FROM THE TORAH
This week’s Sedra Kee-Tavo is filled with narrative and prescriptive ceremonial drama, anticipated for the occasion of entrance into the Land of Israel. It begins with a succinct review of Israelite history (cf. Tsey Ulmad in the Haggadah of Pesach) as a basket of first fruits is presented to the Kohen. The theme of righteousness, established in previous sedras, is reflected in the removal of third-year tithe. Concurrent with the crossing of the boundary to the promised Land is the rehearsal of the terms of the covenant, with special expanded description of its sanctions, focused anxiously in the synagogue reading as Tochachah (Rebuke). While the order of sedras is, for the most part, independent of the calendar of holy days, it must be noted that Sedra Kee-Tavo is poised to anticipate the penitential solution of the Days of Awe, which occur two Sabbaths hence.
BASKET OF FIRST FRUITS
When you come (Kee-Tavo) to the Land which the Eternal your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and settle in it, then you shall put some of every first fruit which you harvest from your Land into a basket and go to the place where the Eternal your God chooses to establish His Name. Come to the Kohen who will be serving at that time and say to him: “I acknowledge this day before the Eternal your God that I have entered the Land which the Eternal promised our Fathers to give to us.” The Kohen shall then take the basket from your hand and place it before the Altar of the Eternal your God.
Make the following declaration before the Eternal your God: “An unsettled Aramean was my Father, who went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number. There he became a great nation, mighty and numerous. But the Egyptians treated us harshly: they afflicted us and imposed heavy labor upon us. We cried out to the Eternal, the God of our Fathers. The Eternal heard our voice. He saw our affliction, our toil and our distress. The Eternal brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror, and with signs and with wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this Land, a Land flowing with milk and honey. Now I bring the first of the fruit of the Land which You, O Eternal, have given me.” (Deuteronomy 26:5-10a)
Leave the basket before the Eternal your God, and prostrate yourself before Him. Rejoice in all of the good that the Eternal your God has granted you and your household—you and the Levite and the stranger who is in your midst.
When you have finished setting aside the third-year tithe of your produce (cf. Deuteronomy 14:28-29 in Sedra Re’ey) for the Levite, for the stranger, for the orphan, and for the widow, and they have eaten sufficiently in your gates, then you shall declare before the Eternal your God: “I have completely removed from my house the consecrated produce and given it to the Levite and to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, in complete accordance with Your commandment, which You commanded me; I have not violated any of Your commandments or forgotten them. I have not eaten any of it in violation. I did not remove any of it while impure. I have not given any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the Eternal My God and acted in accordance with all that You commanded me. Look down from Your holy abode, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the Land which You have given us, as You swore to our fathers, a Land flowing with milk and honey.” (Deuteronomy 26:13-15)
This day the Eternal your God commands you to observe these statutes and the ordinances, to so do with all of your heart and with all of your soul. Today do you affirm the Eternal to be your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His statutes, commandments and ordinances, to obey Him. The Eternal does affirm you this day to be His treasured people, as He promised you, by observing all of His commandments, and to establish you as high above all of the nations which He has made, for praise, for renown, and for glory, and for your being a people holy to the Eternal your God, as He has promised.
WRITTEN AND VERBAL TESTIMONY
Moses, together with the Elders of Israel, charges the people: Observe all of the Mitzvah which I command you this day. When you cross the Jordan to the Land which the Eternal your God is giving to you, set up large stones and coat them white. Write upon the stones all the words of this Torah, displayed clearly, when you cross over and enter the Land, a Land flowing with milk and honey as the Eternal, the God of your fathers, has promised you. Set up those stones on Mount Eyval, and build there an altar of whole stones, unhewn by iron, to the Eternal your God (cf. Exodus 20:22 in Sedra Yitro). Offer up on it burnt offerings to the Eternal your God, and sacrifice peace offerings which you shall eat there, and rejoice before the Eternal your God.
Moses, together with the Levitical Kohanim, cautions all of Israel: Be quiet and listen, O Israel; this day you become a people to the Eternal your God. Listen to His voice and carry out His statutes and commandments which I am commanding you today. He charges the following tribes to stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people as they cross the Jordan: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. For the curse the following tribes will stand on Mount Eyval: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.
The Levites shall declare to every man of Israel, with a loud voice:
Cursed be one who makes a sculptured or molten image (cf. Exodus 20:4 in Sedra Yitro), abhorred by the Eternal, the work of a graver’s hands, and sets it up in secret—and let all the people respond by saying, Amen!
Cursed be one who treats his father or his mother with contempt (cf. Exodus 20:12 in Sedra Yitro)—and let all the people respond, Amen!
Cursed be one who moves the landmark of his neighbor (cf. Deuteronomy 19:14 in Sedra Shofetim)—and let all the people respond, Amen!
Cursed be one who misleads the blind on his way (cf. Leviticus 19:14 in Sedra Kedoshim)—and let all the people respond, Amen!
Cursed be one who subverts judgment for the stranger, orphan and widow (Deuteronomy 24:17 in Sedra Kee-Teytzey)—and let all the people respond, Amen!
Cursed be one who lies with his father’s wife, for he has uncovered the garment of his father (cf. Deuteronomy 23:1 in Sedra Kee-Teytzey; Leviticus 18:8 in Sedra Acharey Mot; and Leviticus 20:11 in Sedra Kedoshim)—and let all the people respond, Amen!
Cursed be one who lies with any animal (cf. Exodus 22:18 in Sedra Mishpatim and Leviticus 20:15 in Sedra Kedoshim)—and let all the people respond, Amen!
Cursed be one who lies with his sister, whether daughter of his father or daughter of his mother (cf. Leviticus 18:9 in Sedra Acharey Mot)—and let all the people respond, Amen!
Cursed be one who lies with his mother-in-law—and let all the people respond, Amen!
Cursed be one who strikes down his fellow in secret—and let all the people respond, Amen!
Cursed be one who accepts a bribe to take the life of an innocent person (cf. Exodus 23:8 in Sedra Mishpatim and Deuteronomy 16:19 in Sedra Shofetim)—and let all the people respond, Amen!
Cursed be one who does not uphold to observe the words of this Torah—and let all the people respond, Amen!
But if you do indeed listen to the voice of the Eternal your God and observe all of the commandments which I command you this day, then the Eternal your God will hold you high above all the nations of the earth, and all of these blessings will come upon you:
Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the countryside.
Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land and the fruit of your animals, the offspring of your herd and the young of your flock.
Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading trough.
Blessed shall you be in your coming in, and blessed shall you be in your going out.
The Eternal will grant defeat upon your enemies, who will come out against you on one road but will flee from you on seven.
The Eternal will command blessing upon your storehouses and upon all of your efforts, and He will bless you in the Land that He is giving to you.
The Eternal will establish you to be His holy people, as He has promised you, if you observe His commandments and walk in His ways. All of the peoples of the earth shall see that the Name of the Eternal is called upon you, and they will fear you. The Eternal will so increase your bounty upon the Land which He promised to your fathers to give to you.
The Eternal will open his benevolent storehouse of heaven to provide timely rain for your Land and bless all that you do. You will thereby provide loans to many nations, but you will not borrow.
The Eternal will make you the head and not the tail, you will be at the top and not the bottom, if you obey the commandments of the Eternal which I command you this day and not depart from them to serve other gods.
But if you do not heed the voice of the Eternal your God to observe all of His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, then all of these curses shall come upon you:
Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the countryside.
Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading trough.
Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, the offspring of your herd and the young of your flock.
Cursed shall you be in your coming in, and cursed shall you be in your going out.
The Eternal will release against you curse, tumult and rebuke, for all that you undertake, in rapid destruction for the evil you have committed in forsaking Me.
The Eternal will press pestilence against you to annihilate you from upon the Land which you are entering to possess.
The Eternal will strike you with varieties of painful and wasting diseases, and suffering of the sword, until you perish.
The heavens over your head shall be copper, and the earth beneath you shall be iron.
The Eternal will turn the rain of your land to dust, which will fall upon you from the sky until you are destroyed.
The Eternal will impose upon you defeat before your enemies, so that while you come out against them on one road, you will flee from them on seven.
Your fate will terrify all of the kingdoms on earth; your carcass will become food for every bird, for every animal, unperturbed.
The Eternal will strike you with the boils of Egypt (cf. Exodus 9:9-10 in Sedra Va-eyra), with hemorrhoids and other irritating diseases of the skin, from which you will not be able to be healed.
The Eternal will strike you with insanity, with blindness, with bewilderment of the heart. You will grope your way at noon as the blind feel their way in the darkness. You will succeed at nothing, constantly oppressed and robbed, with no one to help.
When a woman is betrothed, another man shall lie with her. When you build a house, you shall not dwell in it. When you plant a vineyard, you shall not harvest its fruits. Your ox shall be slaughtered before your eyes, but you shall not eat of it. Your ass shall be stolen from you but will not return. Your flock shall be given to your enemies, and there shall be no one to save. Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people; your eyes shall see and suffer all the day, but you will be powerless to do anything. The fruit of your land and labor shall be consumed by a people whom you have not known, and you will be only oppressed and crushed all the time. You will be driven insane by what your eyes see. The Eternal will afflict you with malignant lesions on your knees and thighs, from which you will not be able to be healed from the sole of your foot to the top of your head.
The Eternal will deliver you and your chosen king to a nation which you and your fathers have not known. There shall you serve other gods of wood and stone, becoming an object of derision among all the peoples to which the Eternal may conduct you.
Though you shall plant much seed in the field, little shall you gather in, as the locust shall consume it. Many vineyards shall you plant and work, but you shall not enjoy or preserve their wine, as the worm shall devour them. Many olives shall you have in your territory, but you shall not anoint with their oil, as your olive shall fall off. Sons and daughters shall you beget, but they shall not be yours, as they shall go into captivity. The locust shall take possession of all the trees and fruit of your land.
The stranger in your midst shall rise above you higher and higher, while you shall descend beneath him lower and lower. He shall become your creditor, but you shall not become his. He shall become the head, and you shall become the tail.
All of these curses shall be upon you as divine signs and portents, and upon your offspring forever, because you failed to serve the Eternal your God in appreciation for all of His bounty towards you. So shall you serve your enemies, to whom the Eternal is subjecting you, in hunger and in thirst, in nakedness and in a lack of everything. He shall place a yoke of iron upon your neck until He has destroyed you.
The Eternal shall raise up against you a distant nation, as swiftly as the eagle, whose language you do not understand, a nation of no compassion, not even for the old or for the young. It shall consume all of your produce and livestock, leaving you nothing until it causes you to perish. It shall besiege you in all of your gates and in all of your Land, until the high and fortified walls, in which you find security, fall. Then you shall eat the fruit of your womb and the flesh of your children, whom the Eternal your God has given to you, in the desperate straits that your enemy has imposed upon you. The gentlest among you shall refuse to share the flesh of his children which he would eat, with his kinsman or his own wife or even his children whom he might have spared. A woman so dainty that she never tried to set her foot on the ground shall refuse to share with her own husband or children the afterbirth that emerges from between her legs or the children whom she bears, but instead, out of a lack of anything else, will eat them in secret, in the desperate straits that your enemy has imposed upon you within your gates.
If you fail to observe all of the words of this Torah which are written in this scroll, to fear this imposing and awesome Name, the Eternal your God, then the Eternal shall increase and expand the plagues that He imposes upon you and your offspring. He shall repeat upon you all of the sickness of Egypt which you dreaded, and He shall also impose upon you every sickness and plague that is not mentioned in this Torah. From being as numerous as the stars of heaven, you will be left few in number, because you did not obey the Eternal your God; and just as the Eternal rejoiced over you to benefit you and to increase you, so shall He rejoice over you to cause you to perish, and you shall be torn away from the Land you are entering to possess.
The Eternal will scatter you among all of the peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, where you will serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of wood and stone. There you will find no rest or comfort, no security, but fear night and day. In the morning you shall wish it were evening, and in the evening you shall wish it were morning. The Eternal will return you to Egypt in ships, on the route that I said you would never again see. There you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as slaves, but no one will buy.
These, then, are the words of the covenant which the Eternal commanded Moses to conclude with the Children of Israel in the land of Moab, in addition to the covenant which He made with them at Horeb.
UNDERSTANDING AND SUCCESS
Moses addresses all of Israel: Although you have witnessed the evidence, great signs and wonders which the Eternal performed in Egypt to Pharaoh and to all of his servants and his land, the Eternal has not provided you with a knowing heart, seeing eyes or hearing ears, in order to understand, until this day. For forty years I was your guide and attendant in the wilderness: the clothing upon you did not wear out, nor did your shoes from around your feet. Bread you ate not, nor did you drink wine or shaychar, in order for you to understand that I am the Eternal, your God. Then, when you came to this place, Sichon king of Cheshbon and Og king of Bashan went out to attack us, and we defeated them. Thus we acquired their land as an inheritance for the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of the Manassites. So shall you keep and observe the words of this covenant in order that you may succeed in all that you do.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Sixth Haftarah of Consolation
Arise! Be bright!
Your light is coming,
the glory of the Eternal
will shine upon you!
In the meantime,
darkness covers the earth
and the other nations,
but now the nations
and their rulers
will walk in your light!
Look around and see:
all of them are preparing
to come to you,
with your sons
and your daughters
Then you shall shine,
your heart shall
skip a beat,
as the wealth of nations
is turned to you:
camels of Midian and Ephah
coming from Sheba,
bearing gold and frankincense,
of the Eternal!
The sheep of Kedar,
the rams of Nevayot,
shall serve for acceptable offerings
upon My altar;
I shall glorify
My glorious house!
Foreigners shall rebuild your walls,
and their kings shall serve you,
for though in My anger
I struck you down,
in My favor
shall I show you compassion.
Your gates shall be open
day and night
to receive the wealth of nations
and the procession
of their kings.
Indeed the nation, the kingdom,
who does not serve you
shall be no more.
The glory of Lebanon—
cypress, elm and cedar—
shall come together
to beautify My Sanctuary;
I shall glorify
the place of My feet.
Those who once despised you
shall come to you,
upon the soles of your feet,
City of the Eternal,
Zion of the Holy One of Israel.
Instead of being forsaken and abandoned,
I shall establish you
as the pride of the world,
the joy of generations!
You shall suck
the milk of nations and kings,
and you shall be assured
that I, the Eternal, am your Savior,
Mighty One of Jacob.
Instead of brass, I shall bring gold;
instead of iron, I shall bring silver;
instead of wood, brass;
and instead of stone, iron.
I shall make peace and righteousness
your new taskmasters.
Violence shall no more be heard in your Land,
desolation and destruction within your borders;
you shall call your walls salvation
and your gates, praise.
The sun shall no more be your light by day,
nor shall the moon shine for you,
as the Eternal shall be
your everlasting light,
and the days of your mourning
shall be fulfilled.
Your people, all of them righteous,
will possess the Land forever,
the branch of My planting,
the work of My hands
The smallest shall become a thousand,
the youngest, a mighty nation.
I, the Eternal,
shall hasten it
in its time.
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Talmud Sotah 32a
“Write upon the stones
all the words of this Torah,
literally, ‘explained well.’”
“Explained well” means: In seventy languages.
Torah Temimah (Baruch HaLevi Epstein, 20th cent.):
Commentators have understood the purpose of “seventy languages” to allow all nations to know and understand what is written in the Torah. But despite their vigorous defense of this literal interpretation of the Talmudic comment, that the entire Torah was “written on the stones” in seventy languages, it seems inconceivable! It is more likely that only the Ten Commandments were so written, as is suggested by the qualifying phrase, “all the words of this Torah,” in the Hebraic sense of “all of some of the words of” in contradistinction with “this Torah” as we find in Sedra Vayelech (Deuteronomy 31:9 – “Moses wrote this Torah…”).
But apart from commentators’ literal interpretation, we can understand language in the way that the Zohar explains the comment in Talmud that the members of the Sanhedrin know seventy languages (Talmud Sanhedrin 17a), namely, that they know seventy faces of the Torah (Zohar III:20 Ra’ayah Meheymana). There the Zohar’s non-literal interpretation of languages must stand, because the literal interpretation cannot be true. Here also (Talmud Sotah 32a), seventy languages means that the Torah was explained there from all perspectives, in all of its aspects (facets!); and the Rabbis normally use the word “language” [lashon] in the sense of “manner” or “way”….
Talmud Berachot 63b
Loving Students of Torah
“Moses, together with the Levitical Kohanim,
cautions all of Israel:
Be quiet and listen, O Israel,
this day you become a people
to the Eternal your God.”
Rabbi Judah: But was the Torah given to Israel on that day? Wasn’t that day, rather, the end of forty years?! These (otherwise anachronistic) words are meant to teach us that the Torah is beloved to those who study it each and every day as the day it was delivered from Mount Sinai.
Torah Temimah (Baruch HaLevi Epstein, 20th cent.): Rabbi Judah, in choosing to distinguish “those who study it,” is likening them to Moses and the Kohanim and the Levites, who said those words to Israel. For in reality only those who learn it can feel the highest degree of love for the Torah, in contrast with the rest of the people, who do not reach to that level.
Deuteronomy Rabbah 7:1
Meaning of “Amen”
“Then all of the people
shall respond by saying,
Nothing is better
before the Holy One, blessed be He,
than the “Amen” which Israel answers.
Rabbi Judah bar Simone taught that the meaning of “Amen” is threefold: Oath, Consent, Confirmation.
Whence do we learn that “Amen” has the meaning of Oath?
“The Kohen shall therewith administer the following Oath to the woman: If no man has lain with you…, then be unharmed by this bitter water of imprecation. But…if a man other than your husband has lain with you, then may the Eternal make you a curse and an imprecation among your people as the water of imprecation enters you and the Eternal causes your thigh to fall and your belly to swell. The woman shall answer: Amen! Amen!” (Numbers 5:21-22)
Whence do we learn that “Amen” has the meaning of Consent?
“Cursed be one who makes a sculptured or molten image, abhorred by the Eternal, the work of a graver’s hands, and sets it up in secret—and let all the people consent by saying, Amen!” (Deuteronomy 27:15)
Whence do we learn that “Amen” has the meaning of Confirmation?
“’Put Solomon my son upon my mule and bring him down to Gichon. Let Tzadok the Kohen and Nathan the Prophet anoint him there to be king over Israel, and blow the Shofar and declare, “Long live King Solomon!” Follow up after him, and let him come and sit upon my throne, and he will reign in my stead. I do hereby designate him to be ruler over Israel and over Judah!’ Then Benaiah son of Jehoyadah answered the king and confirmed, ‘Amen! May the Eternal, the God of my lord the king, so say!’” (I Kings 1:33-36)
Rabbi Yudan taught: Whoever answers “Amen” in this world will succeed in answering “Amen” in the world to come.
Rabbi Joshua ben Levi taught: Whoever visits houses of prayer and houses of study in this world will succeed in visiting houses of prayer and houses of study in the world to come. Whence? It was said, “Happy are those who dwell in Your house; they will yet again praise You!” (Psalms 84:5)
Rabbi Yudan offered a similar teaching, based upon the words of Moses:
“But if you do indeed listen to the voice of the Eternal your God…”
Whoever listens to the voice of Torah in this world will succeed in hearing the “voice” about which the Prophet promised that “the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of bridegroom and the voice of bride will once again be heard in the place that you thought desolate” (Jeremiah 33:10-11)! Such was the import of the words of Moses, “If you do indeed listen (literally, ‘listen listen’) to the voice of the Eternal your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1a), then “the Eternal your God will hold you high” (ibid. 1b): in two realms for your two listenings! Therefore study the words of Torah with double diligence.
Deuteronomy Rabbah 7:2
Divine Presence in the Synagogue
“If you do indeed listen
to the voice of the Eternal your God…,
then…all of these blessings will come upon you…”
This is what is meant by the verse:
“Happy is the man who listens to Me,
watching over My doors every day,
guarding the posts of My portals;
finding Me, he finds life,
deriving favor from the Eternal.”
“Happy is the man who listens to Me”—said the Holy One, blessed be He: Happy is the man at a time when all that he hears is coming from Me! (Where would this occur? In the synagogue, as the following verses make clear:)
“Watching over My doors”—said the Holy One, blessed be He: When you go to pray in the synagogue, do not stop at the outer door to pray there, but set your course to enter inside beyond the outer door, since “doors” is in the plural, thus implying a series of doors, both outside and inside. But why? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, counts your every step and rewards you for the sum of them.
“Guarding the posts of My portals”—Rabbi Judah bar Sima taught that the word for door posts here, mezuzot, does not refer to the written words on parchment commanded in the Torah (cf. Deuteronomy 6:9), since the mitzvah of mezuzah does not apply to a synagogue, but to the door posts themselves. Just as those structural door posts do not move from the synagogue, so should you not remove yourself from synagogues and houses of study. If you remain, then know that you shall encounter the Divine Presence (Shechinah):
“Finding Me, he finds life”—said the Holy One, blessed be He: Has anyone entered the synagogue and failed to find My Presence there? Rabbi Ayvu cited the verse that makes this point even more explicitly, “God stands in the congregation of God” (Psalms 82:1): As you stand in the synagogue, the Holy One, blessed be He, stands over you!
“Deriving favor from the Eternal”—said the Holy One, blessed be He: Not only do you encounter the Divine Presence in the synagogue, but you come out from there laden with blessings, as was said: “If you do indeed listen to the voice of the Eternal your God (in the synagogue)…,then…all of these blessings will come upon you…”(Deuteronomy 28:1-2).
Talmud Sukkah 46a-46b
Capacity of the Full Vessel
“But if you do indeed listen
to the voice
of the Eternal your God …”
This is the transition from curse to blessing,
therefore the words are emphatic,
translated literally, “If listen you listen…!”
Rabbi Zera taught: This is another example of where the calculations of the Holy One, blessed be He, are different from those of flesh and blood. Flesh and blood assume that an empty vessel is going to accommodate and hold on to something that is put inside it, and that a full vessel will not. But the Holy One, blessed be He, knows that a full vessel will accommodate and hold on to something, while an empty vessel will not!
That is the lesson of the repetition of “listen” in this verse, “If listen you listen…,” especially if we take “listen” to mean “learn”—“If learn you learn,” meaning: If once you learn, then again you will learn! But if you have not learned before, you may not learn now.
There are those who use the same method to derive another lesson: If you have not learned from the old, you will not learn from the new.
Torah Temimah (Baruch HaLevi Epstein, 20th cent.): If you have listened once, then you are inclined to focus your listening another time. This follows the teaching of Ben Azzai: “Doing one mitzvah leads to another” (Mishnah Avot 4:2). There are those who say: If you review what you learned yesterday, not only once but twice, then you are prepared to learn and absorb something new; but if you fail to review the old, then you will not be inclined to learn and retain something new.
Talmud Megillah 107a
“Coming In” and “Going Out”
“Blessed shall you be
in your coming in,
and blessed shall you be
in your going out.”
Rabbi Yochanan: May your “going out” from the world be as your “coming in”—just as your coming in to the world was without sin, so also may your going out from the world be without sin!
Torah Temimah (Baruch HaLevi Epstein, 20th cent.): Rabbi Yochanan’s derash emerges from the reversal of “coming in” and “going out.” According to peshat, “going out” should have preceded “coming in,” as a man is first found going out of his house to work and later returns by coming in. Therefore, Rabbi Yochanan derashes (seeks to understand) how the reversal teaches us something deeper about ”coming in” as preceding “going out.”
Deuteronomy Rabbah 4:1,3
Reading of the Curses
“But if you do not heed the voice of the Eternal your God
to observe all of His commandments and His statutes
which I command you today,
then all of these curses shall come upon you…”
[Note: The Tochachot (Curses) are read as they occur both in Sedra Bechukotai (Leviticus 26:10-46) and in Sedra Kee-Tavo (Deuteronomy 28:7-69).]
Halacha: Are we permitted to divide the total reading of the curses into several smaller portions? Thus taught the Sages: We do not divide the curses, but one person reads all of them.
Our Rabbis provided reasons for not dividing the curses:
Rabbi Chiya bar Gamda cited the teaching (Proverbs 3:11) not to disprize the Eternal’s rebuke by cutting it into small pieces, “for the Eternal reproves the one whom He loves as does a father the son whom he favors” (ibid. 12).
Rabbi Joshua of Sichnin taught in the name of Rabbi Levi: The Eternal has promised the one who is devoted to Him, “I shall be with him in his woe” (Psalms 91:15). Hence, it is not fair that while my children are rebuked I should be blessed. How so? If the curses are divided and read in several aliyot, each of the several honorees will repeat two blessings, one before and one after. Therefore let one person read the entire portion of curses straight through!
The Rabbis teach: The Holy One, blessed be He, did not intend the actual reading of the curses to be harmful to them but as an announcement of the path to be avoided in contrast to the path which they should choose in order to earn due reward. Such a meaning inheres in the preceding words, “See, I place before you the choice between blessing if you heed the commandments, and curse if you do not heed….” (Deuteronomy 11:26 in Sedra Re’ey).
Extensive detail of blessing and curse (cf. Leviticus 26:3-45 in Sedra Bechukotai) is surrounded by “The Eternal spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying…” (Leviticus 25:1 in Sedra Behar) and “These are the statutes and ordinances and teachings that the Eternal placed between Him and the Children of Israel on Mount Sinai through the hand of Moses” (Leviticus 26:46 in Sedra Bechukotai). Therefore, Rabbi Elazar understood those preceding words, “See, I place before you the choice between blessing if you heed the commandments, and curse if you do not heed… (Deuteronomy 11:26 in Sedra Re’ey), to have been spoken by God to Moses at the same time on Mount Sinai as were the details of blessing and curse which follow, and so, “Curse and blessing will not proceed by the direct command of God” (Lamentations 3:38), but they are built in by God to unfold by themselves from evil acts and good acts, respectively.
Rabbi Chaggai looked ahead even further to the words, “Life and death have I set before you, the blessing and the curse: Choose life, that you may live, you and your offspring” (Deuteronomy 30:1)! Not only have I set before you two paths from which to choose, but I am venturing, as it were, inside the legal lines that I have drawn (lifneem meshurat hadeen), to prescribe the choice that you should make: “Choose life!”
Talmud Megillah 24b
Light of the Blind
“You will grope your way at noon
as the blind feel their way
in the darkness…”
Said Rabbi Yosi: What difference should it make to a blind person whether it is dark or there is light? I used to wonder about this verse, “The blind feel their way in the darkness,” until one time, when I was walking in the darkest night and saw a blind man with a candle in his hand. “My son,” I said to him, “why are you carrying a candle?” He answered me, “As long as this candle is in my hand, people can see me and help me avoid obstacles along the way!”
Talmud Arachin 11a
Song is Essential
“All of these curses shall be upon you…and upon your offspring…
because you failed to serve the Eternal your God
in appreciation (literally, ‘in joy and with goodness of heart’)
for all of His bounty towards you.”
Rav Judah reported that Samuel taught: Whence do we learn in the Torah that song is an essential requirement for the Temple service? “A Levite shall come to the place that the Eternal shall choose and shall serve by the Name of the Eternal his God…” (Deuteronomy 18:6-7): What constitutes service by means of the Name? It is the service of song by the Levites that contains the Name!
But the blessing by the Kohanim (cf. Numbers 6:24-27) also constitutes service by means of the Name! No, for in explaining the unique role of the tribe of Levi, the Torah says, “To serve Him and to bless in His Name” (Deuteronomy 10:8), thereby distinguishing between the service of song by the Levites and the blessing by the Kohanim!
So Rav Matnah offered the verse, “Because you failed to serve the Eternal your God in joy and with goodness of heart…” (Deuteronomy 28:47): Serving in joy and with goodness of heart must refer to song (Rashi: A person does not sing a song except out of joy and goodness of heart, as the Prophet said, “Behold My servants shall sing joyfully from goodness of heart” (Isaiah 65:14)!), and so it was the omission of song in the Temple service that would bring the curses upon Israel. Hence, the inclusion of song is an essential requirement for the Temple service!
Talmud Makkot 24a
“The Eternal will scatter you among all of the peoples,
from one end of the earth to the other,
where you will serve other gods,
whom you and your fathers have not known…
There you will find no rest or comfort, no security…”
“You will be lost among the nations,
and the land of your enemies will consume you.”
Rabbi Yosi son of Rabbi Chaninah taught:
Moses our Rabbi uttered four decrees against Israel, then four Prophets came and canceled them.
(1) When Moses said, “Israel dwells in security, alone [badad] like Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:28 in Sedra V’zot Habracha), he was implying that the Children of Israel would never be as uniquely [badad] righteous as their father Jacob and therefore not deserving of security (Rashi). Then, when the Prophet responded to the punishments God was planning against Zion and Samaria, “Forbear, I pray, how will Jacob survive? For he is small [katan]!” (Amos 7:2), he was objecting also to the decree of Moses: Cancel it, I pray; are the Children of Jacob so innocent [katan, pl. ketanim] that they will become as righteous as their father Jacob (Rashi)?! It is then written, “The Eternal relented concerning this…” (ibid. 3a), concerning the punishments of Zion and Samaria, but also the decree of Moses, “…will not stand, declared the Eternal” (ibid. 3b)!
(2) Moses said, “And among those nations (to which you are scattered) you will not be at rest…” (Deuteronomy 28:65). Then the Prophet said, “I will go [haloch] with Israel to provide him comfort [lehargee’o]” (Jeremiah 31:1b), meaning also: “Wherever he goes [haloch], Israel will be at rest [lehargee’o] (in its exile)!”
(3) Moses said, “God visits parents’ sins upon their children” (Exodus 34:7), implying that He may punish children not simply for the sins that they themselves committed but also for the sins committed by their parents. Then came the Prophet to cancel that decree: “The person who sins—only that person shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4)!
(4) Moses said, “You will be lost among the nations…” (Leviticus 26:38a). Then came the Prophet to cancel the decree: “On that day a great shofar shall be sounded, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were scattered in the land of Egypt shall bow down to the Eternal on the Holy Mountain in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 27:13)! But Rav said: I still fear the portent of that decree, “You will be lost among the nations….” To this Rav Papa countered: You might understand “lost” as being “lost” and “sought,” as he said, “I have wandered like a lost sheep; seek out Your servant, as I have not forgotten Your commandments” (Psalms 119:176)! Then Rav must have feared the portent of the second part of the verse, “…and the land of your enemies will consume you” (Leviticus 26:38b). But to that countered Mar Zutra: It might be understood like the eating of cucumbers and melons, whose fruit is consumed but whose seeds remain to produce more fruit. Thus may your offspring be fruitful and multiply in the future even in the land of your enemies in the time of redemption, may it come speedily in our days. (Maharsha: Rabbi Samuel Edels, 16th-17th cent., Ukraine)
Talmud Sanhedrin 99b
“So shall you keep the words of this covenant
and observe (literally, ‘make’) them…”
Resh Lakish taught: Whoever teaches his fellow’s child Torah is likened by the Torah to one who “makes him,” i.e., fashions the child’s life, in keeping with Abraham and Sarah, “who made souls in Charan” (Genesis 12:5). (Rashi: Abraham taught the men, and Sarah taught the women, the verse implying that it was as if they had “made” them!)
Rabbi Elazar taught: It is as if he had made the Torah’s words themselves, as the verse may be read, “So shall you keep the words of this covenant and make them…” (Deuteronomy 29:8)!
Rava taught: It is as if he had made himself thereby, as the verse, “and make them [otam],“ may be read, “and make you [atem]”!
Pesikta Rabbati 36
Two Kinds of Light
“Arise! Be bright!
Your light is coming,
the glory of the Eternal
will shine upon you!
In the meantime,
darkness covers the earth
and the other nations,
but now the nations
and their rulers
will walk in your light!”
When these words were spoken in the Holy Spirit by King David—
“For with You is the source of life;
in Your light shall we see light.”
—regarding whom did he speak them?
He spoke them with regards to the Congregation of Israel, who said to the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the universe, because of the Torah which You gave me and which is called “the source of life,” I shall benefit in Your light for the time to come. But what exactly did the Congregation of Israel mean by their words, “In Your light shall we see light?” What kind of light does the Congregation of Israel expect?
That is the light of the Messiah, as was said, “God saw the light as good” (Genesis 1:4), meaning that the Holy One, blessed be He, anticipated the Messiah and his actions before the world was created and hid them away before their time under His divine throne.
Satan the adversary questioned the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the universe, for whom is that light that You have concealed under Your throne of glory? Said He to him: It is for the one who will in the future put you in your shameful place! O Master of the universe, said Satan, reveal him to me! When he was revealed to Satan, the latter was so upset that he fell upon his face and said: This is indeed the Messiah who will in the future send me and all of the rulers of the nations of the world down to Gehinnom, as was said, “He will remove death forever, and my Lord God will wipe away every tear from every face and remove the disgrace suffered by His people from upon the earth” (Isaiah 25:8)!
With that the nations of the world were bestirred enough to ask Him to identify the one who would in the future cause their downfall: What is his name? What indeed is he? The Holy One, blessed be He, answered them: He is the Messiah [Mashiach], and his name is Ephraim, My righteous “Anointed One” [Mashiach]. He will stand tall and raise his generation and enlighten the eyes of Israel and bring salvation to his people, and no nation or tongue shall be able to defeat him, as was said, “No enemy shall attack him, no iniquitous foe shall impair him” (Psalms 89:23)! All of his enemies and adversaries shall flee, as was said, “I shall beat down his adversaries from before him and strike those who hate him” (ibid. 24)! And the rivers shall even stop flowing into the sea, as was said, “I shall place his hand against the sea, his right hand against the rivers” (ibid. 26)!
But in the meantime, said the Holy One blessed be He to His Anointed One, hidden away with you are the iniquities of Israel. They will arrest and strangle you in a yoke of iron and make you as ineffectual as a blind cow. Their transgressions will cause your tongue to cleave to your palate! Is this what you want? Said the Messiah to the Holy One, blessed be He: How long would such suffering last? The Holy One, blessed be He, answered him: By your life and by Mine, for even a week of suffering that I have decreed for you, if it is unacceptable to you, I would banish it immediately! The Messiah replied: Master of worlds, it would be my soul’s delight to commit myself that not one of Israel should perish!
The Messiah continued: Not only will those to be saved in my days be the living but also those who lie hidden in the dust, and not only will the saved be those who die in my days but also those who have died since the time of Adam the First until now, and not only them but also those who were not born alive, and not only those who were not born alive but also each one whom You thought to create but was not created. This is what I want. To this I commit!
Thereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, appointed four chayot (holy angels) to carry the glorious throne of Messiah. But his enemies, the sovereign princes, sought to indict the generation of the Messiah and thereby prevent its creation. How can you indict that generation? replied the Holy One, blessed be He, the generation which is favored and beloved! by Me! I delight in it, I support it, I want it, as was said, “Behold My servant, whom I support, My chosen, in whom My soul delights; I have placed My spirit upon him, let him bring forth judgment for the nations” (Isaiah 42:1)! How then can you cast aspersions upon him?
“Behold, all of you who light a fire,
surrounding yourselves with sparks,
go ahead and walk in the light of your conflagration,
in the sparks that you have kindled!
This shall be yours from My hand:
in horror shall you perish!”
But, in contrast, not one soul of Israel shall I allow to perish.
Thus were these words spoken by the Congregation of Israel:
“For with You is the source of life;
in Your light shall we see light.”