By Rav Aryeh Z. Ginzberg
Chofetz Chaim Torah Center
An adam gadol once commented that most people perceive that everything in this world is divided into two conflicting realities: b’rachah or k’lalah (blessings or curses). Chazal, however, teach us differently. Often b’rachah and k’lalah dovetail into one entity.
The greatest b’rachah of all in this world is the b’rachah of geshem (rain), for without it, the world would cease to exist. Yet it most often comes with challenges. We spend a great deal of money to tar and insulate our roofs and waterproof our homes, and we use umbrellas to protect ourselves from the rain. Why does it have to be this way? The adam gadol explained that this is the derech ha’olam, the way of the world.
Every b’rachah comes with challenges and even difficulties. Parnassah is a much-desired b’rachah, but it comes with “b’zei’as apecha,” tremendous toil and exertion. One of the greatest b’rachos in this world is childbirth, yet it comes with “tza’ar leidah,” pains of childbirth. This is the way HaKadosh Baruch Hu designed and created the world.
Similarly, often we find that the k’lalah is in reality the very b’rachah itself. In Parashas Sh’mos, as Klal Yisrael begins the painful period of suffering as slaves in Mitzrayim, the Torah describes their status as “ka’asher yanucha, kein yifrotz,” which means, simply, that despite the oppression of slavery they still multiplied.
However, the Ramban in Sefer Bamidbar interprets this pasuk differently. The Ramban answers the question that is asked by many mefarshim as to why Shevet Levi was significantly smaller than all the other shevatim, especially in light of the fact that they were not enslaved like the others. He explains that it is precisely because they were not enslaved that they didn’t multiply like the others. And so the meaning of the pasuk is “ka’asher yanucha”—because they were enslaved, they multiplied, and Shevet Levi, which didn’t have the k’lalah of “ka’asher yanucha,” didn’t have the b’rachah of “kein yifrotz” that came with it. In the very k’lalah itself, the berachah is found.
With this in mind, Rav Yosef Salant, zt’l, in Sefer Be’er Yosef (Parashas Sh’mos) shares the following penetrating insight. (I am indebted to Rav Osher Liberman from Lakewood for enlightening me to this sefer and to my beloved nephew Tzvi Rudinsky for sharing his sefer with me.) He explains that in light of the aforementioned p’shat in the pasuk in Sh’mos, we can now understand a famous Chazal in Maseches Megillah (15a) a little differently.
The Gemara tells us that the wise advisers of Haman described Klal Yisrael to him. “This nation is compared to afar (dust) and also to kochavim (stars); when they fall, they fall as low as dust, and when they rise, they rise all the way to the stars.” The simple interpretation of this Chazal is that when Klal Yisrael are on top, they rise up to the stars, where the sky is the limit, and when they chas v’shalom fall, they fall to the lowest depths possible, trampled upon like dust by the rest of the world. However, says the Be’er Yosef, in light of the above understanding of the pasuk of “ka’asher yanucha, kein yifrotz”—the correlation between b’rachah and k’lalah—we discover a different interpretation of this Chazal.
Klal Yisrael is compared to both afar and kochavim simultaneously, such that even when they are in a downward spiral, trampled upon like afar, they are still in the realm of kochavim. One can even possibly say that the very reason they are like dust gives them the ability to be like the stars.
Even the greatest navi of all needed to be taught this important lesson. At the end of Parashas Sh’mos, Moshe painfully asked HaKadosh Baruch Hu: “Lamah hareisa la’am ha’zeh,” why are you causing such hardship to this nation? And Hashem simply responds, “Ani Ad-noy.”
The Daas Sofer (Rav Akiva Sofer) offers an important explanation of this dialogue between Moshe and the Ribbono shel Olam. He explains that the name Ad-noy represents Rachamim (compassion) and “Elokim” represents Din (strict judgment). With the words “Ani Ad-noy,” Hashem is explaining to Moshe that even when it appears He is acting with strict “Din,” it is always with Rachamim. Everything I do, Hashem said, is only for Klal Yisrael. Din is really Rachamim and k’lalah is really b’rachah.
Chazal explain how this works. By increasing the workload of Klal Yisrael, Hashem was able to reduce, almost by half, the 400 years that Hashem told Avraham that Bnei Yisrael would be enslaved in Mitzrayim.
Moshe, with all his greatness and deep understanding of Hashem’s ways, saw Din, but in reality it was the ultimate Rachamim.
How often in our lives do we perceive events or situations as complete k’lalah and Din while in retrospect it may be pure b’rachah and the greatest level of Rachamim?
The Chasam Sofer, zt’l, also saw this interface of b’rachah and k’lalah in the Torah’s description of the emotional reunion between Yosef and Binyamin. Chazal explained that each one cried upon the shoulder of his brother upon seeing with ruach ha’kodesh that there will be churban in each other’s portion in future generations.
However, Chazal say that this reunion took place on Shabbos; so how could they cry in grief over their respective impending churban, when it is not permitted on Shabbos? The Chasam Sofer answers that, yes, they were shedding tears, but they were tears of joy. How can visions of churban bring joy? The Chasam Sofer explains that they realized that even after such colossal, horrific churban, Klal Yisrael would endure. They would build yeshivos, communities, and families, and our people would not only survive, but thrive. That brought a flow of tears of joy.
At that highly emotional and poignant reunion, they saw the b’rachah in the k’lalah.
The Stoliner Rebbe, zt’l, went through a difficult period of darkness following a pogrom that took place right after Sukkos. To strengthen himself, he took out his Chanukah menorah and placed it on the table where he could see it. The knowledge that in a few weeks his home would be filled with the light of the menorah gave him the clarity to see through the darkness of the days filled with fear and loss. He saw the light of b’rachah amidst the darkness of k’lalah.
Rav Noach Isaac Oelbaum, in a recent hashkafahshiur to his kehillah, shared a phenomenal insight from the sefer of Rav Yaakov Galinsky, zt’l. He tells a story of a seemingly distinguished Yid who came to the town where the illustrious rav was the Tosfos Yom Tov. He introduced himself as a meshulach, a collector on behalf of the yeshiva of the Bach, as the gadol ha’dor, Rav Yoel Sirkis, was known.
The Tosfos Yom Tov warmly greeted his guest and said, “For the help of the yeshiva of the great gaon, the Bach, I can’t just sit by; I will go with you and help you collect the funds.” Together they walked through the streets and marketplaces of the city, and upon seeing the rav himself escorting the collector, people gave significant donations.
After an exhausting but very successful day, the rav invited his guest to come to his home for a hot drink. They climbed the stairs to the rav’s home, shared a hot drink, and the guest prepared to be on his way. The rav walked him to the door and he extended honor to the rav by letting him exit the door first.
As soon as the Tosfos Yom Tov exited his home, he quickly slammed the door shut and bolted it from the outside, leaving his guest locked inside the house. The guest began to bang on the door and scream to be let out of the locked home. The rav just ignored him. Meanwhile a crowd began to gather around, watching this strange scene of the Tosfos Yom Tov standing on the steps outside his home and someone inside screaming to be let out.
At the rav’s request, the people began to question the guest through the locked door about his identity and what he was really collecting for. Finally he admitted that he was a “mumar” and had sold his soul to the devil and joined a group of missionaries trying to turn people away from Yiddishkeit, and he was collecting money for them. They asked why he claimed that he was collecting for the Bach, of all people, and he explained that he intended it for his newfound religion—with the same two letters “beis” and “ches,” which stand for “b’ris chadashah.” The people responded by confiscating all the funds he had taken, and they sent him on his way amid great degradation and embarrassment.
The story quickly spread throughout the city and those close to the Tosfos Yom Tov asked him how he knew he was a fraud. They asked, “Rebbe, do you have ruach ha’kodesh?” The rav responded, “Not even the smallest amount, but I was troubled that when we went collecting for the Bach’s yeshiva it was too easy, and people responded more generously than ever before. And I wondered, where is the Sattan and why isn’t he being mekatreig like he always does for every davar kedushah? It was then I realized that if it is indeed so easy, it must be for the ‘Sitra Acher,’ a different force of tumah, and I knew that I had to force him into admitting who he really is and who he really is representing.”
What an amazing lesson and limud for us from the Tosfos Yom Tov. Normally when things are easy and go smoothly, we look at it as a b’rachah, and when difficult and full of struggles, it’s a k’lalah. We learn from him that just the opposite is true. When things don’t go well and there are many struggles, that is the way of b’rachah, it is the way of verifying that it is the derech of kedushah and of Torah, while when things go to easy, it may very well be the Sitra Acher.
We all want only b’rachos in our lives, but we have to be always cognizant as to what constitutes b’rachah and k’lalah. At times, it may be extremely difficult to decipher, but we need to do so regardless. In that z’chus, may HaKadosh Baruch Hu shower us, our families, and all of Klal Yisrael with a life filled with pure and complete b’rachah. v