“See, I am setting before you today blessing and curse. The blessing: That you will hearken to the commandments of G-d … and the curse, if you will not hearken …. And it shall come to pass, when Hashem … will bring you to the land … you shall deliver the blessing on Har Gerizim and the curse on Har Eival.”
What do mountains have to do with blessings and curses?
This Parsha is called “Re’eh,” which means “see.” We have to “see” that the Torah is real, standing in front of our eyes, like a mountain.
Am Yisroel is about to cross the Yarden River. The entire nation is to travel to Har Gerizim and Har Eival, two mountains near Shechem. Half of the tribes are to stand on Har Gerizim and half on Har Eival, with the Leviim and Kohanim in the valley between. A prescribed series of blessings and corresponding curses is to be pronounced by the Leviim. Those on Har Gerizim are to answer “amen” to the blessings and those on Har Eival are to answer “amen” to the curses.
These are not new mitzvos, but rather a general affirmation by Am Yisroel, before the Nation separates into its respective tribal territories, that adherence to the Torah constitutes our only basis for success.
What is the substance of these blessings and curses?
Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch explains: “these are sins that, as a rule, escape people’s attention…. Human society, which upholds the law, cannot monitor them…. By their very nature [they] remain secret, and it is the very secrecy of these sins that is considered especially deserving of a curse ….. [for example, a person] who outwardly acts pious, but who privately denies that Hashem is the sole Deity; one who shows respect to his parents but inwardly despises them; one who cultivates a reputation for honesty, but who, when unobserved, infringes upon the rights of his neighbor ….”
I believe that the point of this elaborate ceremony is to illustrate in the most graphic way that there are no secrets in this world. What we may think is secret will be proclaimed from the mountaintops.
History has borne this out! If Am Yisroel keeps the Torah, the entire world knows it. If – G-d forbid! – the opposite happens … then the world becomes our enemy.
“You shall safeguard and perform [the mitzvos], for [this] is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the nations, who shall hear all these decrees and … say, ‘Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation!’”
Here is another question: the entire scenario, these blessings and curses uttered from the mountaintops, is introduced in our Parsha, but the actual blessings and curses are not enumerated until sixteen chapters later, in Parshas Ki Savo.
Why not put it all together in one place?
I would say that this in itself suggests an amazing lesson about the dynamics of training our inner self. We may believe that we are going to get away with something. We try to hide it and it may seem that we are successful. But then, years later, suddenly everything comes to light!
Hashem demands not only outward observance but inner faithfulness. Rabbi Meshulam ha Levi Jungreis zt”l always used to repeat this Gemora: “Hakadosh baruch hu liba bo-aiy … Hashem desires the heart!”
Is it possible for us to control our emotions, thoughts, feelings, intentions?
It may be challenging, but the Torah is telling us that is indeed possible, indeed it is the very foundation of our success!
Do we not say every night before we go to sleep, “Ribono shel olam, I hereby forgive anyone who angered or antagonized me ….” What! I can forgive him? Yes! Hashem says we should work to attain this state of mind.
Similarly, the Torah tells us, “Shema Yisroel … you shall love Hashem with all your heart…..!” We can train ourselves to love Hashem.
Additionally, Hashem tells us not to “explore after your heart and your eyes ….” Can I control my heart? Apparently yes! If we look at the tzitzis, that will help us control our heart. Tzitzis are physical objects, but they represent the 613 mitzvos.
Har Gerizim and Har Eival are real mountains. According to Rabbi Hirsch, “The contrast in their appearance can still be clearly seen. Mount Gerizim [from which “amen” was said to the blessings] is verdant, with gardens covering the terraces. Mount Eival [from which “amen” was said to the curses] is steep, barren and desolate.” These mountains, which stand opposite each other, illustrate by their very appearance the result of a blessing as opposed to a curse.
My friends, we live in a world where many difficult challenges confront us. Moshe Rabbeinu is telling us to look inside for answers. After all, was not our current, agonizing two-thousand-year Golus caused by a “matter of the heart,” sinas chinom, unwarranted hatred between Jew and Jew!
This week, we welcome Chodesh Elul, the month dedicated to doing teshuva in preparation for the awesome days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. “Teshuva” means cleaning out our neshomas! We are required to take stock of who we are and try to become who we are supposed to be.
This is our avoda: to try to perfect ourselves.
If we listen to the blessings and curses which emanate from Har Gerizim and Har Eival, then soon we can hope to hear another great sound: the Shofar Gadol announcing the coming of Moshiach ben Dovid and the Great Days when the knowledge of G-d will fill the world “as the sea fills the ocean bed.”