In Parshat Yitro we learn that it is forbidden to build an altar out of hewn stone, or for metal to come into contact with the stone. The great commentator, Rashi, explains that, because the altar brings peace between the Jewish people and G-d, it is inappropriate to use metal, which is used to shorten man’s life (i.e. in the form of a sword, etc.) Rashi goes on to say that if the Torah protects an inanimate object from contact with metal, due to the altar’s promotion of peace, all the more so, people who promote peace will be protected from harm. (See Rashi on Shemot 2:22)
After fourteen years as gabbai of the shul, Shlomo thought he had seen it all. Extricating membership dues, mediating disputes regarding whether or not to open the window, and, of course, fielding complaints from people who thought they should have gotten aliyahs, were all par for the course. Which is why the events of Shabbat, Parashat Bechukotai, caught him by surprise.
"Ya’amod Menachem ben Yehuda, shlishi" Shlomo called out, using the traditional formula to call Menachem to recite the blessings over the reading of the third aliya.
In response, Menachem got up from his seat and… began yelling at Shlomo! "You lowlife!" Menachem bellowed. "You want to curse me! What did I ever do to you?"
When Menachem stopped yelling long enough for Shlomo to recover from his shock, Shlomo pondered what infraction he could possibly have committed. And then it came to him. Of course! Parshat Bechukotai! The Torah reading contains the Tochacha, which relates dire warnings regarding the curses that will befall the Jewish people if they don’t follow the Torah. Therefore, the accepted practice is to have the person who is reading the Torah get that aliya, rather than selecting a member of the congregation.
Menachem continued his harangue, as he made his way toward the bima. The congregants sat in stunned silence, watching the drama play out. Suddenly, another voice was heard.
"Menachem, it’s OK!" It was David, a good natured fellow, who sat slightly behind the bima. "Menachem, I’ll take whatever curses are meant to befall you, as a result of your getting this aliya!"
Menachem froze in his tracks, and looked at David, stunned. "You, you mean it?" Menachem’s decibel level dropped to the point of almost sounding civil. "So I won’t have any curses from getting the aliya?"
"I mean it. Really," David assured Menachem.
Menachem proceeded with the aliya, and the congregants resumed breathing.
As David walked home, after davening finished, he mulled over the morning’s events. "Did I do a smart thing?" he wondered. "Will I be cursed because of what I said? After all, a person’s words really do have an impact."
David decided to consult with the renowned halachic authority, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt"l, responded by saying "you did a good thing." (adapted from Darchei Moshe).
We asked Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, shlita for further clarification. He explained as follows:
It is true that there are congregations who are concerned that those who are called for the aliya of the Tochacha might have not good things befall them. Therefore, it is accepted practice that the Torah reader is given the aliya, rather than calling up another congregant. This is the practice that we follow. (See Mishna Berura, siman 428, se’if katan 17) However, one should not be overly concerned about this matter. Therefore David acted well, in assuring Menachem that the curses would befall David, rather than Menachem, in order to prevent further conflict. (Incidentally, I read the Torah for the congregation regularly, and therefore I have had this aliya many time, and I’m alive and well until today...)
In addition, because David accepted the curses upon himself in order to bring peace, no curses will befall him.
In summary: David did a good thing, and no curses will befall him.