Ki Tavo: Why So Many Curses?

Parashat Ki-Tavo (and Parashat BeChukotay, for that matter) bring us a list of blessings if we go in God’s way and a list of curses, if we do not. But the list of curses is totally disproportionate in number to the list of blessing ! In Parasha Ki-Tavo, 14 verses of blessings are brought down, followed by a list of no less than 54 verses of curses! And so we want to address the question: Why so many curses? Where is the balance? After all, there are entire “hashkafot” (outlooks) which are built around the need to be optimistic, to dwell on the positive, etc.

Many criticized Rabbi Meir Kahane, z”tl, for his “prophecies of doom”. What a downer he was – warning of tragedy and holocausts if we do not do the right thing. In his book, “They Must Go”, for example, he brings down in full gory detail, the 1929 slaughter of the Jews in Hebron by Arabs. Indeed, he was a “pessimist”. In urging American Jews to make aliyah, instead of stressing the “positive aspects” of the mitzvah for a Jew to live in Eretz Yisrael, the rabbi chose to take the “negative approach” to stress the physical danger facing the American Jew. He wrote an entire book called “Time to Go Home” which warned of the potential holocaust which hovers over American Jewry. Why? Why didn’t the rav stress the wonderful attributes of Israel and the obligation of the Jew to live there in his efforts to convince Jews to emigrate to Israel? Because apparently, the rabbi knew, as does our parsha, that the way to motivate Jews into action is to shock them, to shake them up out of their indifference.

And so our parsha brings down curses in rapid-fire fashion, so that the Jew will internalize what will happen if he does not go in God’s way. To frighten the Jew into action, into “tshuva”.

Who Says that “Yiyeh Tov”?
The famous Israeli slogan, that “everything will be OK” (Yiyeh Tov) is therefore a misleading one. Our parsha is telling us quite clearly: If we do good (obey Hashem’s commandments), then it will be good. And if we do bad (do not obey Hashem’s commandments), then it will be bad.

In this context, Binyamin Zev Kahane, z”tl, added that the known custom where the ba’al kore shifts into high gear and lowers his voice when reading the curses (“tochacha”) is a dangerous thing. Why? Because although the original intention of this custom was so that the curses don’t fall upon us, today, there is something else that stands behind our speed reading rendition of the tochacha. And what is the reason: We simply don’t want to hear the bad. We want to maintain our illusions that “Yiyeh Tov”. We are ostriches who look away, hoping that the problems will go away.

Easy to Imagine Good, Difficult to Imagine Bad Rav Binyamin Kahane used to give another reason for the disproportionate number of curses in relation to blessings. When the Torah begins to speak of material blessing and abundance, the Jew has no problem picturing the material good in his mind. He can already picture for himself the nice house, garden and posh living room, and there is no need for the Torah to elaborate further. But when it comes to the bad, the very opposite is true. The Jew doesn’t grasp that evil will befall him, and when it does, he thinks that it will not get continue or get worse. In our parsha, the Torah comes and tells the Jew: You think it was bad up until now? Well, you haven’t seen anything yet, because it is going to get worse. Until we get to the verse, “the tender and delicate woman among you…her eye shall be evil towards her afterbirth that comes out from her…”

We see this same phenomenon today. After horrible terror attacks, there follows a brief period of quiet. During that period, the Jew begins to convince himself that the worst is over. It just can’t get any worse. But apparently, it can…

“Hashem’s Salvation is in the Blink of An Eye”
The intention here is not to depress anyone. On the contrary: if we go in God’s statutes and fulfill His mitzvot, it will be good! The Torah promised, and the Torah is not some politician who doesn’t make good on his promises.

Walking in God’s statutes means more than keeping the Sabbath and eating kosher food. It includes the statute to expel the enemy of the land, and to stand firm in one’s faith that God will protect us if we indeed walk in his statutes. May God give us the courage to do the right thing, sothat He may bestow upon us all the blessings written in His Torah.

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