This week's parsha
There are beautiful and harmonious aspects of life and of history. There are also some very uncomfortable, painful or even horrific episodes or periods of time. On a personal level, too, we tend to start out with rosy ideals or images of how good everything is going to be. Then, at some point, for many of us, we are challenged by situations which seem almost unbearable.
A similar pattern is seen in this week's Torah reading. First we have a beautiful depiction of happiness and harmony. We are told that through keeping Divine law there will be wholesome blessings, resulting in material plenty, peace, security and a tangible sense of holiness.
Then follows a long section which describes the opposite scenario. The text depicts desolation and famine reaching unspeakable extremes. The reader in the synagogue chants this ostensibly gloomy section in a low voice. No one would feel honored to be called up to the Torah for this passage, so the reader himself says the blessing without being "called up" by name in the usual honorific way.
How do we face this kind of dark patch, whether in the Torah, or, G‑d forbid, in life?
One approach is, so to speak, to justify the negativity. The Torah itself says the famine and horror come as a result of disobedience to G‑d. So a person can blame the Jewish people for their past errors which led to exile; one can blame oneself or others for the mistakes which led to their own current sad situation.
Yet the Lubavitcher Rebbe presents another alternative, another interpretation of the text -- a hidden inner reality revealed through Chassidic teachings. The words which on the surface sound negative can be interpreted to mean something positive. The Rebbe explains, for example, that "ten women will bake their bread in one oven," signifying a lack of food, can be understood to mean that the ten aspects of a person's soul, represented by "ten women," are unified together in personal spiritual fulfilment. The goodness of the blessing cannot be expressed in ordinary ways, and has to be cloaked in a veil which hides it completely.
A similar incident is reported in the Talmud. Two rabbis wanted to give a wonderful blessing to the son of a colleague, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar. Yet what they said sounded like the opposite of a blessing, and the son was shocked. His father was able to see through the disguise, and explained to his son that really these words expressed great blessings. The concealment of something positive in that which looks the opposite seems to be a paradoxical aspect of Torah and of all existence.
As real people, facing the ups and down of life, we often encounter the challenge to try to perceive the positive inner reality, or at least, to recognize that there are positive inner dimensions, even if we cannot actually see them and cannot imagine what they might be. The inspiration of the Zohar, the Book of Radiance, expressed in Chassidic teachings, can help us make that step. Let us try to look beyond appearances, without blaming ourselves or others. Beyond the cloak of concealment there is infinite light.