“If you follow My laws and keep My mitzvos and do them, I shall give you rain in its season, the land will give its produce and the tree will give its fruit…” (Vayikra 26:3). That’s certainly good news. Hashem, the Creator of the Universe has given us the key to success. In fact there are 613 keys to success. It seems a tall order, but with determination we can do the necessary and we will receive all the blessings mentioned here and many more besides; a veritable paradise on Earth. But then, apparently, the bad news. “If you don’t listen to Me and don’t do all these mitzvos … I will cause you to panic, make you ill in various ways, you will sow your seeds for nothing and your enemies will eat the fruit. You will be struck down before your enemies. You will flee but no-one will be pursuing you. And it gets worse. “If you still won’t listen to me but consider it all chance, I will increase your punishment. I will make your heavens like iron and your land like copper…I will send the wildlife of the field against you which will kill your children, exterminate your cattle and your roads will become desolate.” The pesukim continue in this vein warning us of more and more punishments if we remain obstinate and treat everything as chance. There is a bright point when posuk 32 says that the land will remain desolate even though we will have been exiled which the Ramban understands as a promise that throughout our long exile, other nations will never populated the land. It will remain empty ready for us to return as the British politician Lord Shaftsbury said in 1853 that “Eretz Yisroel is a land without a people waiting for a people without a land.” However, most of the parsha seems to be doom and gloom. But is it?
The Rambam (Hilchos Taanis 1:1-3) writes, “When a tzoro happens to a community, we should know that it is because of our wrong deeds. We should do teshuva and this will remove the tzoro. But if we say that the tzoro is a chance happening or natural and is nothing to do with our behavior, this is cruel, because this attitude will cause us to continue our wrong ways and the tzoros will just increase. This is what it says in the Torah, “If you consider what has happened as ‘chance’ I will increase my anger.” (ibid). This should change our understanding of our parsha. It is true that we are being warned about possible punishments but at the same time the pesukim tell us how to avoid those punishments. Don’t treat what happens as chance or natural. Consider possible reasons for a tzoro, do teshuva and the tzoro will go away. This doesn’t seem like bad news. It’s good news, giving us an escape from the tzoro we are suffering from..
In England, at the moment, there is a crisis in that OFSTED is insisting that our schools teach our children about “alternative life styles” and their belief that the world just happens to be; no-one created it. Our Rabbonim and askonim are doing their hishtadlus to convince OFSTED and the Government not to interfere in our system of education. But are we supposed to stand by passively, or is there something we can do? The answer is that there is plenty we can do. Tzoros don’t just happen, as the Rambam said. We have to think what might possibly be the cause of this gezeira. OFSTED are Hashem’s messengers to awaken us to do teshuva. But what might we be guilty of? Do we have any clues?
It is well known that the Baal Shem Tov once saw some chillul Shabbos which distressed him greatly. He wondered why he should have been punished in this way. He came to the conclusion that it was because someone had once not shown respect to a Talmid Chochom in his presence and he had not objected vociferously enough. Since a Talmid Chochom is sometimes compared to Shabbos, concluded the Baal Shem Tov, this must be the reason for his being punished by seeing chillul Shabbos. A person has to look for a midda keneged midda, an aveira which is in some way connected to the punishment, albeit on a much higher level, as a clue what he must do teshuva from.
Since the first problem with OFSTED, is matters to do with kedusha, it seems logical to consider that Hashem is trying to encourage us to rectify matters of kedusha; particularly since we know that “wherever there is immorality, androlomusia comes and smites the good and the bad.” (Yerushalmi Sota 1:5). Our generation has more challenges in this regard than previous generations, even more than a few years ago. Perhaps twenty or thirty years ago there were fewer women in the workplace. And those who were, were always Mrs So and So. Today, women are in every possible position. Women are lawyers, accountants, bank managers, business representatives etc where they interrelate with their customers. And, almost without exception, they introduce themselves by their first name and expect to be told our first name. Sue and Moshe has a different ring than Mrs Jones and Mr Cohen. And listen how often she repeats your name. Welcome to the world of modern business techniques to weaken our defences and make us more likely to buy their product. By the end of the first conversation we feel like old friends. This is already a big nisoyon for Moshe who has been brought up in b’kedusha vetahara. Pesachim 113a says that Hashem makes a special announcement about three people every day. One of them is a bachelor who lives in a city and does not sin. He faces great nisoyonos and if he is successful, Hashem rewards him greatly. Today, we all face such nisoyonos and in order to be successful we have to be prepared to respond to Sue’s warm introduction by saying, at a polite distance, “Good morning. I am Mr Cohen.” And the reward the Gemoro talked about will be ours. This is one example in the area of kedusha where we all need chizuk, which Hashem, through OFSTED, is possibly trying to communicate to us.
The other area that OFSTED is trying force on us, is teaching our children that, according to science, we know that the world came about by itself. This is not true. Even Richard Dawkins said, “How did the whole process start? We do not know.”(Climbing Mt Impossible p.282). So why do they want us to teach lies? Perhaps we are being reminded to ask ourselves whether our honesty always impeccable. Are we always careful that every document we sign is authentic? Do we always admit to our spouse when we have made a mistake? And davening in a way that indicates that we are having a heartful talk with Hashem, whilst our minds are thinking about our business, our holidays or local politics, is also a form of falsehood.
No, the tochacho is not all doom and gloom. It is Hashem’s way of encouraging us to do what is right. Yissurim start with taking the wrong coin out of our pocket and increase gradually until the nightmare scenario written in the pesukim. But He hopes it won’t come to that. He gives us reminders of one sort or another and we are supposed to understand the message and rectify our mistakes. Then we will be able to receive all the blessings mentioned in the previous section. The parsha is not good news and bad news but good news and good news!