederetz because it runs to do the will of its Maker.” Not only does the Land of Israel motivate us to want to do the will of the Creator, it motivates us to run to do His will. It instils enthusiasm, life and joy in our pursuit of a closer relationship with G‑d.
This too characterizes the difference between the Tzadik and the Ba’al Teshuvah. Tzadikim serve G‑d by going in a steady pace. While they are always growing, their growth is incremental. Ba’alei Teshuvah run to do G‑d’s will. They are acutely aware of how they dwelt in a spiritually parched desert. This realization impels them to rush towards a spiritual oasis. Moreover, when they realize what treasures lie ahead they become anxious and excited to reach their destination.
The speed with which the Jew who comes from afar travels is alluded to in the continuation of the verse: “As an eagle flies.”
Eagle Compassion
Besides the speed associated with an eagle’s flight, there is another aspect of the eagle alluded to in this verse that also pertains to a Ba’al Teshuvah.
The eagle is the symbol of compassion for offspring. Later in the Torah, a verse describes G‑d’s compassion for the Jewish people (Deuteronomy 31:11): “Like an eagle arousing his nest hovering over its young, he spreads his wings, he takes it, he carries it on his pinions.”
What causes the Ba’al Teshuvah to become aroused to change his or her life, entirely?
The answer is that G‑d considers every Jew, regardless of their spiritual status, as His only child. The compassion He has for each and every Jew is responsible for the original impulse of a Ba’al Teshuvah to turn his or her life around.
This idea that an eagle’s compassion symbolizes G‑d’s compassion to bring us back to Him is mentioned explicitly in an earlier verse (Exodus 19:4). “You saw what I did to Egypt, and I carried you on the wings of eagles and brought you to Me.”
Here G‑d is saying how He took our ancestors (and through them us) out of the Egyptian abyss and brought them (ands us) to the great spiritual heights of Mount Sinai to be G‑d’s Chosen Nation.
We are One, But We Speak Different Languages
The verse continues by describing the gulf that exists between the Tzadik and the Ba’al Teshuvah:
         “…a nation whose language you will not understand.”
The Tzadik and Ba’al Teshuvah speak different languages. While we all say the same words of Torah and prayer, the Tzadik cannot fathom the idea of how one can be so far and then come so close; the Tzadik has always been close. Just like the rich cannot understand the trials of the poor and the healthy cannot appreciate the suffering of those who are ill, the Tzadik cannot fully grasp the profound transformation of the Ba’al Teshuvah.
Moreover, we find that there is also a literal difference between the language of the Tzadik and that of theBa’al Teshuvah:
The Midrash (Toras Kohanim, parshas Kedoshim) states that “One should not say regarding a non-kosher piece of food, ‘I cannot tolerate it.’ Rather he should say, ‘I’d love to have it but what can I do that my Father in heaven decreed not to eat it.’” The Maggid of Mezritch (Rabbi Dovber, the successor to the Ba’al Shem Tov as the leader of the Chassidic movement) said these sentiments should only be expressed by one who has never transgressed; in other words, a Tzadik. However, a Ba’al Teshuvah, who has transgressed in the past, should not say those words, because any connection to the bad habits of the past must be avoided to prevent a relapse.
Hence the language of the Ba’al Teshuvah is markedly different from that of the Tzadik.
Kosher Chutzpah
The next verse continues:
“A brazen nation that will not be respectful to the old…”
This can be understood in the context of the prediction made in the Talmud (at the end of tractate Sota)that before the coming of Moshiach there will be much chutzpah. The young will speak brazenly to the old.
The Rebbe explained on many occasions that it is actually a positive phenomenon when the youth challenge their elders to a greater commitment to the ideals of Torah. This form of chutzpah is alluded to in the end of the Biblical book of Malachi where he describes the efforts of Elijah the prophet:
“The hearts of the fathers will be restored to (Rashi: through) their children.” The youth will bring their parents back. The Ba’alei Teshuvah, who are the spiritual youths and student of the Tzadikim will enhance and elevate the Tzadikim and give them a taste of their superior level. This, in turn, will be the force that will bring us to the ultimate and Final Redemption.
Our Youth Will Not Suffer Fools
The final words of the verse are: “…and will not be gracious to the young.”
The connotation of the word young in Hebrew-na’ar is someone who is “young and foolish” as the saying goes. The heightened level of the Ba’alei Teshuvah will not suffer fools. While the young generally indulge in foolish, reckless and frivolous behavior, the Ba’al Teshuvah youth of the present Messianic threshold age have eschewed these behaviors and opted for a life of commitment and authentic joy and happiness.
These blessings, which we see unfolding before our eyes, will imminently transform all the negatives into revealed goodness and blessing.