Eliezer Shemtov
Trying to make a difference

The Blessing And The Fall

Vezot Haberachah

This past Sunday we celebrated Simchat Torah, concluding the annual Torah reading cycle. It contains a very powerful teaching regarding the role and benefit of depression.

The reading is called Vezot Haberachah [1], “and this is the blessing”, as the Torah goes on to describe the blessings with which Moshe blessed the twelve tribes of the Jewish people before he passed away. He blessed each tribe according to their particular characteristics and roles within the mosaic and joint mission of the Jewish people.

What is striking is the theme of the conclusion of the reading, both as a conclusion of a reading that is called “This is the blessing” as well as a conclusion of the whole Torah, called Torat Chaim, The teaching for life.

The final verses of the Torah conclude with describing Moshe’s passing and how the whole nation mourned him. What is especially noteworthy is the very last verse [2]: “And all the mighty hand and all the great wonder that Moses performed in the eyes of all [the people of] Israel. 

The Biblical commentator Rashi explains that the words “before the eyes of all [the people of] Israel” refer specifically to the episode of the breaking the tablets which took place in their presence. In fact, Rashi goes on to say, G-d agreed with his decision, saying: Iasher Koach sheshibarta, thank you for having broken them.

The question arises, why is this particular episode considered so important among Moshe Rabeinu’s many achievements to the extent that the Torah concludes the description of his greatness with it? Also, wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to conclude the Torah on a positive note? And, why did G-d thank him for it?

The Rebbe —may his merit shield us— explains that there is a great lesson here regarding the value of a spiritual fall: falling allows us to ascend to a level much higher than the one we were at before we fell. 

Falls and failures —both real and imagined— serve to sensitize us in a way that successes do not. Before sowing a field it is necessary to plow it.

After studying the entire Torah and seeing what is expected of us, one might fall into depression thinking that he will never be able to fulfill all that is expected of him. That is why the Torah concludes with an episode that serves as an encouragement to one who might entertain such thoughts: the breaking of the first tablets led to a greater awareness by the people and a renewed connection with G-d —Teshuvah— and as a consequence they received the second set of tablets that were accompanied by even greater levels of Torah. The falls that we experience in life are nothing more than apparent falls —(only) “in the eyes of the people”— but in their essence they contain opportunities for obtaining blessings and accomplishments far greater than those accessible through constant success.

If we look at what the month of Tishrei was like this year in Montevideo, we can see a good example of how to transform a fall into a springboard that enables us to even more than ever before.

With the advent of the holidays there was much concern regarding how they would be celebrated in a timely manner as a result of all the health restrictions in place. In practice, however, there were never as many people who heard Shofar or pronounced the blessing with Lulav and Etrog in Uruguay as this year. The plazas of Montevideo and Punta del Este were filled with crowds who came to hear the Shofar and the Sucamobile brought the Mitzvot of Sucah and Lulav to a dozen plazas throughout the city.  Not to mention the open-air Synagogue offered by Chabad in Montevideo that was filled to capacity on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. There has never been as much media (Press/Radio/TV) interest regarding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as there was this year. Was there a drop in Synagogue attendance compared to previous years? Of course there was. But at the same time we were able to respond creatively and generate an unimaginable and unprecedented rise in personal participation in the various celebrations and options offered. And wait until I tell you about the Aravot saga…. another example of this dynamic of transforming falls into springboards.

So this week’s tool is: when you feel like you’re down, even if you really are down, don’t be upset by how high you were before you fell; think about the fact that you can bounce back to an even higher place as a result of your fall.

As we come to the end of this cycle, I would like to thank Eleonora Sucharczuk for the original idea of this series and her constant editorial contributions throughout the year, as well as Ana Beris, Janet Rudman and Nicole Mitnik for the space provided in Semanario Hebreo and Semanariohebreojai.com and Rabbi Eli Levy for the space provided on es.chabad.org for the original Spanish version.

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  1. Deuteronomy 31:1-34:12
  2. Ibid. 34:12
About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, born in in Brooklyn, NY in 1961. Received Smicha From Tomchei Temimim in 1984 and shortly after was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, together with his wife Rachel to establish the first Beit Chabad in Montevideo, Uruguay and direct Chabad activities in that country. He has authored many articles on Judaism that have been published internationally. Since publishing his popular book on intermarriage, "Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her?" he has authored several books in Spanish, English and Hebrew dealing with the challenges that the contemporary Jew has to deal with.
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