Curses that are
The Baal Hatanya writes of the תוכחה, reprimand, curses, that in
truth, they are nothing but
He quotes the Zohar, which speaks of a
hidden and revealed reality. Hashem, Torah, and man exist on a conscious and
subconscious level. On the conscious level, these Pesukim appear to be curses. On this level they too serve a blessed purpose to attack the
negative forces of existence. No one would consider it a curse when white blood
cells mercilessly destroy harmful bacteria in order to protect the body from
infection. On the
subconscious, hidden level, the soul level, these curses are really blessings.
They are not painful experiences we must endure for a greater good, dark clouds
with silver linings; they are real blessings. These
are such profound blessings, that they can only be expressed in a concealed and
disguised manner. They are actually deeper blessings than the ones we can
So the blessings need to be concealed not in neutral terms but in “cursed”
language. Only then are they truly concealed. The more sublime and intimate the
experience, the more concealed it is. The hidden blessings in the תוכחה are
greater than the open blessings that are written in the Torah.
The real prominence of
something is the internal, hidden part. A blessing that’s hidden is pure and
greater than any blessing said openly in the Torah. When we take a look at the
body we have that which is external—fingers, etc.—and internal—heart, lungs,
etc. Surely the internal organs are more important than that which is external.
A scratch on the finger is insignificant in contrast to one on the lung. The
more significant the organ is the more it needs to be protected.
The most sublime blessings
are couched in the most dreadful terms. This is because whenever a blessing is
bestowed by heaven, it must first pass through the heavenly court, where the
prospective recipient is judged as to whether or not he is worthy of the blessing.
When the blessing is disguised as a curse, however, it bypasses the forces of
strict judgment and can make its way straight to its recipient.
In light of this we can
explain the Gemara
that relates R’ Shimon Bar Yochai sent his
son, R’ Elazar, to receive the blessings
of a few sages. They bestowed upon him what sounded like many curses: “May it
be Hashem’s will that you sow and not reap…let your house be destroyed…let your
table be disturbed,
and may you not see a new year.” His father revealed to him the meaning of
their “blessings,” the soul of their words.
says שורך טבוח לעיניך ולא תאכל ממנו חמרך גזול מלפניך ולא ישוב לך צאנך
נתנות לאיביך ואין לך מושיע, your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes but you will not
eat from it; your donkey will be robbed from before you but it will not return
to you; your flocks will be given to your enemies and you will have no savior.
notes that when the order of these words are reversed, it reads as follows: מושיע לך ואין לאיביך נתנות צאנך לך ישוב ולא מלפניך גזול חמרך ממנו
תאכל ולא לעיניך טבוח שורך, “people will aid you. Your sheep will not be given to your
enemies. They will return to you. Your donkey won’t be taken in front of you.
From them (your ox), you will eat and they won’t be slaughtered before you.”
This emphasizes the idea that on the surface these Pesukim appear to be curses
but are blessings in their inner meaning.
As a child, R’ Dov Ber of Lubavitch, along
with the rest of the congregation, would listen to the reading of the weekly Parsha
by his father, the Baal Hatanya. One year, the Baal Hatanya was out of town for
Shabbos Parshas Ki Savo, which contains the section of תוכחה. After
hearing the תוכחה read by
the substitute Baal Korai, little Dov Ber was so upset that even a month
later his father was unsure whether his son would be able to fast on Yom
Kippur. When Dov Ber was asked why he wasn’t disturbed this way when the תוכחה was read
in past years, he answered “When my father reads it, no curses are heard.”
When a great person like the Baal Hatanya reads these Pesukim, one hears their
subconscious meaning, in which they are blessings.
merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close
to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Alt
has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives
with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes
and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of