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Parshat Ki Tavo : How to Deal with Curses

09/02/2020 05:51:12 PM


Rabbi Yosef Weinstock

How to Deal with Curses
The story is told about the members of a certain Shul who were all terrified of being called up for the Aliya of the Tochacha, the curses described in the 6th Aliyah of Parshat Ki Tavo.  They called a special Board Meeting, and decided to hire someone to take the aliyah of the Tochecha.  It wasn’t easy, but finally a willing candidate was found and hired.

Parshat Ki Tavo arrived and the Gabbai looked around for the contracted individual to call him for shishi.  But, he was nowhere to be found in the Shul. “Perhaps he’s running late,” suggested one of the Ba’alei Batim, “let’s wait a few minutes for him.” They sat for about a quarter of an hour, getting more and more impatient by the minute. After all, this was not proper. An agreement had been made. Money had been paid.  Where was he?

Right before things got out of hand, the contracted man entered the Shul. The Board members ran to him and demanded to know his reason for being late. The individual calmly turned to the angry group, and replied, “I was davening in the shul down the block.  Do you really think that a person can make a living from only one Tochacha?”

Rav Chayim ben Betzalel, the brother of the Maharal of Prague, relates in his Sefer Ha-chayim that this “fear” of the Tochacha in Parashat Ki-Tavo led to some serious disruptions and lack of honor for the Torah.  He describes that in some synagogues, the Torah would remain open, in the middle of the reading, for several hours, as no congregants were willing to come and recite the berakhot over this aliya.  The Biur Halacha records that there were synagogues in which they actually cancelled Torah reading on the Shabbatot during which the curses should have been read (ie Bechukotai and Ki Tavo).

 The Biur Halacha (428) strongly disagrees with these approaches to the Tochacha and writes:
V’Kamah Ra’ot Osin- they are doing multiple things wrong:
First, they are not fulfilling the ancient obligation to read the Torah on Shabbat, established by Moshe Rabbeinu himself. Second, they are ignoring the advice given to us by Shlomo Hamelech in Mishlei (3:11), “Musar Hashem beni al tim’as”: “My son, do not loathe the criticism, rebuke of Hashem.” Third, their premise is mistaken. Do they actually believe that by not hearing or seeing the words of these curses they can spare themselves and avoid that which is laid out in those verses?! The Chofetz Chaim ends with three powerful words: V’Aderabba, Chas V’Shalom, unfortunately, the opposite is more likely. If we avoid confronting the lessons of the Tochacha we are more likely to suffer from their ill effects. 

Not reading the Tochacha to avoid its impact is juvenile behavior. It’s like when a young child plays hide and seek- by covering his own eyes. He assumes that if he can’t see you, then you can’t see him. It’s also what I call the Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome: that if the truth of the matter is left unsaid then somehow it has not really happened. We know that this is not the case. The emperor was not wearing any clothes even before the young child said anything.

These last 6 months have made clear that there are some curses that no one can avoid. Some may suffer from them more than others, but everyone is impacted. In these situations I would suggest that our best recourse is to stand up and get the Aliyah. Standing up as an expression of resolve and optimism. And getting the Aliyah entails firmly grasping the Atzei Chayim (“the trees of life”) of the Torah. The more firmly we grasp the Torah, the more capable we will be of dealing with the curses and finding the blessings of our lives.

Wed, October 28 2020 10 Cheshvan 5781