September 8, 2015
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #988, Ki Savo, Parsha Thought


The harshest words of rebuke in the Torah can be found in this week’s parsha. The Talmud states that it is read before Rosh Hashanah, but interrupted by another parsha. This tells us that all of the year’s curses, including the curse of continued Galus, shall cease, and a new year of blessing, particularly, the final Redemption, shall commence. We pray, hope and are confident that G-d will bring an end to all of the past negatives and that the forthcoming year will be, exclusively, one of blessing.

We cannot be content to ask only for the cessation of all the curses; we must also request that they be transformed into blessings.

Moreover, Chassidus teaches us—based on a story in the Talmud—that these curses are indeed sublime and hidden blessings. When we ask for the end and transformation of the curses, we are actually asking G-d to reveal their hidden dimension.

Many Torah commentators have demonstrated how we can reinterpret some of these harsh verses in ways that expose their hidden meaning as profound blessings.

In that spirit, let us attempt to discover the hidden blessings in the following verse:

“And you shall serve your enemy whom G-d shall send against you, in hunger and in thirst, in nakedness and in want of all things; and he shall put a yoke of iron upon your neck until he will have destroyed you.”


The phrase “you shall serve your enemy” can be understood in a positive light. Between the words “serve” and “your enemy” is the Hebrew word es, which though not usually translated, is often understood to mean “with.” We can now restate the phrase as: “And you shall serve together with your enemy.”

This thought echoes the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov (whose 317th birthday we observe this week, on Chai Elul):

It is written: “When you will see the donkey of your enemy collapsing under its burden, and you are inclined to refrain from aiding him, you shall nevertheless aid him.” (Shmos 23:5) The Baal Shem Tov applied this moral instruction to the body (chamor, “donkey,” also means “materiality”). Initially, you may see your body as your enemy, resisting your soul’s objectives, collapsing under the “burden” of the mitzvos. You may therefore be inclined to fight the body by denying its needs and mortifying it. Says the Torah: You must aid your soul’s “enemy.” Purify the body, refine it, but do not break it. Work with it.

When the Torah adds that this is the enemy “whom G-d shall send against you” it implies that G-d Himself makes the marriage between our G-dly soul and our body. Don’t look at your body as something working against you; it was given to you specifically to work with your soul.

The import of this teaching is that we have to recognize that our perceived enemy is not truly our enemy but is waiting for us to harness its energy to that of our soul. Together they form a formidable team.


When we serve G-d in a bifurcated manner – by being spiritual at times such as Shabbos or during prayer, but leaving our bodies out of it – we can only access a revealed blessing. But when we engage our body in our spiritual pursuits and work with what we thought of as our enemy, we can reach an elusive and more sublime G-dly blessing. The source of the physical body is actually higher than that of the soul.

This explains why, according to Nachmanides and the consensus of Kabbalists and Chassidic masters, the ultimate reward for the soul will be to reside within the body after the Resurrection of the Dead. Even those souls that have reposed for millennia in the highest realms of paradise, basking in G-d’s light, unhindered by the physical world, will then experience an even more transcendent aspect of G-dliness, which eludes us now.


This verse follows one in which the Torah describes the reason for all misery; it is when we don’t serve G-d with joy.

It maybe suggested that the verse about serving with our erstwhile enemy is the way to restore true joy. The reason a person does not serve G-d with joy is that the body is left out of the spiritual experience of the soul. Only the soul feels nurtured, inspired and uplifted. The body’s lack of interest drags the person down so that even the soul’s joy is marred.

There is a parable attributed to the Baal Shem Tov about a prisoner who receives a letter from his father and wants to dance, which his jailors forbid. So he gives them alcohol and they begin to dance in their intoxicated state, while the prisoner is free to dance because he received a letter from his father.

Our soul must work in concert with the body to experience true joy. Indeed, the body will also feel the joy that the soul feels because, deep down, even the physical body and the Animal Soul want to conform to G-d’s will.

Where can we find evidence that the body can be receptive of the soul? And where do we see that the soul desires a relationship with the body?

The answer comes in the next few words of the verse:


“…In Hunger and in Thirst.”

Why does the body feel hunger and thirst?

The Baal Shem Tov taught that the soul is hungry and thirsty for the G-dly sparks in the food. They are of such a sublime nature that the soul cannot access them without the physical act of eating and drinking.

This tells us two things:

First, the soul needs and craves an association with the body. It is the only way it can get “gourmet” soul food. The sparks of holiness embedded in the physical derive from a higher source than that of the spiritual. Thus, the soul craves to engage with the body in the act of eating and drinking to extract and absorb the spark. Without the body there would be no eating and drinking and therefore no access to the Divine sparks.

Second, the fact that the hunger and thirst of the soul is detected and manifested by the body proves that the body is, in no small way, receptive to and in sync with the soul.

What, one may ask, about the most evil people whose bodies are clearly out of sync with their souls but who have hearty appetites?

To afford free choice to all people, everyone must be endowed with the same physical and physiological tendencies. But the root of the body’s hunger is its G-d created propensity to be receptive to the soul unless a person acts in ways that grossly corrupt the body.


 “…in nakedness”

Even the need for garments for the body and our natural state of modesty is based on the needs of the soul. Garments bring dignity to the person who wears them. Dignity is not initially something the body craves; a baby has no interest in clothing and the dignity it provides. One must mature to be able to appreciate the need and benefit of clothing. This happens when the soul has made some inroads into the body and makes it feel the need for modesty and dignity.

The sense of nakedness and the need to be clothed is the body’s reflexive response to the needs and wants of the soul.

Why do most people hunger to acquire things? No animal seeks to accumulate stuff for its own sake. It will hoard only what it needs for survival but not real-estate, jewelry, money and other stuff, in ever increasing amounts.

This hunger is deeply rooted in the soul’s desire to transform the world around us. We were placed here to conquer and rule the earth. Conquest in this context means to transform our environment into a place where G-d’s presence can be felt; a place where G-d can reside.

A human’s body has a natural desire to accumulate property because it is responding to the soul’s desire to conquer the world in a G-dly way. Here too we see the potential that soul and body have to work together.

This too is alluded to in the next phrase of the verse:

“…and in want of all things;”

So far the verse has focused on bodily needs that parallel, and to some extent reflect, our soul’s needs. The hidden blessing here is that the soul and body will enjoy a blissful and harmonious relationship.


The grim conclusion of the verse points to a much different aspect of the body that seems without redeeming value because it is totally against everything the soul stands for:

“…and he shall put a yoke of iron upon your neck until he will have destroyed you.”

This refers to the basest aspect of the body, when it becomes rebellious and wages war with the G-dly soul. Iron is a potent symbol of destruction. It is the only material that was not permitted to be used in constructing the Holy Temple because its very nature alludes to bloodshed. In the worst-case scenario, the soul feels the full weight of the mortal body and its Animal Soul crushing its neck, the nexus of the mind and the heart, the two most important parts of our personality with which we serve G-d.

Even this base aspect of the body and the Animal soul is not truly a hindrance to working with the G-dly soul. The hidden blessing here is that the G-dly soul takes the iron yoke and turns it around to use it in the creation of the Third Bais HaMikdash, in which iron will be used unlike its two predecessors. The hidden blessing of iron will be revealed in all of its glory

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
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