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S.A.L.T. - Sunday

 

          Parashat Bechukotai presents the "berakhot" and "kelalot," the descriptions of the blessings and curses that Benei Yisrael will experience for their observance or neglect of the Torah (respectively).  An enigmatic passage in the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 35:1) notes the letters with which each of these sections begins.  The berakhot section begins with the first letter of the alphabet, "alef" ("Im be-chukotai teileikhu"), and ends with the final letter, "tav" ("va-oleikh etkhem komemiyut" – 26:13).  The curses, by contrast, begin with the sixth letter, "vav" ("Ve-im lo tishme'u li" – 26:14), and conclude with the immediately preceding letter, "hei" ("be-yad Moshe" – 26:46).  "Not only that," the Midrash continues, "but they are in reverse order."  Meaning, not only do the curses begin in the middle of the alphabet, rather than at the beginning, but they move backwards, so-to-speak, from "vav" to "hei."  What is this Midrash coming to tell us?

         Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin explains that this Midrash expresses the fundamental nature of berakhot and kelalot, of times of success on the one hand, and of crisis on the other.  In good times, events follow a logical sequence and arrangement, they unfold in a more or less predictable and sensible fashion. "Alef" is followed by " bet," which itself is followed by "gimmel," etc. Crisis, by contrast, is characterized by irrationality.  Disaster is often accompanied by incomprehensible cruelty, entirely insensible conduct of those involved, and the unpredictability of events.  A period of kelalot is a period that cannot be easily understood or foreseen, when we hesitate before opening the newspaper in fear of what we might read.

         The Midrash continues, "If you are worthy, I will turn the curses into blessings for you. When?  When you observe My Torah."  Rav Zevin explains that the backward progression from "vav" to "hei" can, potentially, also reflect a logical progression: we can continue proceeding backward until we come around again back to the letter "vav."  Meaning, times of trouble have the potential to turn into times of triumph, regression can often help precipitate progress.  If, after suffering defeat, we are meritorious, then God can and will easily make order out of chaos, stability out of turmoil.  The Midrash thus emphasizes to us as we prepare to read Parashat Bechukotai that even the curses can turn into blessings, and out of the most chaotic realities can emerge a period of blessing.

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