On this Shabbos, as on Shabbos Parshas Ki Savo, we read the tocheichah, a series of curses that G‑d will visit upon the Jewish people if they repeatedly disobey Him.

R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi himself served as the Torah reader. Once he was not at home for Shabbos Parshas [Ki] Savo,and his son, R. Dovber, at that time a youth before bar mitzvah, heard the Torah reading from another person. He experienced such sorrow upon hearing the curses in the tocheichah that on Yom Kippur, the R. Shneur Zalman was unsure whether his son would be able to fast.

When they asked R. Dovber to explain the severity of his response, for after all, this same passage is read every year, he replied: “When my father reads it, they do not sound like curses.”

This concept applies with regard to all adversity. When a person realizes that it comes from his Father, from G‑d, he appreciates it in a different manner.

Parshas Bechukosai

This week’s Torah reading contains the Tocheichah, the series of 49 curses that G‑d will visit upon the Jewish people for their lack of observance. This is a very difficult concept for us to accept today. We operate under the conception that if He is G‑d, lofty and uplifted as He is, then:

a) He does not have to be bothered by what we do; even if we sin He can bear the evil that we perform;

b) even if this evil bothers Him, He does not have to show it; what good will punishing us do? How will that benefit Him or undo the wrong that we did?

This approach runs contrary to Judaism’s basic tenets. Maimonides lists as the eleventh of his Thirteen Principles of Faith the belief that “G‑d grants a generous reward to those who observe the mitzvos of the Torah and punishes those who transgress its prohibitions.”

This principle is deep-rooted in a fundamental realization. Every act has its consequences. Indeed, one of the qualities which distinguishes an adult is his willingness to take responsibility for his deeds, and even more so, to see the consequences at the outset and act in a manner that prevents negative consequences from arising.

This, however, conjures up images of a vengeful G‑d, carefully scrutinizing man’s actions and waiting for the moment when man has sinned enough to deserve retribution.

How far from the truth! The world is created as an expression of G‑d’s kindness. People who speak of an angry and wrathful G‑d are expressing anger they have inside.

It’s true that not everything that happens to us is overt and revealed good. There are times when we would rather that other things happen and do not understand why G‑d has done what He does, but we must appreciate that this is His doing. With careful providence, He is guiding everything that happens in this world from the turning of a leaf in the wind to the relations between nations. Surely, this applies with regard to the particular events that happen in our lives.

But we don’t understand: How can a G‑d who is good and kind do things which to us are so clearly the opposite of goodness and kindness?

There are some who, because of this question, say that G‑d is not doing it. He has left the world to nature. He does not, they maintain, interfere with the existential reality that governs our existence.

Well, if He does not govern our existence, how is He our G‑d?

Instead of resolving the issue by taking Him out of the picture, we have to learn to trust Him, to feel confident that even if we do not understand everything He does, He is doing good. We offer such trust to a doctor when we take medicine and even undergo surgery, although we do not understand exactly why we should and how this will help us. Similarly, we should trust our Creator and appreciate that even what does not overtly appear as good is really for our benefit.

Looking to the Horizon

The above explanation, however, is a temporary one. Since G‑d is the Creator and the Master of the world, it follows that ultimately, the good that He desires for mankind will materialize in a revealed way. For this reason, the twelfth of Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Faith is the belief in the coming of Mashiach. Then we will appreciate an ideal world, an environment of material prosperity and well-being amid spiritual fulfillment.

The coming of Mashiach is dependent on our deeds during the era of exile. When we refine our conduct, and in that way bring about refinement in the world at large, we will bring about this era of endless good. At that time, there will be no need to explain why G‑d did this or that. On the contrary, we will be appreciative that G‑d gave us the opportunity to bring about the Redemption through our deeds. We will understand the purpose of any suffering that we experienced in the light of the great good that we — and the entire world — will appreciate. Moreover, our satisfaction will be increased by the fact that we were able to earn that good through our actions.