The Path to No Pain
The portion Ki Tavo deals with what are called the curses and the blessings. The story goes that throughout history, when the curses - which seem to be negative - are read, people would not want to be called to the Torah and receive aliyah, because as if by hearing them, the curses would be upon them. However, great kabbalist Rav Yisrael, or the Maggid, of Koznitz would always specifically ask for that aliyah. Why?
Even though the Zohar tells us that hidden within those curses are great blessings, Rav Ashlag said the reason Rav Yisrael of Koznitz would get the aliyah of curses was not because as he was reading them he was thinking, "Oh, I'm connecting to the blessings that are within these curses." Rather, it was because he understood them in the literal sense. The curses are uncomfortable, and he accepted them as part of his process.
One of the questions Rav Ashlag asks in his introduction to the Zohar is, why, if the Light of the Creator is good, and it is the nature of all that is good to bestow goodness, does humanity - created by the Creator - spend so much of its life in pain and suffering? Because the truth is that our soul actually never feels pain. Everything that we talk about and experience is never our soul experiencing pain; it's the body consciousness, the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone. And an individual who has completely removed the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone feels no pain, nor will they ever.
Any pain that we experience has only one purpose: to make us realize that whenever we experience even the smallest pain, it is because of our Desire to Receive for the Self Alone. And there is only one thing to do with it: change that selfishness completely into the Desire to Share. Until we completely change our Desire to Receive for the Self Alone into the Desire to Share, pain will be a constant. So, every single time we feel pain, it's for one purpose - to realize we can't hold on to our ego any more, to let it go, and transform it completely into the Desire to Share. This isn't momentary; it's the reality of body consciousness and selfishness. Sometimes there is only a little bit of pain and we learn our lesson, while other times it gets worse… not because the Creator is punishing us, but because our soul is saying, "Make it clear to me how quickly and strongly I have to get rid of my ego!”
There is no other way out. We can pray all day, study all day, make all the connections, and give all the charity, but if we stay with our Desire to Receive for the Self Alone, there's going to be pain; it makes no difference how "spiritual" we are or how many spiritual actions we’re doing, because we're not going to remove the ego and pain that way. Knowing this, we can now understand that when Rav Yisrael of Koznitz went up to the Torah and said, “Give me the curses,” what he was essentially saying was, “give me as much as I can handle to push me as much as I can to change.” Because as Rav Ashlag makes clear: there is no way out of pain except by complete transformation of the ego.
If we’re honest with ourselves, how many of us, in every moment of pain or discomfort, say it's someone or something else’s fault? We understand now the importance, however, of recognizing why we’re experiencing that pain, and taking responsibility. Going forward, we need to remember the reason we’re experiencing it is because we’re being told in that moment to get rid of more of our Desire to Receive for the Self Alone. And once we get rid of it, there is no pain.
Therefore, a gift we receive from the curses on Shabbat Ki Tavo is an awakening from pain, becoming clear there is no other way out. We need to become extremely focused on diminishing our ego, so that every time pain comes, we say, “I understand why this is happening. It's awakening me to know I am still attached to my ego and selfish nature.” Because if we are still attached, it means that maybe we are experiencing only a little bit of pain now, but that path leads to greater pain if we don’t transform it. There is no in-between path, unfortunately, where we can be a little bit spiritual and connected and still diminish some pain. It doesn't work like that. However, the good news is that if we take this seriously and become awakened to it, we can work towards getting on the other path, the one where no matter what, there is never any pain.