Parshat Ki Tavo 5783: The Final Curse — Redundancy, or Overriding Obligation or Mandating Acceptance?

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShavua, Parshat Ki Tavo is being co-sponsored Mordechai and Gila Bernstein lilui nismas his father Avraham ben Aryeh Leib, and by Rabbi Rafael and Vivianne Willig. Rabbi Willig insists that his dedication is to me. Both families are from Ramat Beit Shemesh. To the Bernstein and Willig families, many thanks for your co-sponsorships and for your continued kindnesses and good wishes.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring (or as the case may be, co-sponsoring) a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Ki Tavo 5783: The Final Curse — Redundancy, or Overriding Obligation or Mandate for Acceptance?

by Moshe Burt

Midway through our Parshat Ki Tavo, as Rabbi Shmuel Goldin relates in a Parsha summary, in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text,” Sefer Davarim (page 259) :

Moshe outlines a series of rituals that are to be performed immediately upon the nation’s entry into the land. Central to these rituals will be the public recitation of [both] twelve curses and [twelve] blessings on the mountains of Gerizim and Eival, first mentioned in Parshat Re’eh. Moshe’s description of this… serves as the textual segue [noun: any smooth, uninterrupted transition from one thing to another] into the major theme of Parshat Ki Tavo, the rewards and punishments to be experienced by the nation, based on their future behavior.

Rabbi Goldin continues with a background explanation of this recitation and asks what seems to be a critical question (ibid, pages 284 – 288) :

Moshe delineates [verb: to portray in words; describe or outline with precision] twelve curses that are to be included in this ceremony, with the understanding that twelve corresponding blessings are to be recited as well. (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Sota 37b) Each curse is presented as resulting from a specific, easily identifiable sin, such as avodah zora, perversion of justice, incest, the taking of bribes, etc…. with one exception. The last in the litany of curses reads: “Accursed is he who will not uphold the words of this Torah, to perform them.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Devarim, Perek 27, posukim 11 – 26)

The final curse in the list seems clearly out of place. What specific sin is reflected in a failure to “uphold the words of this Torah, to perform them”? After delineating a litany of clear, detailed sins, why does the Torah… [end] the list with such a vague, general statement?

Two very different approaches emerge in Rabbinic literature as the scholars struggle to understand this final curse in the litany at Gerizim and Eival. …They interpret it in ways that are uncannily relevant [adjective: bearing upon or connected with the matter in hand; pertinent] to the challenges of our time.

At one end of the spectrum lie those authorities who attempt to identify a specific act or omission that would fall under the… [heading] of failing to uphold the Torah.

The Talmud Yerushalmi… quotes… scholars who interpret this phrase as referring to individuals who possess the power to sustain the honor and authority for the Torah but fail to do so. Included in this category, the Rabbis maintain, are individuals who have the means to enable others to study, as well as those who can effectively defend the Torah against its detractors [noun: a person who tries to take away from the quality, value, or reputation of someone or something; critic].

In… application of this approach, Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda quote Shmuel who identifies this verse as the catalyst [noun; a person or thing that precipitates (brings about) an event or change] for a powerful historical event: [the discovery, during renovations in the Beit HaMikdash, of a Torah Scroll, open to the verse:] “Accursed is he who will not uphold the words of this Torah, to perform them” during the reign of the righteous king [Melech] Yoshiyahu of Yehuda who experiences a deep emotional reaction to what he hears (Rabbi Goldin citing Melachim II, Perek 22, posukim 3 – 11). Yoshiyahu… rend[s] his garments (Rabbi Goldin citing Melachim II, Perek 22, posuk 11) and exclaim[s], It is my responsibility to uphold. (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Yerushalmi Sota, 7:4) Fearful of Divine retribution over the rampant corruption in Yehuda, and… sensitized to his own responsibility to address the situation, Yoshiyahu launches a major religious… movement across his kingdom. (Rabbi Goldin citing Melachim II, Perek 23: 1 – 31)

Centuries later, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshiva of Volozhin, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (the Netziv) … sees the Biblical imperative to “uphold the words of [the]Torah” as mandating communal support for those engaged in Torah study. Individuals capable of providing such support, Rabbi Berlin argues, are obligated to enable Torah scholars to “be free to fight the war of Torah study, that they may be strengthened through the Torah of the Lord.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Ha’amek Davar, Sefer Devarim, Perek 27, posuk 26)

At the other end of the spectrum lie those scholars who see no need to redefine the last curse… in specific terms. These scholars are… willing to accept the broad, general tone of the declaration, “Accursed is he who will not uphold the words of this Torah, to perform them,” at face value.

Leading this group, Rashi builds on a Talmudic discussion (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Shavuot 36a) and insists that with this final admonition…, Hashem includes the obligation to observe the entire Torah in the pact enacted upon the Am Yisrael’s entry into the Land. With their public acceptance of this admonition, Rashi continues, the nation accepts this full obligation “with an
imprecation [verb: to invoke or call down (evil or curses), as upon a person] and an oath. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Devarim, Perek 27, posuk 26)

While Rashi’s approach would appear to be in line with the text of this curse, a serious problem arises. If Hashem closes the litany of curses… with an overarching warning to observe the entire Torah, why are all of the previous curses necessary? A simple issuance of this final warning should have been sufficient.

The Ramban answers… by suggesting that the last warning… does not deal with the issue of observing the Mitzvot, but with the issue of accepting them:

This verse is thus a ban on those who rebel [against Torah authority] and who deny [its legitimacy]. (Rabbi Goldin citing Ramban on Sefer Devarim, Perek 27, posuk 26)

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch… maintains that the last curse… condemns anyone who deliberately “deprives one single word of Hashem’s Torah of its validity or binding power, who persuades himself or lets himself be persuaded that it no longer need be kept, has lost its meaning and importance.”

With powerful foresight, the Torah thus addresses a threat that will gather strength over two thousand years later, with the advent of the nontraditional denominations of Judaism.

This author sees, in addition to Rabbi Goldin’s sources, commentary and discussions, the advent of other forms of attitudes, mores [plural, noun: Sociology: folkways of central importance accepted without question and embodying the fundamental moral views of a group] that run contrary to “uphold[ing] the words of this Torah, to perform them.” Among these forms of attitudes, mores, etc., which seem to actually take on attributes of alien religion, i.e. modern-day avodah zora — same-genderism, biased and politicized judges, judiciary and secular governance, disavowal [noun: a disowning; repudiation; denial] of our Divine legacy of Eretz Yisrael, self-hatred of one’s Jewishness to point of desiring to be like the nations — to name a few.

Rabbi Goldin concludes (pages 288 – 289) :

None of us is perfect. We will all stumble in our Torah observance periodically. That is why… we need Yom Kippur. The moment, however, that we dismiss a Mitzvah as irrelevant to our lives, the moment that we begin to pick and chose between observances that we find meaningful and those that we don’t, that’s the moment we become guilty of failing to “uphold the words of [the] Torah.”

The Torah is a package deal and we are bound by all of its Mitzvot. Loyalty to this principle demonstrates our willingness to adhere to Hashem’s will, rather than our own.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, all at total government expense; due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now in his third year at home in Eretz Yisrael and has embarked on a new chapter in his life. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her spirit and memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of nine years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.