Monday, May 18, 2020

Mourning all victims is right; moral equivalence is not and They're drunk on power': Crenshaw blasts coronavirus restrictions and The National Security Council is discussing the opening of synagogues under the Ministry of Health's guidelines on Sunday and Are the Curses in the Torah really Blessings in disguise?

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Yehuda Lave, Spiritual Advisor and Counselor

Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher, and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money,  and spiritual engagement. Now also a Blogger on the Times of Israel. Look for my column

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Are the Curses in the Torah really Blessings?

Are the Curses in the Torah really Blessings in disguise?

By viewing the troubles and joys of our lives as part of a continuum we can uncover blessings even in the most challenging curses.

Are the blessings and curses really polar opposites? Might they be opposite ends of the same continuum?

At times the pain that we encounter in our lives is overwhelming and seems insurmountable. In such moments, the philosophy of Heschel, the spirit of the Baal Shem Tov, the wisdom of Frankl,  may seem beyond our grasp. All these teachers chose to find the relationship between curses and blessings, and we are left wondering how they were able to make that choice.

One way to understand the interconnection between curses and blessings can be found at the beginning of this week's portion. Moses teaches the Israelites the importance of expressing gratitude for all that God has given them: They are free, they are blessed with plenty to eat, and they have good leadership. Any similarities between those troubling times and our times today is no coincidence. Moses teaches the Israelites about tithing, explaining that ten percent of their crops should be given to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow. When performed with a generous spirit and a grateful heart, their actions will bring them blessings from God.

In order to find gratitude during challenging life situations, we have to look beyond ourselves and, at the same time, deep within ourselves. Doing that requires a tremendous amount of inner strength, which we can draw from the support of our community and God's loving-kindness. In combination, our friends and our faith can enable us to transcend the challenge and find a blessing embedded within a curse–and perhaps even convert a curse into a blessing.

We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one's predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation–just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer–we are challenged to change ourselves (Victor E. Frankl Man's Search for Meaning, Washington Square Press, 1984, p. 135).


 "I will remember My covenant with Yaacov and also My covenant with Yitzchak; I will also remember My covenant with Avraham and I will remember the Land".


The Parasha begins with nine verses of reward if we choose to obey Hashem. Following this, there is an extended elaboration of curses if we choose not to. The verse above is quoted within these verses of curses. How is Hashem remembering the covenant of the fathers and the Land a bad thing? Some commentators have explained that this is indeed expressing a problem. It would be one thing if a nation sins, but for the nation that descended from Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaacov, which has such a strong bond with the Holy Land of Israel – it is far worse.


The Tokheha (Admonishment) refers to these passages of curses that Moses relayed to the Israelites by way of moral lesson and warning.   These curses are repeated twice in the Torah, in Parashat Be-Hukotai (Lev. 26:14-46) (read last week in the synagogue) and in Parashat Ki-Tavo (Deut. 28:15-69).

In the Mishnah, these verses are called curses (kelalot).  They were customarily read on public fast days, as the Mishnah (Megillah 3,6) informs us:   "On fast days, [one reads] blessings and curses," and on other set occasions, as stated in the baraitha (Megillah 31b):  "It is taught:   Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar says:   Ezra instituted that the Israelites read the curses in Torat Kohanim (=Leviticus) prior to Atzeret (Shavuot), and those in Deuteronomy prior to the New Year," so that "the old year and its curses come to an end."    In the Jerusalem Talmud, as well, these passages are referred to as "the curses in Leviticus and the curses in Deuteronomy," but in the Midrash, they are called admonishments (tokheha), not curses, as it says there:  "for they are not curses, rather they are admonishments." 

Due to its content, reading the Tokheha would cast fear upon the congregation, especially upon the person called up to the Torah for this passage.   However, in several Hassidic courts, the admonishments were viewed as curses that embedded in the great blessings.  This notion was apparently derived from the Zohar, which held that all admonishments are actually blessings, even if on the surface they appear to be curses.  

Elijah appeared and said:   Arise, Rabbi Simeon, awaken from your slumber.  How fortunate you are that the Holy One, blessed be He, is mindful of your honor.   All the promises and consolation of Israel are written in these curses.  Consider, when a king loves his son, although he might curse him and beat him nevertheless he loves him from the bottom of his heart.  Thus, even though the Holy One, blessed be He, uttered curses, His words were said lovingly.  Outwardly they appear as curses, but they are great beneficence since these curses were said lovingly.

Based on this passage, the Admor Rabbi Samuel of Sokhatshov wrote: 

Regarding the blessings and curses in our books, it follows from the holy Zohar and the New Zohar that underneath they are all blessings; indeed there are more blessings hidden in curses than blessings outwardly revealed…  As with the creation of the world, which outwardly is a material world but contains an inner essence, it appears, … the inner essence of the world is entirely good, and only in the outward manifestations of the worlds is real bad, … It is well-known that everything that is secret and concealed has superior quality, therefore the blessings that are enveloped in the garb of curses are even more elevated…  This explains why Ezra instituted that the blessings and curses be read on the Sabbaths preceding the Feast of Weeks and the New Year so that the old year and its curses come to an end…  For it is well-known that reading the passage rouses the matter, and the curses as well are roused; and on the Sabbath, Israel absorbs the inner essence that the admonishments contain, which are instructive blessings, and the outer parts, which are curses, become annulled, and the old year and its curses come to an end…  In this way, Israel prepares itself for the festival.

Thus we see that the great leaders of Hassidism transformed the curse into a blessing.   It is told of Rabbi Nahum of Tchernobil, a sickly man afflicted with all sorts of ailments, in his youth spent the Sabbath on which the Admonishment was read with the Ba'al Shem Tov.   When he was specially selected to come up to the Torah for the passage containing the Admonishment, at first he became somewhat faint.  But then, as the Ba'al Shem Tov began reading from the Torah scroll, Rabbi Nahum felt all his pains gradually dissipating, limb by limb, and by the time the reading was through, his body had become entirely healed. 

Also, when the Maggid of Kozienice heard the Admonishment read in the Beit Midrash and the words of Scripture reached his ears, "Your carcasses shall become food for all the birds of the sky and all the beasts of the earth, with none to frighten them off" (Deut. 28:26), he let out a loud cry.  Afterward, at the dinner table, he said:

Prayers that are not said in fear and trembling are called carcasses.   But He who hears all prayers has mercy on His creatures.  He instills in the heart a lofty inspiration, so for once one can pray with sincere devotion, and then one's prayer becomes mighty and swallows up all the weak prayers and flies like a bird to the gates of Heaven.

This view that the curses contain great hidden blessings led to competition in certain places over the purchase of this aliyah to the Torah.   Rabbi Ovadiah Hadaya once reported:

I heard there are certain places where they compete one with another for the purchase of this aliyah, and the one who wins makes a great feast for the entire congregation at the synagogue.  There are other places where a certain person might traditionally have the claim to this aliyah and no one else may take it from him.  It is clear that whoever considers them blessings has the reward of all the hidden blessings in them being fulfilled for him.  And conversely, whoever (Heaven forfend) considers them curses, brings on himself these curses just as one might tempt fate, and in this regard, it is said: what business have you prying into the secrets of the Merciful One? Pleasantness will come to those who hear them, and they will be blessed with good.

This notion also finds expression in the literature describing by-gone days in Jerusalem:

Not everyone was afraid to be called up to the Torah for these verses of curses.  It is told of the merchant Hizkiah Tajir that his success in business was actually due to his having been called up to the Torah for this aliyah. In order to dissuade the masses from believing that being called up to the Torah for this aliyah brings misfortune, the Rishon le-Zion Rabbi Jacob Meir himself used to take the aliyah to the Torah for this passage of the week's reading.

The National Security Council is discussing the opening of synagogues under the Ministry of Health's guidelines on Sunday

Home Arrangements, Separation of Sessions: Forming an Outline for Synagogues

According to the outline that will be submitted for government approval, the synagogues and prayer houses will only be opened with regular worshipers and separation of worshipers from worshipers.


The National Security Council is discussing the opening of synagogues under the Ministry of Health's guidelines on Sunday.

The meeting was attended by Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Health Prof. Itamar Grotto, Representative of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Director of the World Organization of Synagogues Rabbi Shmuel Slotki.

According to the government's soon-to-be-approved outline, the synagogues and prayer houses will only be opened with regular worshipers and a separation of worshipers from worshipers.

Like the worshipers will be required to wear masks throughout the prayer time. Arrangements and religious objects will be brought from the house and in every synagogue and prayer house appointed "Gabay Corona," whose job it is to enforce the guidelines.

"We thank the NSC and the Ministry of Health for trying to find a suitable and appropriate formula for the careful opening of the synagogues very soon. We hope that the worshipers will soon be able to re-enter the gates of the synagogues and connect with Gd in the synagogues all over the country, "said Rabbi Slotki


Ideas, that help explain how the world works

A Lawn Mower Lesson

Rabbi Adler was out for a leisurely Sunday afternoon ride on his bicycle, when he came upon Little Moishie Goldberg from his shul trying to sell a lawn mower. "How much do you want for the mower, Moishie?" asked the Rabbi.

"I just want enough money so I can buy a bicycle," said Moishie. After a moment of consideration, the Rabbi asked, "Will you take my bike in trade for it?"

Moishie asked if he could try it out first, and after adjusting the seat and riding the bike around a little he said, "Rabbi, you've got yourself a deal."

The Rabbi took the mower and began to try to crank it. He pulled on the string a few times with no response from the mower. The Rabbi called Moishie over and said, "I can't get this mower to start."

The boy said, "That's because you have to swear at it to get it started. That's what my Dad does."

Rabbi Adler said, "I am a Rabbi, I don't even know how to swear."

Moishie looked at him happily and said, "Just keep pulling on that string. It'll come to you!"

A Killer Service

One Saturday morning, the rabbi noticed little David staring up at the large plaque that hung in the foyer of the synagogue. It was covered with names and small flags were mounted on either side. The seven year old had been staring at the plaque for some time and finally asked the rabbi, "Rabbi, what is this?"

"Well David, it's a memorial to all the young men and women who died in the service."

"Soberly, they stood together, staring at the large plaque. Little David's voice was barely audible when he asked, "Which one the Friday night, or Saturday service?"

Israeli invention turns tap water into antiviral solution

Mourning all victims is right; moral equivalence is not by Jonathan S. Tobin

Coexistence and understanding between Israelis and Palestinians is essential. However, ignoring the way the conflict is perpetuated by official hate won't bring peace closer.

Outside of Israel, it was the alternative ceremony that got the most coverage. The official commemoration of Yom Hazikaron—the country's Memorial Day that occurs the day before celebrating the Jewish state's Independence Day—began with a one-minute siren that sounded throughout the country and continued at the Western Wall, where President Reuven Rivlin and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi led a small ceremony that, due to the coronavirus pandemic, had no audience.

Most Israelis, all too many of whom have lost a loved one or friend who was killed during the country's wars or as a result of terrorism, will deal with the pain of this day of remembrance each in their own way though they will not be able to go to cemeteries, which are closed this year because of the ongoing lockdown.

But outside of Israel, most of the attention was neither on official efforts to remember the fallen nor the private grief of the families. Instead, much of the press was reporting about the efforts of peace activists to essentially hijack the nation's day of mourning and turn it into a day devoted to promoting coexistence and mutual recognition of the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians.

This "Joint Memorial Day" event, which was started in 2006 by Israeli parents of fallen soldiers, is organized by two groups with both Israeli and Palestinian members: Combatants for Peace and Parents Circle Families Forum. But this year, it received an outpouring of support from American Jewish groups, including the Reform movement's Union of Reform Judaism, J Street, the New Israel Fund, Peace Now, as well as the openly anti-Zionist IfNotNow and Churches for Middle East Peace, an interfaith Christian group that is also deeply hostile to the Jewish state.

Indeed, it is likely that this foreign support helped boost the Internet audience for the ceremony this year—increasing from a reported 20,000 tuning into the Internet to the 170,000 who are supposed to have watched it online via Facebook. That allowed organizers to claim to The New York Times that it had been "the biggest joint Israeli-Palestinian event in history."

According to the organizers, the point of the event is to introduce people to the suffering that occurs on both sides of the conflict. On the surface, that seems hard to criticize. It ought to be possible to empathize with all those who've suffered losses. Demonstrating a common humanity and a kinship with suffering shouldn't be criticized.

But even in some of the heart-rending stories told by both sides, it was possible to discern the problem with the event. Many Israelis denounced it as more of an attempt to create a false moral equivalency between those who died that Israel might live and those who died as a result of an ongoing Palestinian war aimed at the destruction of the only Jewish state on the planet. By asserting that there is no difference between efforts to defend and eradicate Israel, organizers are likely encouraging those who want to continue the conflict, rather than those who want to end it.

The most prominently featured Palestinian speaker was Yaquab al-Rabi, whose wife, Aisha, was killed as a result of his car being stoned by an Israeli teenager. The al-Rabi family suffered a terrible tragedy, and the perpetrator deserved to be severely punished. But the irony of highlighting a Palestinian victim of a stoning was lost in most press accounts of the ceremony. Though even one such incident was too many, examples of Israelis attacking Arabs in this manner are rare. By contrast, Arab stoning attacks on Israelis cars—with often similarly terrible results—are commonplace.

While civilians have died on both sides of the conflict, the notion that the two sides are morally equivalent fails to take into account the fact that Palestinians who attack Israelis target civilians, while the Israel Defense Forces try hard to avoid civilian casualties that are generated because terrorists use human shields.

The "both sides are to blame" narrative also ignores the way that the two societies regard those who commit acts of terrorism. The teenager held responsible for Aisha al-Rabi's death was prosecuted. The same is true of three Israelis (serving long prison sentences for their crime and held in contempt by the country) who murdered a Palestinian boy in July 2014 in revenge for the gruesome murder of three Israeli teenage boys several weeks beforehand, who were kidnapped by Palestinians while walking home from school.

By contrast, the Palestinian Authority continues to honor terrorists. Just last week, its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Fatah movement honored the perpetrators of the Munich Olympic massacre on the anniversaries of their deaths. Similarly, those Palestinians who maim and kill Israelis in terror attacks continue to receive pensions and salaries from the P.A. as a reward for their crimes.

No one has the right to tell any Israeli family how to honor its loved ones, and if some reach out to bereaved Palestinian families in the hope of promoting peace, we must all hope they succeed.

But the contrast between the large Israeli peace movement and the almost non-existent Palestinian peace movement is telling. Palestinians consider their compatriots who support dialogue with Israel as "traitors" working to "normalize" the Jewish state (and terrorists are "martyrs" dying for the cause). The Gaza resident who organized a cooperative Zoom meeting between Palestinians and Israelis earlier this month was arrested by Hamas and hasn't been seen alive since then. The fact that he was turned in by a Palestinian journalist who has worked for Amnesty International makes it all the more obvious that there is no comparison between the way the two societies think about peace.

We should mourn all victims of senseless violence, be they Jews, Arabs or any other people. But we should be wary of efforts to establish a false analogy between those who died to save Jewish lives and those whose purpose was to spill Jewish blood.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.


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Rabbi Yehuda Lave

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