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Haftarah: Yeshayahu 60:1-22

SEPTEMBER 19-20, 2008 20 ELUL 5768

Pop Quiz: Where were the curses recited when Bnei Yisrael entered the land?


"And the entire people shall speak up and say, 'Amen'" (Debarim 27:15)

Upon entering the Promised Land of Israel the Jews were commanded to perform an important ritual. The nation was commanded to approach two mountains that were next to each other with a valley in between. One mountain was called Har Ebal and one was Har Gerizim. Six tribes were to stand on one mountain and six on the other. In the valley the tribe of Levi would stand and turn their faces to Har Gerizim and call out a blessing, "Blessed is the man who does not make a graven image (idol)." At that point all of the people on both mountains would answer, "Amen," which means, "We agree." Afterwards, the Levites would turn toward Har Ebal and utter a curse, "Cursed is the man who makes a graven image," and all would answer, "Amen." The Torah lists many curses and all answered, "Amen."

Maharal Diskin asks: The Torah only lists that the people answered, "Amen," to the curses. Why doesn't the Torah mention and emphasize that they answered "Amen," to the blessings? The Gemara in Sotah (32) states that they did. He answered that the Torah doesn't need to mention that the people answered "Amen" to agree to the blessings. However, the Torah wants to tell us a surprising fact, that they wholeheartedly agreed and answered "Amen," even to the curses. Why did they?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein answers with an interesting comment. The Torah tells us that in addition to the ceremony of blessings and curses, they were to build an altar to celebrate this event. One would think celebration would be on the mountain of blessings. However, the Torah says that the celebration was on Har Ebal, the mountain of curses. He explains that the punishments help us uphold the Torah. Sometimes our desires will convince us that the enjoyment of a sin will surpass the enjoyment of the reward of keeping the misvot. Or sometimes we might convince ourselves that we have a lot of good deeds and we will get plenty of reward so we might be tempted to sin. But, if he knows of the punishments, he will fear to sin. The one who fears does not rebel.

In short, we all want to grow and observe all the misvot. We are all good people, not evil. However, the possibility of punishment helps us reach our full potential. That is the greatest reason to say, "Amen," and celebrate. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, with joy" (Debarim 28:47)

The Torah lists a long string of misfortunes that may befall the Jewish people (G-d forbid). Indeed, some of the events mentioned in these curses are very tragic and have happened to our nation throughout history. The reason given for this harsh conduct by Hashem against us is that we did not serve Hashem with happiness.

The Ari z"l gives this verse a twist and learns it in a novel fashion. The reason for these curses is that when we did not serve Hashem, we did it with happiness, which means that when we were doing sins, we did them with a good feeling rather than with regret and remorse.

This has to teach us that not only our actions count but even our attitudes while doing these actions. If we end up doing something wrong, we have to feel badly even while doing it so that it's not considered as if we did the wrong thing with happiness. One of the methods of following this advice is by doing misvot with happiness. If we feel good when doing the right thing, even if we sometimes fall and do the wrong thing it will not be with joy but with reluctance and hopefully regret. That way we will tend to increase those things which we associate with happiness, which are the misvot, and stay away from those things which we are doing without happiness! Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

Answer to Pop Quiz: On Mount Ebal.

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