Back to this week's Parsha Peninim on the Torah Previous issues
Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Ki Savo

These shall stand to bless the people on Har Gerizim… And these shall stand for the curse on Har Eival… The Leviim shall speak up and say…(27:12,13)

In Sotah 32a, the Mishnah describes the intriguing scene that took place as the Shevatim, tribes, recited the blessings and curses on their respective mountains. Six tribes went up on Har Gerizim and six tribes went up on Har Eival, while the Kohanim, Leviim and the Aron Ha'kodesh were on the ground between them. They turned their faces towards Har Gerizim and began to recite the blessings, to which everyone responded, "Amen". Afterwards, they turned towards Har Eival and recited the curses. Ostensibly, through this scenario, the Torah sought to convey a message that would remain with Klal Yisrael for all time.

Horav Moshe Reis, Shlita, derives from this pasuk that a gap exists between good and evil. The valley that stood between the two mountains, each respectively representing blessing and curse, symbolizes that the parameters between these two have been set: It is either good or evil; there are no gray areas, no in-betweens. The greatest threat to humanity is the removal of these boundaries.

The Seforim Ha'Kedoshim explain that prior to Adam Ha'rishon's sin, a clear, definite line of demarcation, existed between good and bad. Each one stood alone, unmistakably distinguishable from one another. After the sin, everything became "tzumisht," mixed up. No longer was good unquestionably good; no longer was evil unequivocally evil. The yetzer hora, evil-inclination, had succeeded in distorting the definition of good and its evil counterpart. Prior to entering Eretz Yisrael, Hashem explicitly defined blessing and curse, leaving no room for misunderstanding.

In Tehillim 104, David Hamelech describes the wonders of the world. In pesukim 20-22 he writes, "You make darkness and it is night, in which every forest beast stirs… The sun rises and they are gathered in, and in their dens they crouch." There are beasts of prey that function only when it is dark. As the sun rises, they revert back to their caves. We may note that many individuals act in congruence with these animals from a spiritual perspective. They function only in the dark, when there is no light -- during times of ambiguity, when there is no clarity of vision. The early commentators write about those who run away from the truth, for the truth places new responsibilities upon them. When the light of emes, truth, glares at them, they have a difficult time justifying their behavior. They are like the person who finds a lost article. He announces his find publicly only as long as he knows the owner will never hear about it. He is not interested in returning the lost object; he only wants to appear to be a decent person. He functions only when uncertainty reigns, when the people around him are unsure of themselves.

The Baalei Mussar note this phenomenon in regard to the confrontation between Yaakov Avinu and Eisav's guardian angel. At night, in darkness before the light of day, Eisav had power; in darkness, he functioned well. He challenged Yaakov, the amud ha'emes, pillar of truth, at a time when uncertainty and vagueness dominate. When Yaakov asked the angel, "What is your name?" he responded, "Why do you ask my name?" In other words: Do not ask questions. Eisav's influence, his essence, is in control where there is uncertainty. Questions demand answers which clarify a situation. Eisav had a problem functioning when there is clarity. Indeed, when the morning star arose, the angel begged to leave. Light is his mortal enemy; truth continues to overwhelm and vanquish Eisav. The Torah places before us brachah and klalah, blessing and curse. There are no options in between; it is either blessing or curse. When Klal Yisrael entered Eretz Yisrael, Hashem conveyed this message to them through the medium of separate mountains.

Cursed is the man who makes a graven or molten image, an abomination to G-d… And sets it up in secret. (27:15)

The eleven arurim, curses, have something in common - secrecy. They are performed in secret, either to hide the nature of the sin and/or as a reflection of the sinner's hypocrisy. The specific use of the word "ba'seser," at the beginning and end of this series of sins, is purposeful. It emphasizes that the secret character of these sins is considered especially deserving of a curse. This curse affects those who practice spiritual, moral, and social abominations, concealed beneath the cloak of outward respectability.

Using Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, as a text, we attempt to identify these sins as they are manifest in contemporary times: One who outwardly acts like a pious and virtuous man, but in secret disdains Hashem as the sole Creator and Ruler of the world; one who shows respect to his parents in public, but privately disparages them and treats them in the most demeaning manner; one who develops a reputation for integrity and sensitivity towards others, but, when observed, infringes upon the rights of others to his own advantage; one who publicly promotes the welfare of those in need, who is first and foremost in establishing funds to benefit the needy, but, in fact, takes advantage and even brings misfortune upon those who are short-sighted and na?ve; one who grovels at the feet of the high and mighty, who plays up to those in power, but distances himself from the weak and helpless whom he should be available to assist. In addition, we note: the hypocrite who presents himself as the paragon of morality, but whose private life is immoral and lewd; one who never publicly points a weapon at his neighbor, but has no compunction about killing his happiness, peace of mind and dignity with disparaging innuendoes that cut deeper than a knife; one who is a respectable member of the community, holding a position of responsibility, but abuses this trust through covert acts of corruption. Last, is the individual who himself a devout, observant Jew, stands idly by while observance among his contemporaries declines dismally.

The above curses regrettably are as relevant today as they have been historically. The difference is that today few people have the resolution to expose those who hide their actions. Few have the courage to confront those who undermine Judaism while sanctimoniously acting as if they are saving the world. Today, as then, Hashem does not allow these hypocrites to thrive.

Accursed is one who will not uphold the words of this Torah. (27:26)

The commentators offer a number of explanations for this pasuk. The Ramban cites the Talmud Yerushalmi 7:4 where Chazal say this is a reference to one who learns Torah, teaches Torah, observes the mitzvos, but does not support those that study Torah. This is an incredible statement! We are not talking about an evil person, a sinner who malevolently seeks to undermine the Torah. We are addressing one who does it all, who studies, observes and teaches others, so that they will also study and observe. Yet, because he does not use his money in support of Torah, Chazal view him as a sinner deserving to be cursed.

Chazal teach us that personal study and observance are not sufficient when one has the financial ability to support others. We have a moral obligation to sustain the Torah that is studied and disseminated by others - even if we ourselves are also studying Torah. Yes, even those who have dedicated their lives to Torah chinuch must also support others who do the same.

After analyzing the various commentaries and sources, Horav Moshe Reis, Shlita arrives at the conclusion that four distinct levels, or types of people, comprise the category of "lo yakim es divrei ha'Torah hazos," "will not uphold the words of this Torah": First, there is the one who stoops to the lowest of the low to despise, repudiate, disdain and even prevent others from performing mitzvos. This person has fallen to the nadir of depravity in his desire to harm other Jews. Is such a person necessarily an evil human being? Not necessarily! He simply cannot handle the threat which Torah Judaism presents to his current lifestyle. When one chooses to live as a secular human being, devoid of any religious values or meaning, he does not want anybody around who, by virtue of his beliefs and way of life, undermines his secular lifestyle. Simply, when one chooses to live as a gentile, he does not want other Jews to remind him by their example that his heritage is calling. This shameless type has regrettably plagued us in many ways, but, surely, the Torah need not address such behavior with a specific curse.

Second is a Jew who is possessed by another type of strange behavior. He is the Jew who, albeit himself meticulously observant, is intolerant of others who follow suit. He wants to be the only one in the limelight. This is unfortunately a disease that is becoming increasingly common. Some people cannot handle what they perceive to be competition. Rabbeinu Yonah calls such a person a "sonei Hashem," hater of Hashem! After all, one who loves the king exhibits great joy when he sees others also serving him.

There is a third, more subtle, "non-supporter" of the Torah; he who studies and observes, easily accepting others who are doing the same. He does not, however, see to it that others join in this endeavor, he does not reach out to the unaffiliated and alienated who simply need a show of love and caring to catalyze their return. Such a person has not fulfilled his responsibility to uphold the Torah. He, too, is included in the curse.

We refer to the beginning of our thesis for the fourth example of those who are guilty of non-support of the Torah. He is the individual who studies and observes, manifesting no problem with others who do likewise. He even reaches out with his time and effort to bring others closer to Hashem. He lacks one characteristic: He does not give material support to those who need it; he does not share financially with those who need this support.

The Midrash in Vayikra Rabba 34:16 cites an incredible story which clearly defines the unusual character of Rabbi Akiva. It is related that Rabbi Tarfon gave Rabbi Akiva six hundred measures of silver, a considerable amount of money in those days, for the purpose of purchasing property for himself, so that the great Tanna could study Torah unencumbered by material needs. Rabbi Akiva proceeded to distribute this sum of money to scribes, scholars, and those who toiled in the field of Torah. The Midrash recounts the dialogue that took place between these two distinguished Tanaiim, concluding by referring to Rabbi Akiva as one who builds up the churbos, destroyed institutions, of Klal Yisrael. Rabbi Akiva, the greatest Tanna, whose devotion to the Torah defies description, merited this appellation only after he had given of his material assets to support others who learn Torah. Indeed, the Ramban praised his contemporary the Rambam for his brilliance, astuteness, scholarship, humility, kindness to others, and his wallet that remained open at all times to minister to the needs of those who were studying Torah.

It can be reduced to one premise: One who cares about the Torah will do everything in his capacity to sustain the Torah, including giving financial support.

All these curses will come upon you… because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, amid gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant. (28:45,47)

The Torah seems to imply that serving Hashem with a lack of simchah, joy, has produced these terrible curses. There are two ways of looking at this idea. First, we can say that the admonishment is for a lack of avodah, service to Hashem, which, should - by the way - be performed with joy. Thus, the punishment is actually for our non-service, but not as a direct result of a lack of joy. The second perspective is that one is to serve Hashem joyfully. Neglecting to observe and execute one's duties as a servant does for a master -- or even simply out of compliance -- warrants these curses. Simchah is an integral component of mitzvah observance. Without joy, the mitzvah has not been fulfilled.

Rabbeinu Bachya and the Rambam imply that a lack of simchah foreshadows the curses. To serve Hashem without simchah is not to serve Hashem. Simchah makes the mitzvah whole; a lack of simchah indicates one's true attitude toward the mitzvah's observance.

Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, first cites the Rambam in Hilchos Talmud Torah which implies the converse: that the curses are for a lack of service, not for a lack of joy. He suggests a practical understanding of this pasuk. There is no doubt that Hashem punishes us only for a lack of observance. While joy is important, joylessness will not result in these terrible curses. The Torah, however, sought to teach the origin of our lack of observance: Where did it all begin? What caused us to lose touch with mitzvos and Hashem? It was a lack of joy in our mitzvah observance. Had we put a little "varmkeit" -- warmth and enthusiasm -- into our mitzvah performance, had we been joyful, looking forward to serving Hashem, we would not have sunk to the nadir of mitzvah neglect. True, the punishment is for non-observance, but the origin of this curse is in the lack of joy. We have to remember one thing: We have no mitzvah to walk around all day and be joyful just for the sake of being joyful. Simchah is significant only as part of the framework of avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty. In such a context, it enhances the mitzvah and guards against complacency.


1) From where was Klal Yisrael obligated to bring Bikurim?
2) Did the Kohen take the basket of Bikurim from the donor's hand?
3) a) Does a Ger read the pesukim that accompany the bringing of Bikurim?
b) Why is this?
4) May an onen eat Maaser Sheni?
5) a) How many Shevatim stood on each mountain?
b) Who stood in the middle?
6) To what does "makeh rei'ehu ba'sesera", refer?
7) How many kelalos are there in this parsha?


1) After the fourteen years of capturing and dividing the land.
2) He placed his hand beneath the donor's hand and lifted it together with the donor.
3) a) No.
b) He cannot say "v'laavoseinu," "and to our ancestors."
4) No.
5) a) Six.
b) The Kohanim, Leviim and the Aron.
6) Lashon hora.
7) 98.


Peninim on the Torah is in its 7th year of publication. The first five years have been published in book form.

The fifth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588.

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel