Parashas Bechukosai, Part 2

The Midrash comments as follows on the blessings and curses of this week’s parashah (Vayikra Rabbah 35:1):
It is written (Tehillim 119:59): “I pondered my ways, and made my feet turn back to Your testimonies.” Said David: “Master of the Universe! … I pondered the blessings and the curses. The blessings begin with an aleph [in the word im] and end with the letter tav [komemiyus]. But the curses begin with the letter vav [ve’im] and end with the letter hei [Mosheh]. Furthermore, the vav and the hei appear in reverse [the vav is at the beginning and the hei at the end, whereas in the alphabet hei precedes vav].
This Midrash is rather enigmatic, but the Maggid explains it brilliantly.
The Maggid says that the inverse order is meant to indicate the nature of these particular curses. They are not definitive curses of the type Hashem pronounces upon us in fierce anger, such as the curse (Devarim 11:17), “And He shall shut up the heavens, and there shall be no rain.” Rather, they are blessings that have been inverted into curses. It is the same with the passage of curses in Devarim ch. 28. There we find a series of curses such as the following:
a. You shall take out to the field a great quantity of seed, but you shall gather in little, for the locusts shall destroy it (Devarim 28:38).
b. You shall beget sons and daughters, but they shall not be yours, for they shall go into captivity (Devarim 28:41).
c. The foreigners among you shall rise above you higher and higher, while you descend lower and lower (Devarim 28:44).
These curses differ in a basic way from the curse of no rain. In the curse of no rain, the source of blessing is removed altogether. By contrast, in the foregoing three curses, the source of the original blessing remains, and is simply turned into a source of anguish. In other words, they are blessings that have been inverted into curses. This is a strong indication that Hashem is not definitively pronouncing curses upon us here. Rather, He is lovingly waiting for us to repent, so that He may turn the curses back into the blessings that they were before.
The Maggid brings out the point with the following charming parable. A very rich man had an only son, whom he always dressed in splendid clothes. Once this man ordered for his son a particularly expensive embroidered silk suit. Beneath the silk exterior, a linen lining was sewn in for support. Some time later the father found, to his displeasure, that the son treated this expensive suit carelessly and made no effort to keep it from getting dirty. The father therefore turned the suit inside out and put it on his son that way. The boy thus became a laughing-stock to all who saw him.
Someone approached the father and rebuked him: “You are quite able to buy your son fine clothes, aren’t you? Why then do you dress him in a linen peasant outfit?” This person thought that the suit really was just a simple linen suit, and that the father was merely being cheap. The father replied: “By your life, my dear man, this is the very same silk suit that my son was wearing before. I just turned it inside out temporarily so that he would learn not to mistreat it. I hope he will indeed learn the lesson, and take the initiative to turn it right side out again.”
The parallel is as follows. On many occasions when we stray, Hashem does not wish to pour out His wrath upon us, but simply to hint to us to straighten out our crooked ways. In these situations, He does not completely nullify the blessings He planned to give us and replace them with outright curses. Instead, He just turns the blessings inside out and converts them into curses. When we repent, He converts these curses back into blessings.
The Maggid employs similar reasoning to explain why Hashem chooses fools for world leaders. When the Jews misbehave, Hashem sends some nation to threaten them with affliction. But there is always the possibility that the Jews will mend their ways, in which case the decree of affliction will have to be reversed. In order to be able to bring about such reversals smoothly, Hashem deliberately gives power to people who are always changing their positions. The reversals then seem perfectly natural.
This is how the Maggid explains a Midrash about Achasheirosh. The Midrash reads as follows (Esther Rabbah Pesichasa 9):
When the beloved children’s deeds made their Father in Heaven angry, He set over them a fickle king to impose retribution upon them. Who was this? This was Achashveirosh.
The Midrash refers to the Jewish People as “beloved children,” says the Maggid, because Hashem indeed still loved them. He knew that they would repent. Hence He set over them a fickle king, who did not follow through consistently on his initial intentions. Achashveirosh was indeed an inconsistent ruler. As the Midrash puts it: “Once he killed his wife for his friend’s sake, and another time he killed his friend for his wife’s sake.” Thus, when the Jewish People repented, he could be easily dissuaded from harming them.
PS: We can combine the ideas in the preceding post and this one in the following way. When we totally disregard the mitzvos, Hashem punishes us by shutting off the conduits of blessing entirely. And when we perform the mitzvos in an improper fashion, He punishes us by pointing the conduits in the wrong direction. In the latter case, repentance can easily reverse the punishment: the conduits can easily be pointed back in the right direction. In the former case, a greater effort of repentance is required to bring the punishment to an end..
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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