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, August 14, 2009

Parshat Re'ay

The Power of the Curse

Moshe begins this week's parsha by telling Israel that they have choice: "a blessing or a curse". "You shall place those blessing upon Mount Gerizim, and those cursing upon Mount Eval" (Devarim 11:29).

This ceremony is not performed until Israel crosses over the Jordan, as described in Yehoshua chapter 8.

The concept of a curse is strange concept for the modern world. However, the ancient world believed that the spoken word took on a power of its own, and curses therefore, could wreak havoc.

We can see this concept from a strange story that appears towards the end of Sefer Shoftim. A young man from the Ephraim hill country, called Michayahu, stole eleven hundred silver pieces from his mother. His mother, not knowing that her son was the thief, put a curse on him. This shocks him into confession: "Behold the silver is with me, I took it (Shoftim 17:2)."

His mother immediately responds: "Blessed be my son to the Lord." Learning this as a child, I wasn't sure what to make of this response. However, if we put ourselves into her mindset, we can understand that the power of her curse frightened her now that she realized that it would be utilized against her son. She could not cancel the curse as it already existed. Her only option was to counteract it, by immediately blessing him.

This mindset can also help us understand the son. He had no problem stealing, not even from his own mother, but it was the fear of the curse that made him retract.

The story continues. Michayahu' s mother decides to dedicate the money to God and to build a shrine to him: "I have dedicated the silver before the Lord from my hand for my son to make a graven image and a molten one" (ibid 3).

Once again, they were still frightened of the curse and so they dedicate it to God in order to counteract it.

He then employs a wandering Levite to act as his priest, and his house becomes a place of worship to the local populace. "Micah said, 'Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, because I had a Levite as my priest (ibid 13).'"

Micha's success makes him think that the curse had been lifted. However, note that the author has changed his name from Michayahu to Micha. The removal of God's name is a stunning criticism by the author…and the story ends with Micha being betrayed.

While we must be careful with our words, God's law is not a system of superstition and incantation, it is our actions that count, and no amount of prayer can counteract our lot if we are morally repugnant. Moshe teaches us that we have to chosse blessing, not a prayer, but a way of life.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Re'ay entiled: " The Empty-Handed Slave" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Re'ay entiled: " Doing the What Seems Right " appears at

A further Sedra Short on Parshat Ekev entiled: " The Place " appears at

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