Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Parshat Ki Tavo

The Tochecha

“These are the terms of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moshe to conclude with the children of Israel in the land of Moav…” {Devarim 28:69)

The terms are quite shocking.

It begins with hope. Israel is resting prosperously in its land. The farmer brings his first fruits to the sanctuary and declares that from being in: “Egypt with meager numbers”, Israel has become” a great and very populous nation” having been given this “land flowing with milk and honey” (ibid 26:5-10).

However, it all ends in gloom. By the end of the parsha: “The Lord will send you back to Egypt…you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies” (ibid 28:65). They have again become “few in number after having been as numerous as he stars in the sky” (ibid 62). As for the land of Israel; rather than “flowing with milk and honey” it now has: “scorching heat and drought” (ibid 22). Instead of: “rain for your land its season” (ibid 12), “The Lord will make the rain of your land dust, and sand shall drop on you from the sky” (ibid 24).

The curses are so shocking and frightening, that the reader in synagogue utters them quietly and quickly as if to avoid them, and even more surprisingly, alters two of the words (ibid 27 & 30) in order to soften their blow.

The reversal of fortune is so savage and swift that: “you shall be in terror night and day, with no assurance of survival” (ibid 66). Just like King Josiah “rent his clothes, when the king had heard the words of the book of the Law” (II Kings 22:11), we too feel shell shocked at the frightening threats of God.

Unlike the parallel passage in Sefer Vayikra, where the rebuke ends with a promise of salvation, the Tochecha in our parsha offers no words of encouragement it ends on this sour note, and we are left with its bitter taste.

This is not really the kind of message we would like to hear in the run up to Rosh Hashana. Where is hope, where is God’s mercy?

The answer once again, lies in the delivery of the passage. The blessings that God promises come in one clean sweep. Faithfulness to Him leads to abundant prosperity. However, the curse for being disloyal comes in stages.

The first group of threats, a description of natural disasters and calamities and defeat in war (Devarim 27:15-44) is prefaced with a warning: “If you do not obey the Lord your God” (ibid 15). This is intended to be a wake up call to the people.

The second group of threats, a description of conquest by other nations (ibid 45-57), is also prefaced with a warning: “All these curses will befall you … because you did not heed the Lord your God” (ibid 45).

The third and final group of threats, that of disease, decimation and exile (ibid 58-65) is once again prefaced with a warning: “If you fail to observe faithfully…” (ibid 58).

Unlike with the rewards, God does not act on His threats in one swift movement. He brings the calamities in stages, in order to give us the opportunity to witness the results of our indiscretions, so that we can return to Him.

Furthermore, the final comparison to Egypt also brings us comfort. The Exodus from Egypt was believed to be an impossible escape, yet it happened. So too, our deepest darkest exile will be ended.

The tranquility of the beginning of the parsha will be restored and may we all: “rejoice with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given you” (ibid 26:11).


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