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"Cursed is the one who will not uphold the words of the Torah to perform them. And the entire people shall say Amen" (27:26).
This was the 12th and final curse to be proclaimed by the Levites facing Mount Eival, on entry to the Promised Land. It follows the curses on those who practise idolatry in secret, disrespect towards parents, incestuous relationships, and various types of deception and corruption.
However, the 11 detailed curses do not appear to cover all the essentials of Torah observance. Their main focus appears to be on common decency. There is no explicit curse listed for those who transgress the laws of Shabbat, kashrut, or family purity. More specifically, what do the objects of those 11 specific curses have in common?
The Rashbam, as explained by the Or HaChaim, holds that the curses are directed towards acts that transgressors may do when nobody is looking. This is exemplified by: "Cursed is the one who strikes his friend in secret (27:25)". It also fits with the listed forbidden relationships: the curses focus on incest, within the family. Family matters tend not to be publicly exposed, but are kept discreet.
The S'forno comments differently. He explains that the curses are for offences that are typically committed by powerful and influential people who are often beyond the reach of legal proceedings. Accordingly, Moses wanted the people to declare that they despised such deeds, so that the masses would not be punished for the corruption of those they sincerely wished to restrain, but could not restrain. Thus "All Israelites are responsible for one another" only applies where there is power to protest and failure to protest (c.f. Shabbat 54b).
Indeed, it is common decency that lies at the very foundation of Torah and indeed the Creation: "For I have said that the world is built on kindness" (Psalms 89:3). As the Rabbis put it: "Derech Eretz Kodma la-Torah": common decency goes before Torah. The ten middle curses specify things that are socially unjust, which would be condemned by almost any society that considers itself civilized. However, all of them do have the potential of giving at least short term profit to the powerfully-placed wrongdoer, through selfishly exploiting weaker parties, or one's nearest and dearest.
In addition, common decency itself breaks down in the spirit of the first item the list condemns: "Cursed is the man who secretly puts up a stone or molten image… hateful to G-d" (27:14). The stone or molten image is his idol; it represents the person's values. In modern terms, it is analogous to a person saying to himself: "it's OK for me to do abomination X because I am a nationalist or a communist". Thus he may use his "idol" in substance or thought to justify any of his selfish ambitions. These very much include the selfish exploitation and abuse of parents and the weaker members of society, as history repeatedly shows. The false doctrine flowing from his "idol" will whisper to him: "it's different for you; common decency is only for other people".
This D'var Torah on Parashat Ki Tavo 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 18 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: email@example.com 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:
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