A Life Lesson from a Curse by Binyamin Jachter


In Parashat Ki Tavo, Bnei Yisrael are split between two mountains, Har Gerizim and Har Eival. Moshe Rabbeinu delivers twelve curses and twelve blessings. The first eleven blessings presented by Moshe Rabbeinu inform us of the consequences of performing a specific Aveirah, such as accepting bribes or serving idols. On the contrary, the last curse is a very general statement which does not appear to curse any specific Aveirah: “Arur Asher Lo Yakim Et Divrei HaTorah HaZot La’asot Otam,” “Cursed be the one who does not fulfill the words of this Torah to do them” (Devarim 27:26). After listing all the other specific curses, why does the Torah need one big, overarching one? Rav Shmuel Goldin presents an answer in his Unlocking the Torah Text: Devarim.

Rashi (ad loc. s.v Asher Lo Yakim) takes a very simple approach to explain the last curse. He writes “Kan Kalal Et Kol HaTorah Kulah,” “Here He included the whole Torah.” Rashi explains that this last curse is to be taken literally; it is a summary of the rest of the list of blessings and curses. However, this does not really answer the question posed as to why this summary of the curses was necessary; it merely states that there is not a question to begin with. Rashi believes that the curse is simple: refrain from Aveirot or you will be cursed. According to Rashi, this last curse is not extra, but merely repetitive.

Ramban (ad loc. s.v. Asher Lo Yakim), addressing the last curse, writes that the Torah is telling us that even though a person inevitably does Aveirot, he is not cursed as long as he believes that the Torah is true and correct. Even though he sins, he can repent and continue to fulfill the Torah. The only person who is cursed is a person who rejects the Torah and believes that his ideas are above it.

There is another approach to answer this question presented by Rav Huna and Rabi Yehudah in the Gemara (Yerushalmi, Sotah 7:4). They explain that the last curse punishes people who have the power to defend Torah from critics and do not do so as well as people with the ability to teach others who do not do so. To support their answer, they quote Shmuel who proves this answer using a story from Tanach. We are told that when Yoshiyahu HaMelech listened to the Kohen Gadol read the last curse in this week’s Parashah from a Torah scroll found in the Beit HaMikdash, he immediately tore his clothes (Melachim II 22:3-11). He realized that it was is in his power to make a change and help Am Yisrael eradicate Avodah Zarah, yet the practice was still prevalent. Additionally, he had the opportunity to spread Torah throughout the entire kingdom, yet he did not do all that he could have done. Yoshiyahu realized the tremendous curse he would receive for failing to defend and teach Torah.

We must learn two very important lessons from Ramban’s answer as well as the answer given in the Gemara in Sotah. Firstly, Torah must be prevalent in our lives and serve as our blueprint for living. We must make sure that we wholeheartedly believe that the Torah is correct and teach others who do not yet feel that way. Once we have mastered the Torah and believe in it wholeheartedly, not only should we help others with their religious struggles, but we must, as an obligation to Hashem.

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