Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
One Man's Curse - Another Man's Blessing
A large section of Parshas Ki Savo is occupied by the Tochacha - the
Admonition and warning issued by Moshe to the Children of Israel.
Their acceptance of the Torah and adherence to its mitzvos would
assure that the blessings of Heaven would constantly rain upon them.
Conversely, straying from the path of Torah would, G-d forbid,
ultimately result in destruction, exile, and myriad curses. Something
"light" to put one in the mood for the impending Days of Awe and
Indeed, even during times when the cycle of weekly Torah readings
did not regulate that we read Parshas Ki Savo before Rosh Hashana
(due to its place in the cycle), a takana (enactment) was in place that
dictated that the Tochacha be read communally before the new year
(See Megillah 31b). While the reason for this enactment would seem
to be in order to "scare" us into teshuva (repentance) before the Day
of Judgement, in fact the Gemara (ibid.) gives a different reason: In
order that the year, and its curses, cease - allowing the new year to
begin with new blessings and good fortune.
In what way does broadcasting the curses that will befall those who
stray from the Torah (and have indeed come about with chilling
accuracy over the course of Jewish history in exile...) ensure that the
curses themselves will come to a halt? By reading about the curses,
do we somehow absolve ourselves of responsibility for our misdeeds
Furthermore, sefarim write, as does the holy Zohar, that while to the
untrained eye the Tochacha consists of curses and affliction, these
harsh words of admonition are in truth a veil for untold beracha and
good fortune. Indeed, the commentators go to great lengths to
demonstrate how words which on the surface seem to imply suffering
and pain, in fact contain great and plentiful blessings and goodness.
If this is indeed the case, however, how can we reconcile the reading
of the hidden blessings with the concept of, "So that the year, and its
Rabbi Itzele Blaser zt"l, in his sefer Koch'vei Ohr, addresses the
concept of the "blessings hidden within the curses." He takes the
following approach: In the Admonition, we read (27:66):
Your life will hang in the balance; you will be frightened
night and day, and you will not be sure of your
There is no bigger curse, it seems, than not having some "money in
the bank" - and not knowing from where tomorrow's meal will come.
Let us compare this, however, with how the Torah describes the Mon
(Mannah) in parshas Eikev (Devarim 8:3):
He afflicted you, and let you hunger. Then He fed you the
manna, that you did not know, nor did your forefathers
know, in order to make you know that not by bread
alone does man live, but rather by that which emanates
from the mouth of Hashem does man live!
From here it appears that there is no greater blessing than the
knowledge that we have nothing, but that which Hashem gives us.
That we have no "money in the bank," and that one can never be
sure of his livelihood if not for the grace of the Almighty. Our lives
indeed "hang in the balance," and the purpose of the manna was to
teach us such.
This leaves us with the puzzling question: Is the fear and uncertainty
of realizing that life offers no guarantees, not even for tomorrow, a
blessing or a curse?
It is told that a hapless Jew once ascended upon High, having lived
a long and less-than-fruitful life. There, he was told the unfortunate
news that, because of his misdeeds, he would have to descend to
Gehinom as opposed to being admitted to Gan Eden. Or, if he
preferred, his soul could descend once again to the physical realm,
where he would be given another chance to get it right. Before
making his fateful decision, he asked for permission to see Gan Eden
and Gehinom, in order to fully understand his options.
The administering angel first took him to the gates of Gan Eden.
Inside, he saw a tremendous, sparkling beis medrash (study hall).
Holy neshamos sat and studied the Torah with great fervour and joy.
The din of their voices rose to a crescendo, and not once did anyone
stop for even a moment to take a break. "This," the angel told him,
"is the first chamber of Gan Eden. Now let me take you 'downstairs'."
There, at the gates of Gehinom, he was once again given a "taste" of
the World to Come. He was shown a great beis medrash, packed
with sefarim. Inside, souls sat and studied the Torah, not once
stopping to take a break from their studies. Confused, he turned to
the administering angel. "But I don't understand - they look exactly the
"Correct," the angel said. "For them, it is Gan Eden - and for them,
it is Gehinom."
The idea of blessings and curses contained in the same pasuk
(verse), says R' Itzele, is that one person's greatest curse is another
person's blessing. For one who has not cultivated his bitachon - his
faith that after all his effort and exertion, his parnassah (livelihood) is
ultimately in the hands of Hashem - not knowing what the future
holds in store is indeed a tremendous curse. He feels stress and
anxiety as he struggles to cope with what he sees as his own inability
to earn a decent living.
But for the man who has developed a sense of faith - and has come
to the realization that, try as he might, there is nothing he can do to
guarantee future success and prosperity - for him "not knowing" is a
blessing in disguise. It gives him the opportunity to test and express
his faith, thereby elevating his bitachon to a new level.
Perhaps, then, this is the idea of, "So that the year, and its curses,
may cease." Before Rosh Hashana, our Sages instructed us to read
the Admonition and its curses - which are in fact blessings in
disguise - in order that we realize that our lives are already stock full
of blessings and grace. And if we don't see it that way, perhaps we
need to adjust and calibrate our perspective, and not to keep looking
for something better. To rethink our priorities, and realize that what
on the outside appears as curses and affliction, may in fact be a
hidden opportunity for growth and prosperity.
While we wish and hope that the new year bring success, affluence,
and prosperity for all Jews - in its most simple sense - it is important
to realize that "blessing" and "curse" are not absolute. They are
relative terms, and depend very much on our perspective, and the
attitude with which we approach the scenarios and circumstances
that life dishes up.
Have a good Shabbos.
In memory of my grandfather, Chaim ben Yaakov
Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.