The Return to Egypt
As well as the covenant at Sinai, this week's parsha sees Moshe make a covenant with Israel at the Plains of Moav.
It contains a long and mostly tortuous description of what Israel would suffer should it break this covenant. It ends on an ironic note: "The Lord will bring you back to Egypt in ships, through the way about which I had said to you, You will never see it again. There, you will seek to be sold to your enemies for slaves and handmaids, but there will be no buyer" (Devarim 28:68).
The people who began its history with freedom from slavery from Egypt, with the Egyptians doing their utmost to maintain their hold over them, will find themselves returning to Egypt in an attempt to sell themselves as slaves, but will find the Egyptians uninterested in buying them.
However, there is even more bitter irony here. Yaakov originally went down to Egypt to escape famine. In this instance we see that God "will bring back upon you all the diseases of Egypt which you dreaded" (ibid 60). The previous passuk described them as plagues that would bring sickness.
These conditions would entail famine and would explain why the people would be so impoverished that would feel the need to sell themselves as slaves.
This covenant, also called the Tochecha, sees an undoing of history. All the good that Israel had achieved would be undone and the people would revert to their original state.
In relation to all the horrors threatened in this chapter, seeing one's own history and achievements folding up and reverting to state as if they never actually existed, must be the bitterest pill for Israel to swallow. No wonder some commentaries understand the word "be'oniyot" – "in ships" to be "be'aniyut" – "in mourning".
Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Ki Tavo entiled: "The Tochecha" appears at http://parshablog.blogspot.com/2006_09_01_archive.html