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Parashat Vayelech: Transforming the Curse Into a Blessing

Parashat Vayelech begins by informing us, "Moshe went and spoke all these words to all of Israel." The commentators address the question of where Moshe "went." Why did he have to "go" somewhere to speak to Beneh Yisrael? Wasn’t he already speaking with them all this time?

Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel explains that Moshe went "Le’mashkan Bet Ulfana" – to the study hall. For some reason, specifically at this point, after completing his warnings to Beneh Yisrael about the consequences of breaching their covenant with G-d, Moshe went to the Bet Midrash to learn. Why?

Rav Shlomo Kluger (1785-1869) offers an answer by noting the Midrash’s teaching that G-d began the Torah with the second letter of the alphabet, "Bet" ("Beresheet Bara…"), and not with the first letter, "Alef," because the letter "Alef" represents the word "Arur" ("curse"). Rather than open the Torah with the letter that begins the word "Arur," G-d chose instead the letter "Bet" – the first letter of the word "Baruch" ("blessed"). The Midrash continues by relating that the letter "Alef" protested its having been passed over in favor of "Bet." In response, G-d assured this letter that when He would give Beneh Yisrael the Torah, He would begin with the letter "Alef." And thus the text of the Ten Commandments pronounced at Mount Sinai begins with the word "Anochi," the first letter of which is "Alef."

The obvious question arises as to why the letter "Alef" could open the text of the Ten Commandments, but not the text of the Humash. Why did G-d not want to begin the Torah with a letter associated with "Arur," but He was prepared to begin the Ten Commandments with this letter?

Rav Kluger explained that Torah has the ability to transform curse into blessing. Therefore, before G-d gave us the Torah, He did want to give the letter "Alef" a position of prominence, but at the time of Matan Torah, when pronoucning the Ten Commandments, He specifically began with the letter "Alef," which is associated with curse, to demonstrate that through Torah, we have the power to transform "Arur" into "Baruch."

Rav Kluger adds that this is why we refer to the study hall as a "Bet Midrash." It is where we bring "Beracha" – which begins with the letter "Bet" – through Torah learning, which has the effect of transforming curse into blessing.

For this reason, according to Targum Yonatan, Moshe went to the study hall at this point. After describing the dreadful curses which would befall the people, Heaven forbid, if they abandon G-d’s laws, he went to learn and teach Torah – to demonstrate how the curses can be transformed into blessings. Targum Yonatan refers to the study hall as "Bet Ulfana" – alluding to the letter "Bet" and the letter "Alef" (the first letter of "Ulfana"). He went there to show us how we can transform "Alef" to "Bet," and change every curse into a blessing.

As we now begin the new year, let us recommit ourselves to the intensive study of Torah, thereby ensuring that if, Heaven forbid, any evil decrees had been issued, they would be transformed into wondrous blessings for us and all Am Yisrael.

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