Pashas Ki Savo
This week’s Sedra lists the blessings and curses that are to be given to Klal-Yisroel upon their entering Eretz-Yisroel. These curses and blessings hinge upon Klal-Yisroel’s shmiras HaTorah or lack thereof. All of the verses used for the blessings seem to be mirrored in the curses.
In the Brachos we are told of all sorts of instances in which we will be blessed, and that section closes with the statement אתה בבאך וברוך אתה בצאתיךברוך – blessed are you upon entering, and blessed are you upon exiting. Rashi explains this to mean (based on the Gemorah Babba Metzia107a) that just like when we are born and enter the world we are free of sin so too when we die and leave this world we should leave free of sin (see Maharal, Sifsei-Chachamim, and K’sav-Sofer for explanations as to why Chazal explain the Passuk in this context).
The Maharal (in his Gur-Aryeh) raises the following question: we can explain being blessed as being free of sin. In the converse scenario however, (in the case of curse:...בבאיך ... ארור ) how can we say that someone who dies a sinner is born a sinner? A baby may be born void of sin and even void of merit alike, but they cannot be born free and sinful.
The Maharal suggests the following explanation: people are born without having any Mitzvos to their credit. If they remain that way through life, they then die without Mitzvos and without blessing. The Maharal is thus equating being void of blessing to actually being cursed.
While the Maharal’s approach does seem to answer the apparent difficulty with the Passuk, it still leaves us in somewhat of an unclear state of mind. Why is the absence of Mitzvos tantamount to being cursed? True, such a person may be lacking Bracha, but why should that absence of bracha be equated with being cursed? It may be true that it is impossible to remain free of sin, and consequently also become full of sin, and thus cursed. It would still be nice for the Passuk – or at least the Meforshim – to make such an inference.
Perhaps there is something much deeper being expressed in these Passukim. The Passuk only makes mention of the beginning and the end of man’s life in this world. It leaves out everything in between. Furthermore, we have already observed that there is no inherent difference between the beginning of life of someone who stays pure and free of sin, and that of someone who doesn’t. The only apparent difference is that the former dies pure and void of sin and the latter doesn’t. It thus would seem that the Torah is emphasizing that unused potential is nothing unless it results in a maximized outcome. While every Mitzva and Avaira (sin) that man commits has its value and will be justly rewarded or punished, it would seem that the deciding factor in determining whether people are truly blessed or cursed is whether right now they are truly good or whether right now they aren’t.
Someone who has been righteous doesn’t have to die righteous, and someone who is a sinner doesn’t have to die a sinner. An act good or bad is not necessarily indicative of whom or what a person truly is. Chazal tell us that when someone does Teshuva (repents) the actual sins are transformed sometimes even into meritorious actions.
We all start life in the same way. The difference lies in what we do with it. The beginning of life is merely a point in time from which one can go in either the direction of good or that of evil. Hence whether the beginning of life is a point of goodness or a point, God forbid, of evil is only determined by the direction in which we draw the line to the endpoint.
Since we do not know when our life will come to an end, we must ensure that we are at every moment at an “endpoint” that will guarantee us that the totality of our life is purity and goodness.
In this week’s Sedra the Torah instructs us as to the Vidui HaMaáser – the testimony recited upon finishing a tithing cycle. After we attest to the fact that we acted in accordance to the maáser laws, we then are directed to request the following bracha from Hashem: “Look down (Hashem) from Your Holy Abode, from the Heavens, and bless Your nation – the Nation of Israel, and the Land that You gave to us – as promised to our forefathers – a land flowing with milk and honey”. Even when the poetic form of the supplication is taken into account, it still appears as though there are excessive words in these psukim. Just as we ask Hashem to bless His nation – the Nation of Israel – we could have merely asked for Hashem to bless us. Just as we ask Hashem to bless the Land He gave us… we could have merely asked Hashem to bless the Land (even had the Torah felt it nescesary to stipulate Eretz-Yisroel it could have said so more briefly).
For the most part, the Torah formulates Its instructions in a general way, leaving it for us to figure out the specific implementing laws based on these broad instructions. Hence, the Torah needs only to be as specific as necessary for us to understand its meaning. Here, however, the Torah is prescribing the exact words we are to use upon the completion of a tithing cycle. Therefore the Torah must stipulate precisely what we are to utter. The question remains: why must we ask Hashem for bracha in such a lengthy way?
Very often in life when we wish to request something from others, we will do so by expressing our regard for them, thus making them feel appreciated for their kind acts towards us. What we are doing in a way is manipulating them: we are in essence saying that they will benefit by helping us. This will in turn make them far more likely to shower us with more and more good.
Were we the ones fashioning this request from Hashem it would be no wonder if we were to emphasize “His Nation – the Nation of Israel”, or “the Land that He gave us as promised to our forefathers – a land flowing with milk and honey”. We certainly would use such catch phrases in order to emphasize our appreciation for what Hashem has given us. At the same time these verses would be used to emphasize that as Hashem has given us the land and has chosen us to be His people – it must therefore follow that it is His will to bestow us only good upon that land. Were we to compose a prayer beseeching to be showered with blessings, we would most likely use this very style.
This Nusach, however, was given to us from Hashem; Hashem is in effect actually dictating the exact formula necessary to influence Him favorably toward us.
This idea of Hashem prescribing how to manipulate Him should come as no surprise as this is really something we are quite familiar with. We are about to start reciting Selichos. The Selichos are based around the repetitious chorus of the Thirteen Middos – Attributes of Hashem. These Thirteen Middos are Hashem’s prescription to arouse His Divine Mercy in order for Him to pardon us for our sins. The approaching of Rosh Hashana, when we are to sound the Shofar, provides yet another illustration of Hashem prescribing to us how to take advantage of His Divine as Mercy: as it is stated, “praiseworthy is the nation who knows to use the Shofar blast”. Chazal explain to us that the Shofar blasts are also in large part to evoke Divine Mercy.
We are so unbelievably fortunate to live as Jews with the ability to almost be able to control Divine Mercy. This is so because Hashem is truly Rachaman and Hashem has boundless love and compassion for us. However, we must take advantage of this manipulative power, and we must also appreciate it so as to allow it to have its utmost affect.
It is in this week’s Sedra that we finally read the Brachos and Klalos about which we had been told more than once. Regarding the Brachos the Passuk tells us that (if we do Retzon Hashem) these Brachos will come to us and they will ‘catch up’ to us (ובאו עליך... והשיגוך). One would have expected the wording to be more along the lines of “these Brachos will be bestowed upon” us or we will “get these Brachos”. Why does the Torah use such an odd phraseology? What does it mean that these brachos will “catch up” to us?
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos tells us that one should learn Torah even Shelo Lishma (for the wrong reasons – i.e. in order to receive some sort of reward, honor etc.) because when one learns Torah Shelo Lishma one will eventually end up studying Torah Lishma. What is it that makes a person who learns for ulterior motives end up learning for the sake of Torah study?
If a child has a deficiency in calcium the parent may want the child to consume large portions of ice cream. If the child for some reason doesn't want to do so, the parent may offer a candy as reward for eating the ice cream. While the first time around the child needs to be lured into eating the ice cream, the next time the child will already know that ice cream itself is delicious.
Most blessings are things that all people want. We explained a few weeks ago (Ekev) that the main part of the brochos is Torah and Mitzvos. As Chazal tell us (Avos), the reward for a Mitzva is Mitzvos. The main Brocho one receives for following Hashem's Torah and Mitzvos is the Torah way of life that they create. This description of blessing or reward is not as concrete or clear to many as physical riches. People might not, however, seek out the blessing of a Torah life in the same way they would strive for physical riches. It is therefore for that reason that the Torah tells us that these blessings of Torah and Mitzvos will come to us and “capture” us – we will have a Torah a life, and we will appreciate it because we are "captured" by it. Hashem is in essence guaranteeing us that we will enjoy Torah and its way of life if we give it a chance.
Perhaps this Yesod answers why there are so few "brachos" and there are so many Klalos? The Brocho is Torah and its way of life. The listing of some specific Brachos is only the bait used to lure us to give Torah life a chance.
A good portion of this week's Sedra is dedicated to the Covenant of Blessing and Curse (chalila) that Hashem makes with Klal-Yisroel. At the end of this two sided pact the Torah states "אלה דברי הברית... מלבד הברית אשר כרת... בהר חורב" (in essence: this is the Covenant that Hashem made with Am-Yisroel, aside from the Covenant that He made with the People at Har Horeb [Sinai]). As there wasn't any apparent covenant that Hashem had made with us at Har-Sinai Rashi explains that this is referring to the Bris of Blessing and Curse that is mentioned in Parshas Bechukosai.
Klal-Yisroel received a Bris of Brachos and Klalos twice. In our Sedra the Torah clearly says that these two pacts are separate and independent from one another – as the Passuk states: "aside from the Bris that was made at Har Horeb". What is it that makes each Bris a separate Covenant? Is it that Hashem just made a Bris with us twice or is there something inherently different between the two convents?
In Parshas Bechukosai there is a constant theme in the Klalos. The Torah mentions again and again the term קרי. This term comes from the word mikreh – haphazard or inconsistent. It would appear that the thrust of the curse in Bechukosai is that if we have an unsteady and inconsistent relationship with Hashem then Hashem will likewise remove His consistent relationship with us and allow for bad to befall us. In our Sedra this theme is utterly omitted. In our Sedra it would seem that the curse is more a punishment for Klal-Yisroel if Klal-Yisroel ever leaves Hashem entirely.
While each Bris is a separate pact, it would seem impossible that both Klalos could befall Am-Yisroel at the same time. Should Klal-Yisroel only partially left Hashem by becoming unsteady in its relationship with Hashem, it would then Chalila get the first Klala (of Bechukosai). Should it entirely leave Hashem it would then Chalila get the Klala described in our Parsha.
If, however, Klal-Yisroel is Oseh Retzono (fulfills Hashem’s Will) and is steady in its relationship with Hashem, it will then get the Brachos of both pacts.
Chazal tell us that we read Ki-Savo every year before Rosh-Hashana so as to say “let this year be the end of all bad and next year should contain only Bracha”.
May all the bad and evil of last year cancel out any bad that we deserve, and may we merit that this forthcoming year should be a year of double Bracha.
This week's Haftorah is the sixth Haftorah of the שבעה דנחמתא. It is a Nevuah in Yishayohu about the Final Redemption. The Haftorah from beginning to end is an extremely positive one and it ends off with an extremely positive note: that all of Am-Yisroel are Tzadikim and will eventually inherit the Land. The Haftorah ends with the promise that Hashem will hasten the Geula. The idea that all of Am-Yisroel are all Tzadikim and that we will all inherit a portion in the land is in a way mindboggling.
One might be able to understand that that even 'hollow' Jews are full of Mitzvos etc. (aqnd that thus they are tzadikim) Likewise, one could understand that anyone who wants to live in Eretz-Yisroel might merit a portion in it. But how can it be that people who really don't care to have a portion in Eretz-Yisroel should end up with a portion of it?
Earlier in the Haftorah the Navi envisions the sight of Am-Yisroel coming back in the Final Redemption. The Navi tells us that onlookers will ask: "who are these that are like clouds flying and those who are flying like doves to their nests…?" What is interesting here is the choice of words to represent Shivas Tzion (the Return to Tzion): clouds and doves. While doves can have a planned destination and fly where they wish to fly, clouds don't. Clouds fly where the wind currents push them. Seemingly, the two are unrelated. Regardless as to whether or not they are related, why were these two examples specifically chosen to illustrate how we will appear to observers when we are on our way home?
As mentioned, a cloud travels in the direction and to where it is blown and a dove flies where it wishes to. The Mei-Menuchos suggests the Haftorah is conveying to us a very succinct message: All Jews will come back to Eretz-Yisroel. There are those who will come back because the currents push them to somehow end up in Eretz Yisroel. There are others, on the other hand, who understand that Eretz-Yisroel is our home and thus make their destination Eretz-Yisroel. There is yet another difference, however, between a dove and a cloud: the dove is active -- it enjoys flying back home – while the cloud is passive – it just happens to end up in Eretz-Yisroel
The Haftorah tells us clearly that we will all wind up in Eretz-Yisroel and we will even all end up with a share of the Land. The question remains for us to decide: do we yearn for Eretz-Yisroel and are we are going to enable ourselves to enjoy our journey back home?