This week’s Torah portion features 49 terrible curses awaiting the Jews if they don’t observe G-d’s Torah.
But strangely the name of this portion, ‘Bechukotai’ indicates total connection to G-d’s Torah.
The word Chuk means ‘carved in’. And Bechukotai refers to the essence of the Jewish soul where the letters, the laws and the spirit of the Torah are ‘carved’ and united in our very being. Like the Ten Commandments carved in the Tablets were one with the Tablets. So why all the curses?
In addition, last week was the holiday of Lag B’omer when the great Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the mystical work The Zohar passed away some 1,800 years ago. Rabbi Shimon was a true example of this ‘carved and united’ mentioned in our portion; he was the ultimate Jew bringing only goodness and blessing to the world.
What has this got to do with the curses?
To understand this, here is a story.
In, in the ‘enlightenment’ days of Europe 200 years ago, despite the many Jews that left Judaism there was also an abundance of Tzadikim (holy men) and one of them was the ‘Chozeh’ (Prophet) of Lublin.
His erudition and love for mankind was matched only by his ability to bless and to ‘see’. Past, present and future lay before him like an open book. The only thing he and his Chassidim (followers) lacked was money.
A shining example was Avraham Mordechai of Pintshov; a virtual pauper with no means to marry off his three 20 plus-year-old daughters who had no recourse than to go to ‘the Chozeh’ and pour out his heart.
The Rebbe gave him a few coins and said “Go to the town of Kreshnik and there you will be saved.”
Avraham Mordechi ran home, packed a bag, told his wife what the Rebbe said and set off to the obscure town with no idea what to do there.
Three days later he arrived, checked in to the only Jewish hotel and only after he slept off his weariness from the journey did it hit him that he had no plan of action. So he began wandering around the town. Every day after morning prayers he would wander aimlessly for an hour or two, return to the hotel to eat open a book and read for an hour or so and then wander some more.
After a week of this he was beginning to wonder what would be with him. Every day was just like the ones before it… nothing was happening except his money was running out and his daughters were getting older.
Then, a few nights later as he was getting ready for bed there was a knock at his door. “Who is it?” he asked.
“Can I talk to you” was the answer in Yiddish. He opened the door and a religious Jew about forty years old entered, sat down leaned anxiously forward and spoke quietly as his eyes filled with tears.
“I won’t tell you my name.” He said, “Please don’t ask. But I have something I want you to give to the owner of this hotel. Here.”
He produced an envelope from his coat, opened it and took out a stack of large denomination bills. “It’s ten thousand rubles.” He said. “It’s a fortune. But it belongs to the hotel owner Mr. Greenglass (pseudonym). I want you give it to him. Will you do this? Please?
The man saw that Avraham Mordechai was confused and he began to explain.
“I am telling you this …. because….. because I want to confess my sin.” He still spoke quietly but blew his nose and wiped his eyes occasionally after each paragraph.
“Ten years ago I worked here for Mr. Greenglass as a teacher. I taught Torah to his five wonderful children. We were like family, best friends, he trusted me implicitly, gave me anything I wanted. Everything was perfect until the devil mixed in.
I was teaching his youngest son in one room and noticed that he entered his office it the room adjoining and unintentionally left the door ajar. I saw how he took a large stack of money from his pocket, put it in a drawer in his desk, locked it and put the key behind a picture hanging on the wall. I thought it strange that he didn’t put the money in the safe but the worst part was that he didn’t notice me staring … not at all.
“It planted an evil seed in my heart. At first I pushed it off as foolishness, but it didn’t go away. Every time someone with fine clothes or expensive jewelry entered the hotel I thought ‘why not me? Until I became insane, I needed the money!
“Finally late one night when everyone was out of the house for a wedding I went to the office door, turned the knob and when I found it unlocked I entered, found the key, opened the drawer, took the money and a minute later I was in the back yard putting it in the hole I had prepared there to hide it and … it was done.
“The next day I acted as though nothing had happened and in fact he didn’t discover the robbery until a few weeks later.
He opened the drawer and it was empty! He really took it hard. He held his head in his hands and actually began to cry. I was shaken and that night I even decided to ‘find’ the money and put an end to it. But in moments it was too late; he called the police and before I could think the house was crawling with them. .
“Of course no one suspected me. It never even arose in their minds! I was the epitome of faith and honesty… the last one in the world that would steal!! I told them that I had been sleeping and neither saw nor heard anything.
“Anyway, after a month or so everything died down, he got over the loss and life returned to normal. I worked for another year or so, told them I had work elsewhere and we parted the best of friends.
“But my conscience bothered me. A hundred times, a thousand times I thought of returning the money but I didn’t. I was afraid maybe someone would catch me digging it up. Or maybe the owner would get mad when I confessed and have me put in jail.
“Of course I considered giving it to him through someone else like I’m doing now but I had a problem; I couldn’t trust anyone. I figured that if I could be a thief then maybe whoever I chose to return the money would also be dishonest and take it for themselves. Now, believe it or not… for ten years I have been going insane from regret. Until a week ago something told me the time had come.
I came back here in the middle of the night, dug up the money and waited till the morning in front of the hotel wondering what to do next. Then, when I saw you come out I decided that you are the one. Now, please help me clear my conscience. Help me erase my sin…. Please, I beg you. Ask Mr. Greenglass not to ask any questions and give him the money back for me.”
Avraham Mordechai stared in wide eyed disbelief. He had never been involved in such a thing and he was trying to digest it. Was the man lying? Should he do it? Maybe he would get into trouble himself! But something inside told him this man was genuinely repenting …. and he agreed.
The next morning he introduced himself to the hotel owner, asked if they could speak in private and when they were seated in his office said.
“Just tell me please, Mr. Greenglass, do you remember if ten years ago a large sum of money was stolen from you?”
At first he didn’t recall but then his eyes opened wide. He raised his head and almost whispered… “You don’t mean the ten thousand rubles?! Yes! About ten years ago about ten thousand rubles went missing… but ….”
Avraham Mordechai pulled the wad of bills from his pocket and put it on the table. “Here it is.” He said. “Someone gave it to me to give to you and requested that you ask no questions.”
“But who?” the owner caught himself. “No questions? Are you sure? All right, all right! I can’t believe this is happening!” He picked up the money, began to count it and when he was finished looked up and, still under the impression of this dreamlike experience, wiped his brow and said.
“But can I ask who are you? What are you doing here? I’ve seen you leave and enter and have heard that you just wander the streets. Why are you here?”
Suddenly Avraham Mordechai snapped back into his dismal reality and told him who he was and how the Rebbe, the Chozeh of Lublin, had sent him for a solution for his three daughters.
Mr. Greenglass understood. He immediately counted out one thousand rubles and handed it to him. “Here is enough money to marry off your daughters and buy them houses as well. And I would like to see your Rebbe and thank him personally for the miracle and for the chance to give this charity.”
When Avraham Mordechai returned to the Chozeh and told him what happened the Rebbe just replied. “I had to do it this way…the power of the repentance of that teacher didn’t allow me to sleep at nights!”
This answers our questions.
Our Torah portion contains terrible curses which, unfortunately, the Jews have received a thousand-fold through the years. But this is no contradiction to the fact that it also indicates the essence of the Jewish soul and is connected to the great Tzadik Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
Because the Jews only reveal their true essence when ‘squeezed’. That is why they are likened to olives: only through pressure i.e. misfortune and difficulties (and we certainly have had more then our share) can their ‘oil’; their true essence, be revealed.
Like in our story, only through Avraham Mordechai’s poverty, Mr. Greenglass’ loss and the teacher’s repentance was the greatness of the Rebbe (and G-d) and the true nature of everyone involved revealed.
So it is in our generation. As we said, the Jews have already received a more than enough curses to ‘squeeze’ us. Now we must squeeze ourselves to NEVER rest until we put an end the darkness and suffering in the world and follow the directions of today’s ‘Chozeh’ the Lubavitcher Rebbe do everything we can in thought, speech and action to bring Moshiach NOW!!