Torah Fax

Friday May 23, 2008 - 18 Iyar, 5768

Torah Reading: BeChukotai (Leviticus 26:3 -  27:34)
Candle Lighting: 7:56 PM
Shabbat ends: 9:04 PM
Pirkei Avot: chapter 4

Shabbat Chazzak

Ghetto of the Mind

There are two places in the Torah that contain lengthy threats and curses known as a Tochechah. One is in this week's Parshah of Bechukotai and the other is in the Parshah of Ki Tavo. Bechukotai is always read close to the holiday of Shavuot and Ki Tavo is read immediately preceding Rosh HaShannah.


Let us accept, for argument's sake, that there is a need to hear harsh words of rebuke from G‑d - in fact, modern educators might call this "tough love." But what is the need to repeat this Tochechah twice? And why specifically before these two major holidays?


The Talmud tells us that the Jewish calendar was intentionally set up in order to read the curses at the end of the year, thus symbolically declaring: "let the old year and its curses go out and let's welcome in the new year with its blessings." But why the need to read a Tochachah prior to Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah? The Talmud explains that Shavuot is also a Rosh HaShannah of sorts - it is the time when the trees are judged. (Note: it is for this reason that many have the custom to adorn the Synagogue with beautiful plant sand flowers on Shavuot. During the holiday, we should think about the judgement that plant life is undergoing and pray for them. After all, the well being of humankind depends very much on the well being of plant life.)


On a more mystical level, we can perhaps understand the two Tochachas this way. The purpose of the curses is actually to help us rid ourselves of our negative tendencies. They are not merely "scare tactics" to keep us on the path of the straight and narrow. With regard to changing out negative side, one approach is to turn over a new leaf - to start afresh - forgetting about one's past misdeeds and mistakes. On the other hand, some might try to simply insulate themselves from the negative influences in society and in the environment, creating a spiritual ghetto for their soul.  


Rosh HaShannah, as the beginning of a new year, helps us put our past behind us. It tells us that it is time to start with a clean slate - to forget about the past. As long as we start our New Year in the right way, we don't have to worry about our old "baggage."


But what about when we are not at the beginning of the year? What about when we don't have the inspiration of a brand new beginning? How can we extricate ourselves from our bad habits and our ingrained ways?


The answer lies in the Tochachah of our Parshah, which, as mentioned before, always precedes Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah. Torah is identified with blessing, as the sages in the Jerusalem Talmud declare, "why does the Torah begin with the letter Beit rather than Alef? Because Beit is the initial letter of Brachah, blessing." Similarly, the conclusion of the entire Talmud, the every compilation of our Oral Tradition, discusses the importance of blessing. 


Thus, by entering into the realm of Torah, by enveloping ourselves with the ultimate source of blessing, we can become impervious to all the negativity in our lives that might otherwise cause a distraction or impede our spiritual growth. 


Nachmanides teaches that the two sets of curses discussed in the Torah represent two different eras in our exile and our suffering as a nation. The first set of curses corresponds to the Babylonian exile and the second set correspond to the Roman destruction and subsequent 2,000 years of exile in which we still find ourselves today. Thus, the coming of Moshiach, which will put an end to the exile, will be the event that will ultimately bring an end to these curses. 


In light of the above, we can say that the accomplishments of Moshiach will be in two stages, similar to the two stages in removing negativity from our lives.  Firstly, he will introduce a new and unprecedented lifestyle - totally different and infinitely more spiritual than the one we were used to living during exile. In this new age, all of the curses, shortcomings and unhealthy spiritual character traits will become a thing of the past.

Additionally, Moshiach is known as the teacher of Torah, par excellence. By exponentially increasing the quality of Torah study, Moshiach will help us become enveloped in the world of blessing and G‑dliness that Torah represents. That blessing of Torah will shield us from any negativity and will enable us to grow greater and greater. 


Moshiach Matters 

The Zohar describes the First and Second Holy Temples as "the building of mortal man which has no lasting existence," whereas the Third Holy Temple, since it is "the building of the Holy One, blessed be He," will endure forever. The First Holy Temple corresponds to Abraham; the Second Holy Temple corresponds to Isaac; the Third Holy Temple corresponds to Jacob. And since the dominant characteristic of Jacob is truth, which can be neither intercepted nor changed, the Third Holy Temple will stand forever.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. IX, p. 26) (Lchaim) 

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