Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Ki Tavo
To dedicate this lesson

Curses – or blessings?


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Elul 18 5782
This week's Parsha is all about Brachot (blessings) & Klalot (curses). The vast majority of the Sedra – 54 p’sukim - dwells on the curses that can happen to us if we do not follow the ways of Hashem, while only 14 verses discuss the brachot! Moreover, even when the brachot are mentioned, it is in very brief, fleeting language; yet the klalot are dealt with in detailed & dramatic fashion. Why is such an emphasis being placed on the negative?

The commentator Kli Yakar takes notices of this & famously comments, "Every blessing can be a curse, while every curse can become a blessing." A person, for example, can have tremendous wealth, but may use that wealth to buy drugs, bribe people or become lazy. How often do we hear of people receiving large sums of money via inheritance or the lottery, only to have this "blessing" ruin their lives, making them spoiled, arrogant or non-productive citizens? Or take someone who gets a high-powered executive job, only to become a prisoner of his position, neglecting his family & working himself to death?

Conversely, that which on the surface seems negative can always be turned into something positive, to be used for the good of oneself & others. Poverty can teach resourcefulness & humility; the loss of a job can motivate us to learn a new skill or trade; suffering can instill in us a deep sense of empathy & compassion for others.

Let me relate a true story to you. I asked one of my best friends, Jack, "what was the worst day in your life?" He said, "the day that I had to close my restaurant."

"And what was the best day in your life?" I then asked. "The very same day!" he said immediately, with a broad smile.

Jack, you see, had a very successful & popular fish restaurant. He was on top of the world. But then one day, a couple came in & ordered Mahi Mahi fish. It had an imperceptible virus, one that could not be detected in advance. The couple became seriously ill, & was rushed to the hospital. The restaurant was ordered shut down by the health authority.

By the next morning, the story was a front-page headline, & Jack knew he could not re-open his place again. He spent the day in depression, but after a sleepless night, he decided to open a new style of restaurant. It caught on; he would then go on to open several more branches until his company was eventually bought out for many millions of dollars. The curse turned out to be a very great blessing.

The fact that there are so many klalot in this sedra, says the Kli Yakar, actually means that there is a tremendous potential for those curses to transform into good & for bracha - if only we have faith & fortitude in G-d, & in ourselves, & know how to tap into it.
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