Both Parshat Ki Tavo and Parshat Bechukotai include passages of Tochachah (rebuke). However, there is a marked difference between the two. In Bechukotai, Hashem concludes His rebuke with words of hope: “VeZacharti Et Beriti Yaakov, VeAf Et Beriti Yitzchak, VeAf Et Beriti Avraham Ezkor, VeHaaretz Ezkor,” “Then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.”
But in the Tochachah in Devarim, there is no hopeful ending. Hashem merely concludes: “VeHitmakartem Sham LeOyevecha LaAvadim VeLiShfachot VeEin Koneh,” “You will sell yourselves there to your enemies as bondsmen and bondswomen, and no one will buy you.” Why are there no verses of hope at the end?
According to Ramban, the Tochachah in Vayikra refers to the destruction of Bayit Rishon and Galut Bavel. That exile was decreed by God to last for a specific number of years (seventy). Therefore, that Tochachah ends with a verse of hope. But the Tochachah in Devarim refers to the destruction of Bayit Sheni, and the Galut which is still going on. As there is no definite date given for its conclusion, there are no verses of hope at the end.
Rav Soloveitchik suggests that there is in fact a hopeful ending, found in the next Parsha, Nitzavim. The Pasuk there states, “It shall come to pass when all these things have come upon you – the blessing and the curse which I have set before you – that you shall think among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and you shall return to the Lord your God and listen to His voice…” In other words, this exile ends when the Jews do Teshuvah, and therefore there is no specific number of years given. The length of the Galut depends on our actions. According to the Rav, our Teshuvah, however long it takes, will turn the curses turn into blessings.
The question is where to start. What kind of Teshuvah would best turn the Tochachah’s curses into blessings? The Gemara in Masechet Yoma says that the destruction of Bayit Sheni and our present Galut were caused by “Sinat Chinam,” baseless hatred. If treating people badly brought the curses upon us, what might be the effect of treating people right?
At the beginning of the Parsha, before the Tochachah, the Torah says that after bringing Maaser Ani and announcing that he has followed God’s commands, including gifts to the poor, a Jewish farmer would say, “Hashkifah MiMe’on Kodshecha, Min HaShamayim, UVareich Et Amecha Et Yisrael,” “Gaze down from your holy abode, the heavens, and bless your people Israel.” The word “Hashkifah” – gaze down – is usually used in the Torah when Hashem gazes down in anger and judgment, such as when He was about to destroy Sodom and Amorah. Midrash Tanchuma comments that this case is an exception. The word “Hashkifah” is used because giving gifts to the poor changes Hashem’s anger into mercy. The Kli Yakar explains that when people show compassion and conquer the natural tendency to be cruel, Hashem changes His anger into compassion for us. Little acts of kindness can have major effects.
This same Parsha that presents the Tochachah also includes a suggestion for Teshuvah that can turn curses to blessings. Our compassion invites God’s compassion. Treating others with kindness and mercy may help to write a hopeful end to the long Tochachah.