OUT OF THE DEPTHS
Volume 3 Issue 35
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
This portion contains the tochacha, the stern admonitions and treacherous
warnings of what will happen to the Jewish people lest they not observe the
Torah. Of course, the prescient predictions of misfortune are preceded with
a bounty of blessing if we keep the Torah.
Unfortunately, however, the good comes with the bad, and the unfavorable
penalties are not omitted. They are hauntingly clear and undiluted.
The Torah details calamity with Divine accuracy. It predicts enemies with
foreign tongues will come from foreign lands to capture us. The Torah
forewarns that these conquerors will not act like most, to leave the
subjugated in their own land. They will, says the Torah, disperse the Jews
throughout the entire world. Frightfully, the parsha foreshadows the
horrors of the inquisition and Holocaust with descriptions of barbarism,
Jews betraying Jews, and mass starvation. The predictions are amazing in
their accuracy; and more depressing, we were the victims.
It's a very difficult parsha, but the Torah must apprise us about the pain
and suffering we will eventually endure.
This essay is in no way attempting to answer why those bad things happened
to good people. But two thousand years before the events, the Torah
predicts events that are unprecedented in the annals of conquerors and the
vanquished. And it happened. Yet the Torah doesn't end it's tochacha only
with notes of despair. The strong admonitions close with a promise that,
though we will be spread throughout the world we will always yearn for our
homeland, feel connected to it, and that an enduring spirit and love for
Judaism and our Father in Heaven will never cease.
Three thousand years and countless massacres, crusades, inquisitions later
it still works. Pretty powerful.
That would have been a great way to end off quite a depressing portion. It
would have even been a wonderful way to end the Sefer VaYikra. But the
Torah ends the portion with quite an anticlimactic group of laws.
Immediately after the tochacha, it discusses the laws of erechin. A person
has the right to donate his own value or the value of any of his possessions
to the Temple. He can declare his home, his animals, even himself as
subject to evaluation. Moreover, the Torah assesses a value to any living
soul. And that value, whether 30 silver shekels or 50 shekels, is to be
donated to the Temple. What connection is the last part of the parsha to
the stern and ominous portion that preceeds it?
After the Nazis invaded the small village of Klausenberg, they began to
celebrate in their usual sadistic fashion. They gathered the Jews into a
circle in the center of town, and then paraded their Rebbe, Rabbi Yekusial
Yehuda Halberstam, into the center. They began taunting and teasing him,
pulling his beard and pushing him around. The vile soldiers trained their
guns on him as the commander began to speak. "Tell us Rabbi," sneered the
officer, "do you really believe that you are the Chosen People?"
The soldiers guarding the crowd howled in laughter. But the Rebbe did not.
In a serene voice, he answered loud and clear, "Most certainly."
The officer became enraged. He lifted his rifle above his head and sent it
crashing on the head of the Rebbe. The Rebbe fell to the ground. There was
rage in the officer's voice. "Do you still think you are the Chosen
People?" he yelled.
Once again, the Rebbe nodded his head and said, "yes, we are." The officer
became infuriated. He kicked the rebbe in the shin and repeated. "You
stupid Jew, you lie here on the ground, beaten and humiliated. What makes
you think that you are the Chosen People?"
From the depths of humiliation clouded in dust, the Rebbe replied. "As long
as we are not the ones kicking and beating innocent people, we can call
The Kotzker Rebbe explains that the Torah follows the portion of tochacha,
the story of Jews kicked and beaten from their homeland, with an even more
powerful message. No matter what happens, we have great value as
individuals, and as a nation, now and for eternity. Hashem understands that
even in the depths of the Diaspora each and every one of us is a great
commodity. Lying on the ground, beaten and degraded, a Jewish man, woman,
or child can declare his value to the Temple, for no matter how low any
nation considers him, G-d values his great worth. And he is considered
cherished for eternity. Until the great day when all the nations of the
world will also realize the precious value of the tiny nation that dwells
amongst them. Good Shabbos