Committed Curses by Moshe Dergel (‘20)


After the horrible curses mentioned in last week’s Parashah, the Bnei Yisrael became ostensibly scared. Moshe Rabbeinu calmed us by announcing “Atem Nitzavim HaYom”, “You are standing here today” (Devarim 29:9). It is impossible to say that Moshe claimed that since Bnei Yisrael were still alive, the curses were not as terrible as they sounded. After he had just impressed upon the Bnei Yisrael the grievous nature of the curses, such a statement would weaken his original message (Devarim 28:61-63). What message, then, might Moshe Rabbeinu meaning to convey?

The Midrash Tanchuma (Devarim 29:1) at the beginning of this week’s Parashah writes that “when Hashem punishes the wicked they do not recover, but the righteous always recover.” This seems obvious, as the wicked receive harsher punishments than the righteous. However, the Midrash, based on a verse in Malachi (3:5), explains that only one storm of arrows will wipe out the wicked, while the entire batch of arrows will not overcome the resilience of the righteous. The difference in their ability to withstand punishment is not due to the harshness of the blow; on the contrary, the righteous receive harsher punishments. How then, are the righteous able to survive, while the wicked wither?

This strength of the righteous is due to the fulfilling nature of Mitzvot. When a person performs more of G-d’s commandments, his will to survive is strengthened. A person with a strong will to survive is more capable of overcoming life’s challenges. Transgressions create within a person a hateful attitude for life. The wicked, who lack the courage to live, cannot endure the failures they encounter in life, and subsequently give up in the face of those challenges. The righteous, who are driven and motivated to live, possess the strength to endure all of life’s tough moments. The same is true for relationships; a person’s ability to overcome the difficulties which arise within a relationship is based upon the extent that he is committed to maintaining that relationship.

We the Bnei Yisrael approached Moshe Rabbeinu, terrified by the huge burden they felt from the curses that were presented in Parashat Ki Tavo. Moshe responded by telling them that they had improperly interpreted the purpose of the curses. Reward and punishment represent the extent to which a relationship exists. A curse reflects Hashem’s desire for a relationship to last; the curse is the tool which Hashem uses to urge and persuade Bnei Yisrael into appreciating their relationship with Him. The very existence of curses proves that Hashem will stop at nothing to assure that Bnei Yisrael appreciate their relationship with Him, and that He will not abandon his relationship with us. Thus, the fact that Bnei Yisrael were standing before Moshe, alive and well, indicates that their relationship with Hashem was strong.  Even if there will be times when they will be subjected to the curses, the Bnei Yisrael should take comfort in the fact that the curses themselves are symbolic of Hashem’s commitment to our relationship with Him.

The Yom Tov of Erev Yom Kippur by Rabbi Raphi Mandelstam

Teshuvah Me’Ahavah and Kabbalat HaTorah by Rabbi Daniel Fridman