<i>Ki Tavo</I>: Reversal of Fortune

Turning evil into good.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch,

Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch
Two weeks ago, I was with my family on our annual summer vacation up North. Like thousands of Israelis, after Tisha B'Av we head up to the Golan or the Galilee. After ice-skating and bowling in Metulla's Canada Center, we went to the mall in Kiryat Shemona for lunch. While sitting in a booth in the restaurant's open, central location, I kibbitzed
Was this course of history inevitable?
with a local shoe-store owner who stood just outside the door of his establishment. When I left, he said to me: "I guard you from Kiryat Shemona and you guard me from Beit El."

This conversation leads to the answer to a question on this week's parsha, Ki Tavo. The parsha features 98 well-known curses to which the Jewish nation was to be liable if they "do not listen to the Lord, your God, to be careful to observe all His commandments" (Devarim 28:15), which seems a rather hard mission to accomplish. This includes "doing all that You commanded." (ibid. 26:14) Rashi explains that this means, "I was happy (in Your service), and brought joy to others."

Our rabbis, chazal, find many allusions in these curses to calamitous events in the last 3,000 years of Jewish history, and this begs the question: Was this course of history inevitable? Could exiles, pogroms, churban of Temples, and Holocausts have been prevented, or did the very letters of the Torah guarantee all these disasters?
The answer to this is also found in this parsha. In Devarim 26:15, Rashi explains: "We have upheld Your decrees to us, so You, God, do Your part of the covenant, and hashkifa mi'maon, look down from Your holy abode in Heaven and bless Your people Israel." These two words, hashkifa, "look down," and maon, are code-words loaded with nuances. "All circumstances when the Torah says hashkifa, 'look down on' humankind, are for curse and evil, except here in Devarim, because gifts to the poor have great power, to change the Almighty's anger to mercy." (Rashi on Genesis 18:16)

Many explanations are given for this ability of "the charity tithe given to the poor, the convert, the orphan and the widow" (Devarim 26:13) to change curse into blessing. The Aznayim L'Torah writes that this is no magic a la Harry Potter, but a manifestation of the covenant, brit, of arvut (the teamwork of the reciprocal relationship of Jew to Jew, and Jew to the Lord). If the Almighty were to "look down " and judge every individual, He would have no mercy, for no man could live up to all his obligations and not sin. But by giving tithe charity to the poor, a Jew is nullifying himself to others, to Klal Yisrael (the nation as a whole); then, God will look down and judge that individual as part of the whole of Israel. And the covenant guarantees mercy in judgment, and continued survival, "blessing" (verse 15) and good, for the Klal, which will thus secondarily benefit the individual who attaches himself to the whole.

Another reason why it is charity alone that effects the change to mercy: all other acts of mitzvah are necessarily imperfect (a result of the human condition), unlike tzedaka (charity), in which the essence is that the poor man is helped. No matter how that result is achieved, it's 100% - and therefore has the power to change evil to good. That is why the sentence on hashkifa ends with a reference to "the land of milk and honey," both being foods that come from non-kosher sources and are changed to kosher, to good (Aznayim L'Torah). This is because the Land of Israel is the place for this covenant of arvut and
Honey is eaten on Rosh Hashanah because it is the time of teshuva.
teshuva (turning evil into good), just as h
oney is eaten on Rosh Hashanah because it is the time of teshuva.

Similarly, the Rebbe of Gur writes about the stones on which the Torah was written as the Jews crossed the Jordan River (Devarim 27:8), saying that even stones are affected by words of Torah, changing a heart of stone to the good. And the Rebbe from Lizensk, on the ending of that verse, says that ba'er heitev ("explain it well") means, "explain the Torah for the good, that even these words of curse can be explained in a way that will turn them into blessing." That is why (Kli Yakar on 27:12) the verse says that "these will stand to bless," but the wording is "these will stand on Mount Eival for the curse." The blessing is sure to come, but the curse is in doubt, depending on man's actions.

Kli Yakar also notes that verses 15-26 delineate eleven curses, from which the corresponding blessings can only be derived as hints, because the blessings will derive from the curses, as evil is turned to good. All this is not theoretical, but leads to very practical lessons, one of which is for the present Israeli political scene. As Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wickedly is trying to destroy the country of Israel, the right-wing of Israeli politics should be listening to that store owner in Kiryat Shemona and pulling together as a team.

Menachem Begin pulled off his historic mahapach (revolution) after realizing he could win by uniting Likudniks with the Sephardi voter. But that's not what we see from Binyamin Netanyahu. He should know that right-wing Jews outnumber the Left, and the Left has only won for the last 15 years by Arab votes and by splintering the Right. He fights with Moshe Feiglin, the only settler and knit-kippa leader in the Likud, at a time when Netanyahu could use all the right-wing help he can get. He should certainly see that he won't get left-wing votes.
Only when Israeli political strategy is based on arvut, and uniting in brotherhood and patriotism, will the curse of the current Israeli situation be turned into blessing.

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