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Thursday
May032012

EXILE IS NOT A CURSE?!  

As we stand now on the very threshold of the final Redemption, the message has been “updated.” Whereas in the past we had to recognize that our disabilities were challenges, today that does not suffice.

ENIGMATIC COMMANDMENTS

Two of the commandments in this week’s parsha are enigmatic because of their obviousness. Taken at face value, these admonitions are rather unusual because they are so obvious.

“Do not curse a deaf person; and do not put a stumbling block before the blind.”

Our Sages explain that, in truth, these commandments apply to everyone. We may not curse people who are not deaf and we may not place stumbling blocks before people who are not blind. Yet, the Torah sought to teach us these laws specifically by applying them first and foremost to the deaf and blind.

If the Torah does not want us to curse anyone, it should have simply stated “do not curse.” Period!

Is there anyone in his right mind that would think that it is acceptable to curse a deaf person simply because he or she cannot hear the curse?

The same question can be posed with regard to placing a stumbling block before the blind. Couldn’t the Torah—which phrases laws so concisely, in the interest of not writing an unnecessary word or even letter—have stated: “Do not place stumbling blocks before others?” And while Rashi, quoting the Talmud, explains that it refers to giving an unsuspecting person bad advice, it could have conveyed that idea even if it would have left out the word “blind.”

In short, why highlight that the victims of one’s curses and stumbling blocks are deaf and blind? And what relevance does it have to our own lives, as most of us would never even entertain committing such a heinous sin?

HEIGHTENED SPIRITUALITY

It is well established that people who lack certain physical abilities—such as blindness—compensate by having more of the other senses and faculties. A blind person will often have a more sensitive sense of hearing or of touch etc.

In truth, this physical reality, where the challenged person compensates, is a reflection of a spiritual advantage that he or she possesses. The physically challenged person is actually in possession of more sensitive spiritual capabilities.

This assertion is based on at least two factors and manifests itself in two ways:

First, it is axiomatic in Judaism, that when a person is given a challenge, he or she is also given the ability to meet that challenge. Thus, when a person suffers from a physical disability, it means that he or she has the potential to overcome it with enhanced spiritual powers.

Second, a blind person in Talmudic jargon is called a sagi nahor, which literally means “one who has an abundance of light.” Chassidic sources explain that it is not just a euphemism—indeed, the word for euphemism in modern Hebrew is sagi nahor—it describes the reality that the blind person has an abundance of light. The blindness is not a consequence of too little light, but of the imbalance caused by light not being able to express itself in the limited physical organ; there is too much light of the soul for the limited physical capabilities of the eye.

In other words, not only does G-d give the blind—and all those with other forms of physical challenges—greater spiritual energy to compensate with their loss, it is G-d’s gift of enhanced spiritual energy that is actually the cause of the disability in the first place.

EXILE DEAFNESS AND BLINDNESS: A CHALLENGE

What is true of people with physical challenges is also true for the Jews of exile. Physical disabilities and challenges are a metaphor for our spiritual challenges.

Our status as exile Jews can be described in terms of both deafness and blindness.

Every day there is a heavenly voice that emerges from Mount Sinai that beckons us to get closer to G-d and His Torah. Living in exile has prevented us from hearing this message. The sound of Sinai that reverberates through the cosmos to this day is ignored by most people as a result of our existence in galus/exile.

Every day there are miracles that surround us, demonstrating G-d’s active involvement in our world. Many of the modern day miracles we have experienced even surpass the Biblical miracles. We just don’t see them; we are blind. We are in exile.

And lest one would think that being in exile and lacking the spiritual capacity to hear the cosmic Divine music and see the Divine in every aspect of life is a curse, the Torah tells us otherwise. By commanding us not to curse the deaf, the Torah is thereby declaring: Exile is not a curse!

At face value, this assertion sounds preposterous! Why do we devote countless prayers to bringing an end to exile? How can we reconcile this claim with all that we know and have experienced about the calamity that is exile?

COMPLEMENTARY TRUTHS

In truth, our heartfelt pleas for the end of exile and the claim here that exile is not a curse are not contradictory; they are complementary.

The Rebbe explained (Seifer HaSichos 5752, Tazria-Metzora) that exile is a time that contains incredible spiritual energies so potent that we cannot contain them. And because we cannot contain, absorb and properly internalize this energy, it manifests itself in rather negative ways to the extent that it can pose serious challenges to us. It is like the excessive light of the blind person, which overwhelms his system and causes the disability.

How do we meet the challenge?

The Rebbe explains that we meet the challenge, not by negating exile, but by recognizing and discovering the enhanced spiritual energy it possesses. Our spiritual deafness and blindness that is a product of exile, in and of itself, is not a curse. The curse is when we view exile strictly as a curse and see only the negativity and not the hidden spirituality and opportunity.

Moreover, the more we think we are deaf and blind to the G-dly reality of exile, the more it reinforces the notion that G-d would not give us a challenge that we are not capable of meeting. The lower it seems that we are falling and stumbling in exile, the greater the capacity we have to get back up and march confidently and uprightly towards the Redemption.

So rather than “curse” the state of spiritual deafness and blindness that punctuates our existence in exile, recognize the true nature of the period in which we find ourselves.

While on the surface it seems that this “exile embracing” approach contradicts the imperative that we clamor for getting out of this exile, nothing can be further from the truth!

The Rebbe explained that getting out of exile is in actuality an exercise of revealing exile’s inherent spiritual loftiness. The Rebbe has repeatedly stressed that the word for exile/gola needs only the insertion of the letter aleph to turn the word into Geula/Redemption. This implies that we need not negate gola; we simply need to expose its true nature.

REINTERPRETING THE VERSE

In this light, let us now reinterpret the words of the Torah:

“Do not curse a deaf person”: Do not tell the spiritually deaf who suffer from galus-itus that they are cursed. Instead, show them how they possess certain qualities and capabilities that were not even present in the days of the Beis HaMikdash.

It is interesting to note, that the word in Hebrew for a deaf person is cheresh. This word has the same numerical value as the word Chukas, which refers to the most esoteric and spiritual commandments of the Torah, which we cannot fathom. This, perhaps, is a hint that the deaf person is connected to a higher consciousness; one that relates to the more spiritual and Divine aspects of Judaism.

“Do not place a stumbling block before the blind”: Do not tell the spiritually blind, that they cannot grow in their spiritual lives. Do not give them the message: “You are disabled by exile blindness and as a result, try as you may, you cannot help but continually stumble. Not only will you not grow, you will fall even lower.” The Torah, in the above verse, wants us to repudiate this negative message.

OPEN YOUR EYES AND SEE!

The above was true throughout the period of exile. However, as we stand now on the very threshold of the final Redemption, the message has been “updated.” Whereas in the past we had to recognize that our disabilities were challenges, today that does not suffice.

Now we must go to the next step. The emphasis has to be that we want to experience the heightened energies of exile—that are analogous to the heightened spirituality of the deaf and blind—but without the attendant deafness and blindness. We want the benefits of “deafness” and “blindness” even as our ears and eyes are opened.

Enough with the rationalizations for exile—notwithstanding their inherent truth and inspirational value. Now is the time for us to have our proverbial cake and eat it too! Now is the time to transform deafness into hearing and blindness into sight without losing any of their advantages. Now is the time to place that aleph into gola and enjoy the best of both worlds.

 

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