Don’t Go Back! by Reuven Herzog


A return to the way things were. Such a phrase is often used as a nostalgic idea, a reflection back on a time when life was better; it would be a dream come true to restore that wonderful state. However, keep in mind that when any apparently nostalgic concept is used in Parashat Ki Tavo, if it is in the Tochachah, it is most likely not used in a positive light.

The second half of the Parashah is mainly Hashem’s rebuke and warning to Bnei Yisrael of the punishment for the sins they might (and would) commit, as the entire section is introduced, “VeHaya Im Lo Tishma BeKol Hashem Elokecha . . . UVa’u Alecha Kol HaKelalot HaEileh VeHisigucha,” “And it shall be if you do not listen to the word of Hashem, your God . . . All of the following curses will be brought upon you and overtake you” (Devarim 28:15). Involving terrible, graphic descriptions of famine, destruction, exile, and the like, the Tochachah is one of the darkest sections of the Torah, if not the most so.

A major aspect of this awful depiction is the exile and servitude of Bnei Yisrael to other nations. The Pasuk repeatedly highlights the aspect that these exiling nations, however, will not be from Israel’s regular enemies. Rather, they will be completely foreign enemies, ones whom Bnei Yisrael have never known. The descriptions continuously increase in harshness, from the enemies merely “eating your fruits and labors” (28:33); to, “Yoleich Hashem Otcha . . .El Goy Asher Lo Yadata Atah VaAvotecha,” “Hashem will bring you to [the control of] a nation which neither you nor your fathers have known” (28:36); next, “Hashem will raise upon you a nation from afar, from the edge of the land, as the vulture will swoop” (28:49). Finally, the Pasuk states the most awful prediction of what can occur: “VeHefitzecha Hashem BeChol HaAmim MiKtzeih HaAretz VeAd Ketzeih HaAretz,” “And Hashem will scatter you among all the nations, from one edge of the land to the other edge of the land” (28:64).

The Tochachah continues for a few more Pesukim, giving one final image of how terrible life would be for Bnei Yisrael in this state, and seems to come to a close. But there is one final Pasuk, a last word of sorts, that closes the Tochachah: “VeHeshivecha Hashem Mitzrayim BaOniyot BaDerech Asher Amarti Lecha Lo Tosif Od LiR’otah VeHitmakartem Sham LeOyevecha LaAvadim VeLiShfachot VeEin Koneh,” “Hashem will return you to Mitzrayim in boats, on a path which I have told you, ‘You will never see this again,’ and you will be sold there, to your enemies, as slaves and maidservants, but there will be no buyers” (28:68). This final image of Bnei Yisrael’s return to Egypt, is graphic and a grim portrait of what could happen; but it does not carry the same sting of other images throughout the Tochachah. Why was this one event chosen to close out and be the lingering picture in Bnei Yisrael’s heads when so many more haunting images could have been selected instead? Furthermore, this Pasuk doesn’t even fit with the rest of the Tochachah! All other descriptions of exile emphasize the foreignness of the enemies, whereas Mitzrayim is a local rival, an enemy which Bnei Yisrael fight for the duration of their inhabitance of Eretz Yisrael, even to this very day! If the more foreign a nation is dictates how awful the exile will be, why does Hashem choose to step off the gas in his closing of the Tochachah with a more mild result?

Rav Amnon Bazak suggests that there is more to the final scene than first imagined. While increased distance does correlate to increased pain and suffering, Mitzrayim carries a special place among the exiles: it was the location of Bnei Yisrael before they moved into Eretz Yisrael, before they even received the Torah from Hashem. It was the site of their greatest lack of spirituality, the point at which they were farthest from Hashem and from their true destiny as Am Hashem. They had to be redeemed from Egypt in order to become the chosen people, and now they would be returning to that place, in a reverse of previous events. Returning to Mitzrayim would be like giving up the Torah. It is bad to be exiled out of one’s homeland, but to be exiled into one’s horrific past is much worse.

It is this grave meaning of a return to Mitzrayim that strikes Bnei Yisrael the hardest. The generation that is hearing the Tochachah live, directly from Moshe, is only one generation removed from Mitzrayim, and about to enter Eretz Yisrael. Reuturning to Mitzrayim means going back into

the depths of their former lives, the last place they want to go. And that fear is the greatest, the one that would hit home the hardest, the one image that would scare Bnei Yisrael into not disobeying Hashem to that final extent, and the perfect way to close out a terrifying, awe-inspiring rebuke to Bnei Yisrael on their entering into the ultimate location, the polar opposite of Mitzrayim, the holy Eretz Yisrael.

Appreciation for Salvation by Binyamin Zirman

Flowing with Milk and Honey by Rabbi Ezra Wiener