02 September 2010

"Taking Comfort in Frightening Words"

The Torah Reader intones the section of "Admonition" in this week's Parsha in a whisper, quickly hurrying through the terrifying prophecies. This is heavy medicine. Here we are, enjoying a beautiful Shabbos. The night before, we welcomed the angels into our light-filled homes. And now, only a few hours later, we are all trembling.

"Accursed shall you be in the city and accursed shall you be in the field. Accursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the offspring of your cattle and the herds of your flocks...." (Deuteronomy 28:16-17)


Not only are the words terrifying, but we now know, having lived through millennia since they were uttered, that they have come true! Al-mighty G-d, how can we survive? How can we endure the punishment we have brought upon ourselves? It is beyond our ability to bear! I feel like an insect when the light is turned on. I want to scuttle into a crack in the floorboard and disappear from the face of the earth. Hide me from these terrible words! But I cannot run. I cannot escape! G-d sees me and His words will be carried out. The all-seeing light of His judgment will pursue me into the darkest corner, even under the floorboards, even to the grave.

But wait! Are these words all darkness? Perhaps they carry a message of hope.

"Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and may the earth hear the words of my mouth. May my teaching drip like the rain. May my utterance flow like the dew, like storm winds upon vegetation and like raindrops upon grass.... The Rock, perfect is His work, for His ways are justice, a G-d, faithful without iniquity...." (Deuteronomy 32:1 ff)


Even the words of admonition are like "raindrops upon the grass" and "storm winds upon vegetation." Rashi comforts us: "Just as these winds strengthen the grass[es] and make them grow, so, too, words of Torah strengthen those who learn them and make them grow."

I mentioned, when we read the Admonition in Parshas Bechukosai, the following, incredibly comforting thought: "Yet, wonder of wonders, even this - the very fulfillment of these dire predictions - is cause for the most amazing hope! Can you imagine if we had gone through the millennia without these admonitions from the Torah? Then all these things would have come upon us without warning and without explanation. In His infinite goodness, Hashem explained to us in advance what the consequences would be if we deviated - G-d forbid! - from His commandments.

"THE VERY FULFILLMENT OF THESE FRIGHTENING PROPHESIES IS PROOF OF HIS MERCY!

"In this way, we have survived the centuries and all that has come upon us. Thus, we are able to understand how G-d can say to us, at the end of Parshas Bechukosai, "but despite all this, while they will be in the land of their enemies, I will not have been revolted by them, nor will I have rejected them to obliterate them, to annul My covenant with them, for I am ... their G-d. I will remember for them the covenant of the ancients, those whom I have taken out of the land of Egypt before the eyes of the nation, to be G-d unto them - I am Hashem." (Vayikra 26:44ff)

So even the Admonition constitutes a message of hope! Our Father in Heaven foresaw our future deviation from His Torah, so, instead of abandoning us - G-d forbid! - He prepared us for it by warning us of exactly what would happen, terrible as it may be! In that way, He confirmed His total control over all past, present and future events and His total knowledge of all things that were, are and will be! Through the Admonition He gave us the ability to feel His Presence at all times, and this is the only way we could have passed through the Valley of Death which it has been our lot to traverse! How is it possible to "fear no evil" as we walk through this world of terror? Only because "You are with me." We can say that the words of the Admonition are like the "rod... which comforts me." (Psalm 23)
Italic
Please note the remarkable ending of the Admonition in this week's Parsha: "Hashem will return you to Egypt .... And there you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as slaves and slave-women - and there will be no buyer...." (Deuteronomy 28:68)

The Admonition suddenly stops! That's it!

Is that an ending? Is that consolation? Compare please the final sentence of the Admonition in Parshas Bechukosai: "I will remember for them the Covenant of the forebears, those whom I have taken out of the land of Egypt before the eyes of the nations, to be G-d unto them, I am Hashem." (Leviticus 26:45) Words of comfort and consolation, a promise that G-d will redeem us!

But in this week's Parsha? "There you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies...." Is tItalichis comfort and consolation? The Admonition comes to a grinding halt in the very middle of what seems like a terrible curse! The next words are, "These are the words of the covenant ...." It sounds like the most horrible hint of an eternal curse, G-d forbid!

My friends, I believe it is exactly the opposite! I believe that the Torah is telling us how the Final Redemption will come, "k'heref ayin ... in the blink of an eye"!
In the midst of our agony, when it seems that we are plunged into unending torture, even having returned to Egypt, the scene of our ancient prototype slavery, at that very moment, when we are about to plunge from the forty-ninth to the .... suddenly, without warning, when all seems deepest darkness and despair, the Great Shofar will sound and G-d will rescue His beloved children, carrying us on wings of eagles to the land of eternal healing.

"Speak consolingly of Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her period [of exile] has been completed, that her iniquity has been forgiven, for she has received double for all her sins, from the hand of Hashem." (Isaiah 40:2, Haftaras Vaeschanan)

May we see it soon in our days!

Roy S. Neuberger