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Judaism: Consolation within Rebuke

Published: Thursday, August 22, 2013 7:51 AM


The beginning of the Torah Portion of Ki Tavo begins with the Hebrew word VeHaya:

And it will be,( Ve Haya) when you come into the land which Hashem, your God, gives you for an inheritance, and you possess it and settle in it,( Deuteronomy 26:1) .

We are told by the Midrash Rabba that “ VeHaya” is a code word for joyful expectation. ”Rabbi Shmuel Bar Nachman came and declared, ‘In any place where it says “And it was (VaYehi ) “ it signals distress; and when it says “And it shall be (VeHaya) ” it signals rejoicing.’”

Yet this Torah portion also includes the rebuke ( tochecha) of the people of Israel. Where, then is the source for rejoicing?

The “rebuke” in the book of Deuteronomy is in essence a restatement of a theme that appears earlier in the Torah portion of BeChukotai (Leviticus 26:3-43). They are similar, but differ in critical and meaningful ways.

Most importantly, the Tochecha in the Torah portion of Bechukotai (Leviticus 26:3-43) ends on a positive note. G-d promises us that He will remember us.

"... then will I remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.   ...But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am Hashem.  "(Leviticus 26:42-45).

Yet in our Torah portion we read throughout chapter 28 of Deuteronomy the recurring theme that "Hashem will smite you" and "Hashem will scatter you" and we hear no words of encouragement.

The Zohar HaKodosh asks this question and Rav Shimeon Bar Yochai provides an answer. The Tochecha in Leviticus needs a consolation, he explains, but the Tochecha of this week's portion needs no consolation, because the consolation is included in the words of the rebuke.

The Tochecha in thebook of Leviticus ( Lev.26:3-43)  ) contains the terrible declaration;

"And if you will walk with me out of happenstance (keri) so too I will walk with you in a wrath of happenstance (keri)" (ibid 26: 27-28).

Hashem  declares that if you treat Hashem's Presence in history as being simply random and happenstance then Hashem will reinforce that feeling and belief. G-d will be seen as missing!

In our Torah portion we repeatedly hear the declaration  "Hashem will smite you..." (Devorim 28:27).Therein lies the consolation?

The Talmud describes the following very famous encounter:

Again it happened that Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, Rabbi Joshua and Rabbi Akiva went up to Jerusalem. When they reached Mt. Scopus, they tore their garments. When they reached the Temple Mount, they saw a fox emerging from the place of the Holy of Holies. The others started weeping; Rabbi Akiva laughed.

Said they to him: “Why are you laughing?”

Said he to them: “Why are you weeping?”

Said they to him: “A place [so holy] that it is said of it, ‘the stranger that approaches it shall die,’(Numbers 1:51) and now foxes traverse it, and we shouldn’t weep?”

Said he to them: “That is why I laugh. For it is written, ‘I shall have to bear witness for Me faithful witnesses-Uriah the Priest and Zechariah the son of Yeberechiah.’(Isaiah 8:2) Now what is the connection between Uriah and Zechariah? Uriah was in the First Temple, and Zechariah was in the Second Temple! But the Torahh makes Zachariah’s prophecy dependent upon Uriah’s prophecy. With Uriah, it is written: ‘Therefore, because of you, Zion shall be plowed as a field; ‘(Isaiah 8:2) With Zachariah it is written, ‘Old men and women shall yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem and children will play in the streets of Jerusalem.’(Zachariah 8:4) “

As long as Uriah’s prophecy had not been fulfilled, I feared that Zechariah’s prophecy may not be fulfilled either. But now that Uriah’s prophecy has been fulfilled, it is certain that Zechariah’s  prophecy will be fulfilled.”

With these words they replied to him: “Akiva, you have consoled us! Akiva, you have consoled us!” ( Makkot 24:a-b)”

What was Rabbi Akiva surprised about? Why did his words comfort these sages? It could not be that he or they doubted the prophecies of redemption. We are talking about the great and faithful sages of Jewish history, so what is it that Rabbi Akiva saw that made him laugh with joy?

Simply put, it was clear to him that the destruction of the Temple was not a random act of violence. It was clear to him and the sages that they were watching G-d’s hand in history.

Essentially, Rabbi Akiva saw a world undergoing punishment and loss of direction and realized that this too pointed to the heavens.

One of my sons was leading a group of young people through Poland visiting the Nazi death camps. While there, he taught the following insight from the verse in Psalms: “Yea, though I walk  through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with  me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). Clearly, the staff would be comforting but what comfort would a rod of punishment give.

G-d is revealed when we experience the staff of comfort, but Rabbi Akiva understood that we also experience G-d’s Presence when He allows the rod of punishment to appear.

The continued existence of the Jewish people through history is a clear declaration and affirmation of G-d's existence. Yet the illogical and supernatural fear and hatred of the Jewish people by others lies beyond logic and understanding. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with  me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

We are comforted in the clear knowledge that Hashem's plan of destiny is still on the move. It will reach its culmination regardless of the antics of the European Union, the devious plans of Kerry and his friends and the machinations of our enemies around us. Those who come against Israel will gather to stop destiny from materializing but will be left floundering in disarray combatting amongst themselves.

This will be worth remembering both in our corporate national lives and in our individual lives as we enter into the new Jewish year of 5734