Topic: Personal Transformation | Posted:September 2, 2015
At one point in the portion Ki Tavo, the Creator tells the Israelites, through Moses, that when they come to the Land of Israel they should separate the groups into two; one will stand on one mountain, one on the other, and there will be a list of curses and blessings, with the curses being read out. Curses don’t actually mean that God’s going to curse somebody; rather, it’s that these actions bring a certain amount of darkness and negativity to a person’s life.
The list being read out seems to be relatively arbitrary. It says, “Cursed is the person who sleeps with his father’s wife, cursed is the one who sleeps with his daughter and with his sister.” And then the last curse is very interesting; it says - arur asher lo yakim et divrei hatorah hazot – “Cursed is the one who does not lift up the words of the Torah.” What does that mean?
There is a lot of commentary, and many of the kabbalists give explanations about it. But the famous Spanish kabbalist the Ramban, Nachmanides, gives an interesting one. He says in the Talmud, in Yerushalmi, that it gives different reasons, and he quotes them. It says in the Talmud that on Shabbat before reading the Torah, we lift it up and turn it around and show it to everyone because it’s important for all the men and the women to see the words written in it. And then we need to say the verse, “This is the Torah that Moses brought down;” that’s the custom we follow. As such, the Ramban tells us that the last curse in the list of curses is referring to a person who decides not to lift up the Torah when we do what is called hagbah.
According to the Ramban, the last curse about the person who does not lift up the Torah is referring to somebody who decides to abolish, or not follow, this one custom. This person doesn’t want to show the writing to everybody. If you think about it logically, it doesn’t make that much sense.
The list is a pretty heavy list with very clear negative actions - a person sleeps with his sister, a person sleeps with his father’s wife, a person beats other people up, a person takes money and therefore judges improperly… It’s a very clear and tough list. But to put the person who does not lift up the Torah and do hagbah on that same list seems to be silly. How can you compare somebody who doesn’t do that action to somebody who takes bribes or sleeps with his father’s wife?
But that’s what the Ramban says is the explanation of the last verse. So the first thing we have to understand - and this is something the Ari explains – is that it really falls under the fact that we don’t truly appreciate the power of our spiritual actions. And we certainly don’t have enough of an appreciation for what would seem to be the simple, or least important, of our spiritual actions.
The Ari explains that when the Torah is raised and shown to everybody in the community there is Light that is shining forth from it, and that when you look at the Torah you actually connect to that Light. Therefore, it’s not just a custom; all the Light that is going to be revealed in that reading shines out when the Torah is raised, and whoever looks at it merits to receive from that Light. Clearly, the amount of Light that is being revealed at that time is unbelievable, and must be tremendously powerful if not lifting up the Torah is being put in the same list of negative actions as somebody who takes bribes and judges improperly, somebody who beats other people up, or somebody whosleeps with his father’s wife and other such terrible actions.
Why is this so surprising to us? Because we don’t have an appreciation for the power of these actions. If any one of us was able to see the amount of Light pouring out of the Torah when the Torah is lifted up on Shabbat, we would understand why if somebody steals that Light from everybody in the room it would make sense that it should be on the list with all the other terrible actions. But we don’t see that, because we don’t appreciate the power of those actions.
A lot of people understand and appreciate the power of the Zohar. But before the Rav came along and spoke about the power of scanning, which is the power of simply looking at the words of the Zohar, nobody really thought about it. And even when the Rav spoke about it there were many people who said that it was ridiculous; reading the Zohar, and studying the Zohar… yes. But to scan the Zohar? The reason why people throughout history didn’t understand this is because they were not aware of the power of these actions; therefore, the first thing we want to awaken on this Shabbat is to grow our appreciation for the smallest of actions.
Again, in Moses’ giving a list of terrible actions, including that of a person who steals the Light that other people can receive from the lifting up of the Torah, we have to understand that the stealing of that Light, that lack of lifting the Torah, is in the same category as beating people up, taking bribes, judging improperly, and sleeping with one’s sister. And why is that list strange to us? Because we have no true appreciation for the amount of Light that is revealed in the smallest of actions, and if we had a true appreciation of the amount of Light that is revealed when we simply lift up the Torah and look at the words of the Torah, it would make sense.
What we want to awaken on this Shabbat is the understanding that those actions reveal great Light. And the greater our consciousness is about it, the more Light our actions reveal. On Shabbat when the Torah is lifted up, the Light that is available to us is something we can’t fathom. It’s something that is beyond our comprehension. And so now it makes sense that the stealing of somebody’s Light by not lifting up the Torah is in the list of terrible things… because it is terrible. That’s the first understanding from this explanation of the Ramban.
The second is to have an appreciation for what happens when we have the opportunity to share with another person and we don’t. The person we are talking about here is the one who can lift up the Torah and allow other people to see it. If he doesn’t do it, now we know he is stealing potential Light. He’s not actively harming another person, but often when we have the opportunity to share with another person and don’t, we think it’s ok because we say, “So I didn’t do that action, no big deal. I didn’t hurt anybody. It was just an action of sharing that I chose not to do.” But we don’t actually have that right. If there’s a potential, if there is an opening for us to share and we don’t, then we bring darkness upon ourselves; it is not simply if we harm another person that we bring darkness into their lives. If you have an opportunity to share, reveal Light, assist others in seeing Light, and you don’t, then you also bring darkness into your life.
Those are the two understandings we want to take from the Ramban’s explanation about that verse from the portion Ki Tavo. On this Shabbat, and always, we really want to awaken appreciation for all the small actions that we do, or have the opportunity to do; because we understand they are really not so small after all.