Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Chukat

Some of the greatest blessings are wrapped up in a curse

An example of this can be found in Parshat Chukat. The Torah tells us how Hashem had sent a plague of fiery serpents among the people. The nation called to Hashem for mercy and in reply he said to Moshe, “Place a fiery serpent at the top of a pole, “vhaya im hashach hanachash et ish,” – “and it shall come to pass if any person had been bitten by a snake,” – “vihibit el nachash hanechoshet vechai” – “that person should just look at the fiery serpent on the pole and he would live.”

 

Notice that this statement starts with the word, “vhaya,” and there’s an alternative word in Tanach which is, “vayehi” and they mean the same thing.

 

According to the Gemarra in Masechet Megila, a statement starts with vayehi when it introduces bad news. However if a statement starts with vhaya, according to the Midrash in Bereishit Rabba, that’s a sign that good news will follow.

 

So surely this was a ‘vayehi’ moment and not a ‘vhaya’ scenario? Somebody had been bitten. The person’s life was in danger. Others around them had died. And yet the Torah says, “vhaya?”

 

The Meshech Chochma explains beautifully. He points out that just before this there is another ‘vhaya’: “vhaya kol hanashuch vra’ah otoh v’chai.” This would follow for every person who had been bitten.

 

The Meshech Chochma says, this includes even somebody who was already ill and now on top of this a snake had bitten them. So if somebody were suffering from a terminal illness and during the course of that illness they were bitten, they had only to look at the snake on the pole and they would be cleared of their entire illness. They had a total refuah shleimah. What started out to be a double plague for them ended up opening the door to them becoming fully healed.

 

And so it is often in life. We see what for us appears to be a ‘vayehi moment’. We are full of dread and yet, in reality, it provides a great opportunity, good things follow. And on the contrary, sometimes we appear to be facing a ‘vhaya scenario’ where everything looks wonderful, but actually, there is a lot that we should be concerned about.

 

And that is why in our Rosh Chodesh bentching at the beginning of every month we pray to Hashem: please give us “chayim sheyimalu mishalot libenu letova” – we add the word ‘letova’ for good. Please God, answer all of our prayers for the good. Don’t give us all that we ask for because sometimes we might be praying for the wrong thing. Please channel our prayers in the right direction so that what we ask for will always be a blessing, recognising that sometimes the best of blessings are wrapped up in a curse. 

Shabbat shalom.