The Second RebukeBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
If enemies attack, God will quickly put them to flight. They’ll come as a unified force, but flee in all directions. The grain will be blessed, as will all the Jews’ endeavors. They’ll be secure in their land. The world will recognize Israel as God’s nation and defer to them. God will grant them all good things so they’ll be in a position to lend, rather than needing to borrow. If they want to stay on top, all they have to do is follow the Torah and not deviate from the path.
But if they disobey the Torah, they’ll be cursed in the city, the field, their utensils, coming and going, etc. They will be anxious, frustrated and confused. They’ll be prone to all sorts of illness as well as enemy attacks. The sky will be like brass and the ground like iron; rain will be like dust, doing more harm than good. The Jews will be the ones scattering because of their enemies rather than the other way around. They’ll serve as an example to the world as scavengers pick their carcasses clean.
They’ll suffer boils like those of the Egyptian plagues, blindness, insanity and other afflictions. They won’t get to enjoy the fruits of their labors as others will constantly deprive them of their due. They’ll see their children being carried off by invading armies but they’ll be powerless to prevent it. The nation will be exiled to a foreign land where they’ll be forced to serve idolators.
Things will worsen. Their foreign servants will rise in power to become their rulers. An enemy nation will come from far away to enslave Israel, oppressing the elderly and children alike. The invaders will take everything and persecute the Jews throughout the country. Things will be so bad under the siege that people will be forced to resort to cannibalism. They will go from being a numerous nation to a handful of refugees in exile, scattered among the nations. They will be despised and have no home of their own, knowing constant anxiety. They’ll be willing to sell themselves as slaves, but nobody will want them. (And that’s not all. There’s far greater detail in the Torah text than was included in this synopsis.)
This is the second tochacha (rebuke), the first appearing in parshas Bechukosai (Numbers chapter 26). According to the Ramban (Nachmanides) there, the first tochacha refers to the destruction of the first Temple at the hands of the Babylonians, while this one refers to the destruction of the second Temple at the hands of the Romans. Anyone even passingly familiar with the past 2,000 years of Jewish history would have to admit that it’s uncannily accurate!
An interesting difference between the two tochachas is that the first says the sky will be like iron and the ground like brass, but this tochacha reverses it. Rashi on verse 23 here explains that brass sweats but iron doesn’t, so the previous version of the curse is harsher. There, the sky won’t exude any moisture, but the ground won’t, which will ruin the crops. Here, the sky will have some moisture and the ground won’t. It’ll still be a pretty terrible situation, but not quite as bad as the former scenario.
This concludes Moshe’s third address to the people.