Every job has its own pressures and deadlines. The past few weeks have been extremely busy for me. Sometimes I wonder why I commit to so much. But then I remind myself what my rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Yehoshua Liff, told me: “When you commit to something for klal Yisrael, Hashem gives you extra help to accomplish your goal.” This is especially true if you are disseminating and teaching Torah. The Gemara says when Bnei Yisrael transported the Mishkan and its vessels, the Aron housing the Luchos was not carried. In fact, the Aron lifted and carried those who were bearing it on their shoulders! This was demonstrated when they crossed the Jordan river: the Aron carried them over the water.
It’s important to remember all this when we feel overwhelmed. Often during davening my mind is drawn to all my responsibilities. I initially tense up from the pressure but then remind myself that in order to successfully accomplish any of my goals, I need Hashem’s help. Once I realize it’s not totally in my hands—Hashem is in charge—I can “let go” and better focus on my davening. But it’s a struggle. We keep thinking we’re in charge, but we need to remind ourselves that we’re not.
There are 98 curses listed in Parshas Ki Savo for one who forsakes Hashem. On each of the seven days of Sukkos, klal Yisrael brings 14 lambs as a sacrifice to Hashem. A total of 98 lambs are offered. Rashi says these sacrifices neutralize the 98 curses.
The Avnei Nezer, on the other hand, explains that Sukkos is z’man simchaseinu—our time of happiness. That happiness cancels out the klalos (curses) since these klalos came about “…because you did not serve Hashem with simcha—rejoicing.” Korbanos (sacrifices) are referred to as avodah—serving Hashem. David Hamelech says, “Serve Hashem with simcha!” When we recognize we are truly serving Hashem, that in itself brings us happiness. Without the Beis Hamikdash, we cannot offer korbanos, but instead offer tefillah (prayer) to replace the korbanos. When we genuinely communicate with Hashem through tefillah, that brings us simcha.
How in fact does the simcha of offerings and prayers neutralize the curses?
Rav Moshe Wolfson points out the word samei’ach—happy—is similar to the word samach—to rely; the first letters are different, sin and samach, but have the same sound. If we are samach on Hashem—if we rely on Him—then we will be samei’ach.
The word azav—to forsake—is spelled the same as the word atzav—sad—except for the middle letter. Rav Hirsch says the letters zayin and tzadik are related and their root words are associated with each other. If one is azav—leaves Hashem—that creates atzav—sadness.
The lack of simcha in our service to Hashem is not the cause of the curses, but rather the indicator that we are not really connecting to Hashem; we might be preoccupied with our own thoughts. Learning Torah, tefillah and mitzvos are our true means of connecting to Hashem. In doing so, if we truly focus on the fact that we are serving and davening to Hashem, we will be so happy!
One of the halachic units of measure is a tefach—the width of a fist. This tefach can be described in two ways: atzuvos—a tightly closed fist—and shochakos—a loose fist, which is wider than the tightly clenched fist. Interestingly, shochakos literally means “smiling” and atzuvos literally means “sad.” Rabbi Pesach Skolnick explained the Gemara is teaching us a rule. When someone is sad, he is tightened up. But when someone is happy, he is relaxed and loose.
Parshas Ki Savo is always read before Rosh Hashanah, as it contains the klalos (curses), with the intent that these curses should not carry over to the next year. The curses/punishments listed are horrifying and, unfortunately, we have experienced some of them over the centuries.
The sefer Tzror Hamor says that every one of the 98 curses are the opposite of the blessings listed in the verses prior. This demonstrates that all the curses have the ability to be transformed back into a blessing. The Chovos Halevovos explains how physical happenings are not absolutely good or bad; things can always change. However, some things are absolute. Mitzvos are intrinsically good and aveiros (sins) are the opposite.
The last half of this year has been difficult in many ways. Let us realign ourselves with what will bring us happiness. Let’s remember that Hashem is the source of blessing, and daven that Hashem should end the challenges of this year and transform them with the start of a new year filled with abundant joy and a bounty of blessing.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Fair Lawn, Livingston and West Orange. He initiated and leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. He has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis medrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Fort Lee and a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its full offering of torah classes visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.