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.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Parshat Ki Tavo

The Mountain of Curse

Moshe ordered the people that soon after they crossed over the river Jordan, they should perform a ceremony of blessing and curse:

"When you cross the Jordan, the following shall stand upon Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. While the following shall stand upon Mount Eval for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naftali" (Devarim 27:12-13).

Sefer Yehoshua chapter 8 describes how Israel followed Moshe's instructions.

While Mount Evil is known as the "mountain of curse", its partner Mount Gerizim was witness to a curse a couple of hundred years later.

Sefer Shoftim records how Gidon, the judge who was offered, but turned down, the monarchy, had seventy sons. One of those children was called Avimelech. His mother was a "concubine from Shechem" (Shoftim 8:31).

Shechem was city whose inhabitants were not Israelite, but were nevertheless, Israelite citizenry. At times they were loyal to Israel, but at other times they were loyal to their Canaanite origins.

Avimelech approached them pointing out the benefits to them if they helped him seize the leadership of Israel and so they enabled him to hire mercenaries who helped him execute all his brothers, save the youngest, Yotam, who managed to escape.

And so "the inhabitants of Shechem and all Bet-millo assembled, and they went and made Abimelech king" (ibid 9:6).

Some time later, Yotam ascended Mount Gerizim and cursed the people in Shechem below. He told them a story of the trees approaching first the olive tree, then the fig tree and finally the vine, to be their king. All these trees that produce luscious fruits refused. Finally they approached the bramble who agreed to be their king.

The olive, fig and vine trees represent Gidon and his sons who refused the monarchy, while the bramble refers to Avimelech, who seized it.

The bramble is appropriate for Avimelech. It, like Avimelech, is produced by a mixture of seeds. It produces no fruit and its thorns prick those who approach it. More than that, it steals the water from the surrounding tress and destroys the wealth of the earth it grows on.

However, it does have redeeming feature, it can provide shade. Shade, or security, is something positive a ruthless dictator can provide his people. The needs of the people sometime require such leadership.

Yotam told the inhabitants of Shechem that if they made Avimelech their king because they needed this type of leadership, than all well and good, but they should note that if not: "let fire come out of the thorn, and consume the cedars of Lebanon" (ibid 15).

The bramble is a very dry bush with little moisture. In hot weather it can catch fire. When it does so, it destroys all the trees that surround it.

Yotam tells Shechem that that is the fate that awaits them. Indeed, that is what occurred.

It is difficult to know whether Yotam was cursing, prophesying or merely predicting this course of events, however, like this week's parsha, is teaching a life lesson of cause and effect.

We may benefit from the pleasure that unfaithfulness to God might bring us, but in the long term, the price we pay is not worth it. The sin can eventually consume us.

Rather then reaping the curse of Mount Gerizim, it would be more beneficial for us, to reap its blessing.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Ki Tavo entiled: "The Return to Egypt", appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Ki Tavo entiled: "The Tochecha", appears at

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