By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant
This week’s parsha, Ki Tavo, begins with instructions from Moses to the Children of Israel. They are directed that on the very day that they cross the Jordan, to create two huge stones on which each word of the Torah will be clearly written. At that point, The Levites will pronounce twelve violations to the Torah, to which each individual will say ‘Amen’. The Children of Israel will then hear blessings, which will be realized if all of God’s commandments are fulfilled and observed.
Each of these blessings ensure that God will protect the people against their enemies, provide surplus in the ‘fruit’ of the womb, in the fruit of their livestock and in the fruit of their soil. Moses tells the people: “The Lord will establish you as a holy people, as he swore to you, if you observe his commandments and walk in His ways”(1).
What ensues after the blessings are considered the most terrifying passages in the Torah. Essentially, each of the next ninety-six lines contains warnings of the abominable fate which will overtake the Jewish people if they neglect or abandon their covenant with God. These horrifying curses are typically uttered in hushed tones(2).
They include the following statements: “The Lord will scatter you among the nations, from one end of the earth to the other….there, God will give you an anxious mind and a despairing heart; you will be stricken with consumption, burning fevers, unquenchable thirsts, insanity, blindness and bewilderment”(3).
These curses appear to be both prophetic and supernatural. Jews have experienced exiles, expulsions and massacres from numerous countries over the last 2,000 years, culminating with the unspeakable Holocaust in the 20th century. “The dispersion of the Jewish people to the four corners of the globe is a completely unique phenomenon in human history; particularly because they somehow managed to maintain their distinct identity”(4).
As might be expected, countless rabbis, authors, historians and philosophers have speculated on the seemingly miraculous survival of this miniscule and unparalleled group of people (currently comprising less than .2% of the world population)(5).
Unpredictably, the most cogent theory was expressed by an improbable source: Leo Tolstoy, eminent Russian author. On pondering the survival of the Jews, Tolstoy wrote: “What kind of unique creature is this, who has been disgraced, crushed, expelled….and so many wishing to have destroyed?….He is the one who for so long has guarded the message of freedom, liberty, and equality; he has passed these laws, along with the zeal for learning from generation to generation; the Jew is the embodiment of eternity”(6).
“Remember the days of old, consider the generations long past; ask your father, and he will tell you; your elders, and they will explain it to you”(7).
(1) DEUTERONOMY (28:9)
(2) Montreal Torah Center (Jewish TV)
(4) www.SimpleToRemember.com (Judaism online)
(6) Leo Tolstoy “What is the Jew”, Jewish World Periodical, 1891
Re-published: “The Times of Israel” (12/3/2015)
(7) DEUTERONOMY (32:7)