There are two admonitions in the Torah, one in Parshat Bechukotai (Vayikra 26:14-43) and the other in Parshat Ki Tavo (Dvarim 28:15-68). Traditionally each admonition (tochecha) is read quickly and quietly (like Megilat Eicha) as the community only wants to publicize the blessings not the curses. Communities have been so afraid of the power of the curses in the tochecha that congregants were often not willing to accept an aliya for that part of the reading. To rectify this problem, Rav Chayim, the Maharal of Prague’s brother went out of his way to teach that the person who accepts the aliya of the tochecha will be blessed by God who is full of blessings.
According to Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, there was one Hasidic Rebbe who specifically thought that the tochecha should be read out loud and that was the Klusenberger Rebbe.
The Klusenberger Rebbe, Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam was the rebbe of the Sanz Hasidim in Klausenberg (Cluj), Romania. During the Holocaust, his wife, Chana Teitelbaum and eleven children as well as many of his other family members were killed. The Rebbe survived and in the DP camps started an organization called Shearit HaPletah (the surviving remnant) to help rebuild the Jewish community. In 1947, he moved temporarily to New York and started a community in Brooklyn. The Rebbe married Chaya Nechama Ungar and together they had five children.
In a story that I first heard from Dr. Bryna Jocheved Levy, when Rabbi Riskin was twelve years old, he wanted to check out the Klusenberger Rebbe’s shul in Brooklyn. It was Parshat Bechukotai. When they got to the tochecha, the Torah reader followed the usual custom and began to read it quickly and quietly. The Rebbe stopped him and told him to read it out loud. He said that we must read it out loud to let God know that we have nothing to fear. We have already experienced the curses. Now it is time for Him to send the blessings. At the end of the service, the Rebbe announced that the blessing will be given in the Land of Israel and we will move the community there.
In 1958, the Rebbe founded the neighborhood of Kiryat Sanz in Netanya and built orphanages and a nursing home. In 1960, he moved to Israel and built up the community with Batei Midrash and schools. He built the Laniado hospital which opened in 1976, a tikun for the time that he was shot in the hand and was afraid to go to a Nazi infirmary. He promised himself that if he gets out, he will one day build a hospital in the Land of Israel.
In a Hebrew documentary called Astir Panai, made about the Rebbe’s life, there is an account of a man who worked with the Rebbe doing forced labor in the concentration camp. This man knew only one verse from the Torah by heart. The verse wasn’t the Shma, it was “Because you did not serve HaShem, your God amid gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant” (Dvarim 28:47). When asked how he knew this verse, he explained that the Rebbe would recite those words every day as he worked. He felt that he was living through the tochecha.
We see the tremendous effort that the Rebbe made to overcome the curses which could have taken over his life. The Rebbe made the blessings a reality by settling and building up Israel.
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