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The Torah contains two versions of the 'tochacha' (literally rebuke, but referring to the curses and suffering facing Israel for non-compliance with the teachings of the Torah.) One was revealed by G-d to Moses, as detailed in the Book of Leviticus. The second much longer version was communicated by Moses to the Israelites just before his death, which takes up about half the content of this week's Parasha.
Abarbanel sees one prophecy as a complement to the other; both referring to the post-First Temple period. However, many of the commentaries - exemplified by the Ramban - suggest that the first 'tochacha' refers to the exile following the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians (586 BCE), and the one in this parasha to the exile following the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans (70 CE). The first lasted for less than a century, the second is still not completely over.
Thus: 'G-d will lead you and your king… to a nation neither you nor your forefathers knew' (28:36) is understood by the Ramban as referring to Agrippa II, the last Jewish king before the Destruction of 70 CE. He was raised in Rome, and was installed as a puppet-king by the Romans to serve primarily the interests of their empire.
Yet the first 'tochacha' finishes with words of comfort:
'Then I (G-d) will remember My covenant with Jacob; I will also remember my covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham; and I will remember the Land… And even when they are in the lands of their enemies, I will not utterly despise and reject them… for I am G-d…' (Lev. 26:42, 44).
There are no such words at the end of the second 'tochacha' delivered by Moses and recorded in this week's parasha. It is a solid, progressively grim, mounting serious of calamities that were to be very fully suffered during various dark periods of Jewish history. Indeed, G-d told Moses that He would 'hide His face' (31:18) during that period.
It may be stated that this is the characteristic of the last centuries of Jewish history. With the first exile, there was no questioning of Divine justice. The Jews had ample exposure to G-d through His Messengers, the Prophets. They were warned at first hand on what was in store for their ample misdeeds - both on a communal and an individual level. They knew full well that they deserved what they got, and that it would not last for ever. Indeed, G-d had not 'hidden His face' from them: the initial Return under Cyrus was within living memory of the older people who had experienced the Destruction of the First Temple.
In contrast, the lack of words of comfort in the second 'tochacha' suggests that the Jews would reach a stage where they would feel that G-d had indeed 'hidden His face'. Where was G-d in the Holocaust, for example? Ulefi she-chatanu (because we have sinned) cannot by itself explain the magnitude and stark foulness of the destruction of most of European Jewry well within living memory. Indeed, it seems that Moses revealed to the Israelites that G-d would withdraw Himself: 'they shall say that these disasters fell… because G-d is not in our midst'.
That would also explain why - following the G-d's appearing to have rejected the Israelites - they have to make the return to Him. The initial movement: 'you shall return to the Lord your G-d' (30:2) has to come from the Israelites themselves, and only afterwards G-d shall 'return… and have mercy on you.'
This D'var Torah is written in loving memory of my dearest Mother, Harabanit Devora Solomon ztl. who ascended to the Yeshiva Shel Ma'ala on Shabbat Ki Tavo thirteen years ago. May her memory be blessed, and be a source of blessings.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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