A Blessing For You and A Blessing For You!
In this week’s reading from a portion called Ki Tavo, we come across the 2nd of two rebukes found in all of the Torah. Because of its challenging content, there is a tradition that the person reading it does so quietly and quickly. We have to hear it but we don’t want to dwell heavily on it. It always reminds me of one of my favorite stories.
At a Bar Mitzvah at the great synagogue of the Klausenberger Hasidim in Brooklyn, it happened to be Parshat Ki Tavo that week. In accordance with the custom, the Torah reader began to chant the warnings in a whisper. And unexpectedly, almost inaudibly but unmistakably, the Yiddish word “hecher – louder,” came from the direction of the lectern upon which the Grand Rebbe, Yekutiel Yehudah Halberstram was leaning at the eastern wall of the synagogue.
The Torah reader stopped reading for a few moments; the congregants looked up from their places in questioning and even mildly shocked silence. Could they have heard their rebbe correctly? Was he ordering the Torah reader to go against time-honored custom and chant the rebuke out loud? The Torah reader continued to read in a whisper, apparently concluding that he had not heard what he thought he heard. And then the Rebbe banged on his lectern, turned to face the stunned congregation and cried out in Yiddish, with a pained expression on his face and fire blazing in his eyes: “I said louder! Read these verses out loud! We have nothing to fear, we’ve already experienced the curses. Let the Master of the Universe hear them. Let God know that the curses have already befallen us, and let God know that it’s time to send the blessings!
This was a man who experienced immense tragedy during the Holocaust demanding of God that it was time to turn things around. I hope that wherever you’re reading this, you haven’t experienced the kind of awful stuff that this great Rabbi did. Yet, I hope you can channel his spirited chutzpah.
Times have been rough. I just moved, which is its own special form of ridiculousness. High Holidays and all of their preparation are looming heavily. And, oh yeah, a pandemic is still raging, people are dying, all the while refusing to take the accessible medical steps necessary to prevent such deaths. Speaking for my clergy folks, we are barely treading water.
I don’t believe in a theology in which God intervenes as a result of every person’s demands. But I do believe in the power of collective prayer and what its output can provide for those in the prayer sphere. If we’re all demanding of something, maybe we can will it into the world. So, if you’re with me, yell out this weekend. Be loud about it. Enough with the curses. It’s time for some blessing!
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekending!
*If you’re looking to add to your reading list, check out my dear friend Rabbi Jeremy Markiz’s substack. He’s got some great wisdom to offer!