Ask the rabbi

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Blessings and Curses


Rabbi Yoel Lieberman

Shevat 13, 5771
I am working with my son on his Bar Mitzvah portion. It is Levitcus 26:16-26. This subject is the blessings and the curses for Israel regarding keeping G-d’s laws. The question is why so many curses in relation to blessings? Why so severe? What do the curses mean? Can you also recommend Talmud or commentary regarding this issue. What have the rabbi’s said regarding the severity of this passage?
14 Shvat 5771 In the scope of "Ask the Rabbi" it is difficult to encompass the entire issue but I can touch upon a few points. First we must see the underlying principle of reward and punishment which is one of the 13 principles of our faith. Hashem urges us keep to keep the Torah and then warns us of severe punishment if we do not keep it. Unfortunately, our history has taught us that all that was written came true and our faith in Hashem has taught us to constantly turn to Hashem in prayer to return us to days of old. The Ramban in commentary on the Torah to Devarim 32:40 says that the fulfillment of Moshe's prophecy as written in the Torah in the rebuke was so accurately fulfilled that even had it been written by an astrologer it is worthy of being believed, how much more so when written by Moshe Rabeinu the master of all prophets . In regard to this particular portion, the Rabbis in Baba Batra(88b) emphasize that there are actually more blessings here than curses. It is very worthwhile seeing Torah Shleima by Rav Menachem Mendel Kasher zt"l, whose book discusses all the midrashim by order of the verses which sheds a lot of light on the issue of the rebuke. The temperament of our nation is extreme and there are times when we low as the earth and there are times when we soar to the sky like stars. (See Megilla 16a). In regard to the sevenfold rebuke the Gemara (Betza 25b) compares the Jewish people to a "tormos" a type of bean which must be cooked 7 times before it becomes sweet. Similarly the Jewish people sometimes are punished 7 times and it is still not enough. This has to do with the concept of being a stiff necked people. Rav Kook zt"l in Ein Ayah (to Masechet Shabbat Daf 20, pg. 16) says that due to our stiff neck character we have been going through a difficult exile which is meant to mend all our qualities. I would say to place things in a positive perspective. I think we should learn from Rabbi Akiva's outlook of the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash as brought at the end of Masechet Makkot. Rabbi Akiva was able to take solace from seeing the destruction since it strengthened his belief in the ultimate full redemption. Mazal Tov upon your son's Bar Mitzvah
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