Behar - Bechukotai 
MAKING US WHOLE

 

Reconciling the Tochecha with a G‑d of Kindness 
 
The Tochecha [Words of] Rebuke, is known for its curses and threats of suffering for lack of Torah observance. However, we know that the Torah is the Torah of kindness and “all of its pathways are peaceful.” It doesn’t say, “some” or “many” of its pathways are peaceful, but “all.”
 
How can we reconcile this fact with the harsh punishments G‑d threatens us when we misbehave as recorded in the Tochecha?
 
Of course, we understand that His punishment is not for the sake of punishment but to cleanse us of our sins, much like a loving parent disciplines a recalcitrant child because he or she loves the child. But, we can hardly characterize tough love as peaceful. It might be necessary and is motivated by love, but it is still painful and we call it tough love, with the emphasis on the word tough. 
 
The truth is that we cannot possibly fathom G‑d’s ways. We will have to wait for Moshiach to reveal how all suffering was justified, positive and loving. Moshiach will reveal to us the purpose and rationale for the apparently irrational and unthinkable.
 
Until then, we have to beseech G‑d to remove those curses even as we do whatever is in our power to remove them ourselves. This we can accomplish by natural means coupled with prayer for Redemption and more conscientious mitzvah observance.
 
Hidden Blessings
 
Chassidus teaches us that, in truth, underlying all these curses and threats there is a deeper positive meaning. In Chassidic parlance: These are hidden blessings. 
 
As a way of illustrating this concept let us try to decipher a hidden positive meaning in one of the “curses” of the Tochecha by retranslating the words in a way that expresses loving blessings.
 
The Sword of Peace
 
“I will bring upon you a sword, avenging the vengeance of a covenant, you will be gathered into your cities, then I will send a plague among you and you will be delivered into the hands of the enemy.”
 
As used here, the sword is a metaphor for prayer. Jacob speaks of the city which he captured with his sword and arrow. The Zohar translates these two words as “with my prayers and requests.” The “sword” is the means though which we cut away at our materialistic drives. This is accomplished in two distinct ways. The first is by confronting our evil impulses head on; treating them like a life-threatening enemy. We are engaged in this struggle throughout the day.  However, during our prayers we make use of a “Cherev shel Shalom” a peaceful sword, referred to in this Parsha. G‑d promises to reward us for our compliance with His will: “No sword will ever cross your land.” Rashi explains that it means that even a peaceful sword, i.e., a friendly army, will not pass through your territory.
 
The Previous Rebbe expounds on the spiritual counterpart to the peaceful sword: 
In spiritual terms, a peaceful sword is the sword of prayer; a sword of light. More specifically, it refers to the Pesukei Dzimrah prayers that we recite before the Shema and the Amidah. These are the psalms of song and praise to G‑d. In Hebrew the word for song-praise, zimrah, can also mean pruning. By reflecting on G‑d’s greatness and kindness in these prayers we generate light that will prune the negative branches that get in the way of our spiritual lives and growth.
 
However, this method of dealing with our negative side during prayer does not require actual fighting and struggle. Instead, when we sing G‑d’s praises, we cut away the undesirable by generating more spiritual light.
 
Now let us return to find the hidden blessing in the verse by engaging in an exercise of retranslating:
 
“I Will Bring Upon You a Sword”: 
 
G‑d promises us that He will give us the power to rid ourselves of our animal nature’s imperfections with the power of prayer, the “sword of peace.” 
 
The introductory words “I will bring upon you…” imply that even when we feel spiritually paralyzed and we cannot find our own “sword,” i.e., our own power to sing G‑d’s praises and thereby cut away the undesirable branches, G‑d will bring it on us.
 
“Avenging the Vengeance of a Covenant”:
 
This can be said to refer to the internal enemy within us that encourages us to abrogate the covenant that we have made with G‑d. The covenant of circumcision, Maimonides explains in his Guide for the Perplexed, was intended to curb our animalistic tendencies. When we allow ourselves to become enslaved to those passions and we find it too difficult to extricate ourselves from them, G‑d, in His infinite kindness, will “bring it upon us.” He will empower us to carry the “sword of peace and light” in our struggle. We will defeat the enemy with the positive force of G‑dly light generated by our prayers.
 
“You Will Be Gathered Into Your Cities”: 
 
What is the spiritual meaning of a city?
 
According to the ancient Kabbalistic work Sefer Yetzirah, “every letter is a brick; every word a house.” By extension, an entire prayer or an entire section of the Torah is a virtual city.
 
When G‑d gives us that “sword of peace/light” we can seek refuge in our cities, namely our prayers and Torah study. This parallels the Ba’al Shem Tov’s interpretation of the words spoken by G‑d to Noah: “Come into the ark.” The Hebrew word for Ark is teivah, which also means “word.” To escape the threatening waters of the outside, hostile world, one must enter into the words of prayer and Torah.
 
Here too, the Torah alludes to the idea that when we fail to enter into the “city”, meaning words of prayer and Torah study, G‑d promises us that He will bring it on. He will empower us to enter into our spiritual cities, which will effectively destroy the forces that seek to break our bonds and covenant with G‑d.
 
“…Then I Will Send a Plague Among You…”
 
A plague [dever] is a metaphor for a spiritual communicable disease. In the context of the Ten Plagues it refers specifically to a plague that strikes animals. Note that many of the viruses today are contracted by humans from animals. G‑d sending the plague to us alludes to the way our prayers and Torah study will prevent the communication of the animalistic spiritual virus to infect our G‑dly soul. The plague is intended to wipe out that threat from the animal virus.  
 
But, G‑d will go beyond eliminating the animalistic threat.
 
“…And You Will Be Delivered Into the Hands of the Enemy”: 
 
The words “and you will be delivered” [v’nitatem] can also be translated as “you will be made whole.” And the words “into the hands of the enemy” can be rendered: “by the hands of your enemy.” Not only will G‑d give us the power to vanquish our enemy by way of prayer and Torah study; He will also empower us to transform our “enemy” so that our Animal Soul too begins to sing G‑d’s praises. When that happens, the G‑dly soul will be energized, enhanced and made whole. 
 
The curses of the Tochecha in their literal sense symbolize the curse of exile, which has been dramatized in the current corona virus pandemic. It has forced humanity to gather into their cities. However, as we stand today on the threshold of Redemption we must retranslate this Galus curse into the Geulah blessing which will make us whole!