There’s no shame in admitting our past mistakes, and the New Year is the perfect time leave calamities behind us and pray for blessings in the future!
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Ki Tavo” (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8) and in it we read about the curses that would befall the Jewish people for not observing the Torah. This is not the first time that the Torah gives frightening warnings to the Jewish people if they forsake the Torah. A similar passage is found at the very end of the book of Leviticus, as well.
The Talmud notes the two separate passages of curses and proceeds to point out a number of differences between the two. One major difference is that in the Leviticus passage it is God Himself who is speaking, while in our passage here in Deuteronomy, it is Moses who is speaking. Although the entire Torah is equally authoritative, there is a difference in weight when God talks versus a prophet.
The question is asked: Why does Moses, seemingly on his own initiative, issue such a frightening warning to the Jewish people? Is it not enough that God Himself previously warned the Jewish people what would happen if the they abandoned the Torah and did not observe the mitzvot? Isn’t Moses the one who was always looking to help the Jewish people and advocate on their behalf? What’s going on over here?
The answer can be explained by the fact that the annual Torah reading cycle was purposely arranged so that the curses of Deuteronomy would be read before Rosh Hashana, before the New Year. This is a symbolic gesture to ensure that “the current year … and all of its curses … should now end!”
In other words, the cycle of Torah portions was arranged so that we end the year with the reading of the curses, rather than start the year with the reading of the curses, expressing our hope that anything bad will be left in the past, and we have only good to look forward to from here on in.
Furthermore, it is believed that when we read or study about a mitzvah we are considered to have performed it, to some extent. For example, although we have no Temple in Jerusalem and we are unable to offer sacrifices, we are told that by studying the sacrifices it is as if we offered them. As the morning prayer, Shacharit, is said to correspond to the morning sacrifice in the holy Temple, many Jews recite these sacrificial passages every morning, before the morning prayers, so to have symbolically offered the sacrifice as well.
And so it is with the curses. By reading the curses, it is, to some spiritual extent, considered as if we had experienced them. As such, God would have no need to “re-send” the curses – even if we should be deserving of them!
Now we can better understand why the curses are read before Rosh Hashana. In the event that God feels a need to send us punishment in the New Year, we can say to Him that we have already suffered the curses and were cleansed, ready and deserving for blessing in the coming year!
This is why Moses “stuck in” another passage of curses at this point. To better help us merit blessing in the New Year.
There’s no shame in admitting that this past year has been cursed. May this coming year, and all its curses, be behind us, and a new year filled with blessing in front of us!
For more insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.