OU Torah Insights
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein
The Tochachah, G-d's stern warning to the Jewish people of what will befall them should they stray from His commands, appears twice in the Torah, first in Parshat Bechukotai and again in this week's parshah. This follows the ruling of the prophet Ezra, "that they read the curses in Torat Kohanim before Atzeret
(Shavuot) and the ones in Mishneh Torah before
The link between the Tochachah and Shavuot - the anniversary of our acceptance of the Torah - is readily understandable. But what accounts for the connection between this
week's Tochachah and the start of the New Year?
The new year includes Yom Kippur, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Z"tl notes, which is also Zeman Matan Torateinu - it is the date on which Moshe brought down the second luchot from Sinai.
But there is a difference between the two Tochachot, Abayei points out in Mesechet Megillah. The first Tochachah is stated in the plural and delivered by Moshe from the mouth of G-d. The second Tochacha is stated in the singular and delivered by Moshe on his own.
How is it that the second Tochachah was delivered independently by Moshe? Tosafot answers that he did so with
ruach hakodesh - the words still came from G-d.
The Rav suggests another, textual answer. The Tochachah in Ki Tavo concludes, "These are the words of the covenant
besides the covenant that was executed with [the Jewish people] at Chorev."
The Tochachah is referred to as a covenant between Israel and G-d, an oath taken by the Jewish people that they will maintain the Torah in its entirety. When the second set of luchot was delivered to replace the first, they called for a new oath to be administered along with them.
In the first Tochachah G-d establishes His covenant with all of Israel. Although Moshe delivered the words, G-d is considered to have administered the oath to the entire Jewish people - including Moshe.
In the second Tochachah, however, Moshe made the covenant, one-on-one, with each member of Klal Yisrael. Though he did so with ruach Hakodesh, he is considered to be the administrator of the oath.
There is another critical difference between the two Tochachot. The contents of the first Tochachah are fierce, sharp and awesome, yet end with words of hope, consolation and encouragement. Redemption will come. Despite the harshness, there will be a bright future.
The Tochachah in Ki Tavo is radically different. There is no happy ending. Is one to conclude, therefore, that there is no hope? Will there be endless suffering? Will redemption never come?
The answer, says the Rav, is in next week's parshah: "And it will come to pass when all of these things will happen
you will return to the L-rd your G-d
And G-d will return the captives and have mercy on you."
But why is this promise of hope and consolation postponed? Why is it not stated at the end of the Tochachah itself?
The Rav finds the answer in an insight of the Ramban. The Tochchah in Bechukotai presages the destruction of the first Temple, which drove the Jewish people into an exile lasting seventy years, as promised by the prophet,
But the destruction of the Second Temple and its consequent exile came with no such promise. This is the curse of the second Tochachah. No time limit is provided.
Israel will not redeemed except through repentance, declares the Rambam. Yet the Torah does guarantee that we will, ultimately, repent. "And you will return to the l-rd your G-d."
This is a further reason for reading the Tochachah now, as we observe the penitential season. We do
teshuvah not merely for our own shortcomings, but also to hasten the redemption
of all Israel.
May we be successful this year in this dual mission for our personal benefit and for the well-being of the State of Israel and all the people of Israel.
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein
Rabbi Lookstein is rabbi of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City.