One section stands out from the rest in this week’s Parshah. It is known as the Tochachah, “The Rebuke.” There we read a whole litany of disasters that will befall our people should we turn our backs on G‑d and abandon His way of life. The tradition is that the baal korei (Torah reader) himself, without being called up, takes this aliyah; and when he reaches the relevant section, he lowers his voice, to soften the blow of these terrible curses.
For 24 years, I produced and hosted South Africa’s only Jewish radio show, The Jewish Sound. Once, my guest on the air was Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat, Israel. He told the story that as a child growing up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, one Shabbat he went to daven in the shul of the Rebbeof Klausenberg, Rabbi Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam (1905–1994).
Originally from Romania, the Klausenberger Rebbe was a spiritual giant of a man who had lost 11 children in the Holocaust and never sat shivah because he was preoccupied with saving as many lives as he possibly could. After the war, he settled in America and developed a large following. Subsequently, he relocated to Israel and, among other things, established the Laniado Hospital in Netanya.
That Shabbat—Rabbi Riskin related—“The Rebuke” was being read. When it came to the part of the curses, the reader did what he always did. He lowered his voice and read in a softer tone. Suddenly, the Rebbe shouted in Yiddish, “Hecher!” (“Louder!”). The reader was confused. He was simply following the tradition of generations. Perhaps he was not hearing right, so he continued reading in the softer tone. “Hecher! Hecher!” thundered the Klausenberger Rebbe. “Let the Almighty hear what is being read! All the curses have already been fulfilled. Now, there must be only blessings for our people . . .”
Many of our sages have described the Holocaust as the birthpangs of Moshiach and the ultimate redemption. Never will there be a repeat of such calamities. We have endured more than enough of exile, wanderings, pogroms and persecutions. The curses, in all their tragic, cataclysmic imagery, have actually materialized. Now there must be only goodness, happiness, warmth and blessing for the people of Israel.
At the end of The Rebuke, G‑d says: “I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember, and I will remember the Land . . .”
Not only will the Almighty remember us, the Jewish people; He will also remember His Holy Land, our Land of Israel. Perhaps we might interpret this as a message to the anti-Semites of the world who hide behind their anti-Zionist or anti-Israel rantings and ravings.
“I will remember the Land”—a message also to the nations of the world who claim to be our friends, the shrewd manipulators who are expert in political backstabbing in Washington and London. “I will remember the Land”—a message to our own Jewish fantasizers who would undermine their own brothers with their hopeless attempts at appeasing mortal enemies. To all of them, the G‑d of Israel says: “I will remember the Land.” I will never forsake My land or My people.
And as He remembers us, let us remember Him and our covenant. May we prepare for Shavuot and the giving of the Torah with earnestness and joy. May G‑d and His people always remember each other. Amen.