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Curses that are Blessings

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 11/5/2020

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Fascinating Insights—The Sefer (in English)

Curses that are Blessings

The Baal Hatanya writes of the תוכחה, reprimand, curses, that in truth, they are nothing but[1] blessings.[2] 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 openly recognize!  


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[3] 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,[4] and may you not see a new year.” His father revealed to him the meaning of their “blessings,” the soul of their words.


                The Pasuk[5] 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. The Chida[6] 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.”[7] When a great person like the Baal Hatanya reads these Pesukim, one hears their subconscious meaning, in which they are blessings.  
Rabbi Alt 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 observance.

[1] With this we can explain why the תוכחה is read in a lower tone by the Baal Korai, since על פי סוד (mystical, secret interpretation) the תוכחה is really blessings and a secret—סוד—is in a lower tone.

[2] Likutei Torah 2:48a. See also the Sifsei Kohen, Devarim 28:15 that on a revealed level these are תוכחה while on the hidden level it is Hashem's love, words of love…on the hidden level it is all consolation.

[3] Moed Katan 9b.

[4] R’ Shimon Bar Yochai explained they meant your table should be disturbed by your sons and daughters—that you should have many young children whose tendency is to disturb things that are on the table.

[5] Devarim 28:31.

[6] Nachal Kedumim. Me’am Loaz, Devarim 28:31. See also Hamaor Hagadol, p. 383. 

[7] HayomYom, 17 Elul.

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