Parashas Re’eh

This week’s parashah begins (Devarim 11:26-27): “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing – that you hearken to the commandments of Hashem your God, that I command you today. And the curse – if you do not hearken to the commandments of Hashem your God ….” The Midrash expounds (Devarim Rabbah 4:1):
Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: “It is not to do you evil that I gave you blessings and curses. Rather, it is to inform you what is the proper path for you to choose and thereby receive reward. From where do we know this? From that which is written: “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse.”
The Midrash is teaching us, the Maggid says, that we can tell that Hashem is acting for our good from the very fact that He presents before us the curses we will face if we disobey His instructions. The Maggid quotes another Midrash that brings out the idea explicitly. When Hashem assailed Egypt with the ten plagues, He gave Pharaoh advance warning before most of them. He issued an especially elaborate warning before the plague of hail. The Midrash remarks (Shemos Rabbah 12:1):
Thus it is written (Iyov 36:23): “Verily, in His power, God will boost. Who is like Him as a guide?”  He boosts the power of the righteous to do His will, and He shows the way to repentance. … Hashem did not wish to send the plague until He warned Pharaoh, so that he would repent.
If Hashem wished to cause suffering, He would conceal the calamities He has ready to deploy. Instead, He discloses them openly, so that people will repent and thereby avoid being struck. A verse in Tehillim reflects this idea. The psalmist Asaf declares (Tehillim 76:9): “From heaven You made judgment heard; the earth feared, and quieted.” Our Sages expound (Shabbos 88a): “First fear, and afterward quiet.” That is, Hashem’s giving notice that He is going to impose judgment is the very cause of the judgment’s eventual cancellation – if the notice is heeded, and the sinners mend their ways.
The Maggid links this idea to a message from Hashem to Yirmiyahu (23:34-36): “Any prophet or priest or member of the people who says ‘burden of Hashem,’ I shall deal with that person and his household. … Although a burden comes to a man of His word, you have inverted the word of the living God.” A prophecy of calamity, the Maggid says, has two effects. First, it prompts people to repent. Second, it “locks in” the calamity, so that if people fail to repent, the calamity will strike. Thus, the way a person relates to such a prophecy depends on his attitude toward Hashem’s directives. If a person is interested in listening to Hashem, he welcomes an ominous prophecy as an enlightening message informing him that he needs to improve his ways. Through the prophecy, Hashem boosts his power to do His will, and he appreciates this boost. If, on the other hand, a person is not interested in listening to Hashem, he regards an ominous prophecy as a burden that is going to cause him suffering. Hashem’s intent is for the ominous prophecy to lead to repentance and thereby serve as a source of blessing; a person who considers the prophecy bad is thus inverting His word.
In our day, we no longer receive prophecy, but Hashem has other means of awakening us. Misfortune is one of the key methods. Thus, earlier in the passage from Iyov quoted in the Midrash above, it is written (Iyov 36:8-12):
If they are fettered in shackles, trapped in ropes of affliction, He [thereby] informs them of their [evil] doings and their egregious sins, for these have waxed great. He opens their ears to discipline, and tells them to turn back from wrongdoing. If they listen and serve, they will finish their days in goodness and their years in pleasantness. But if they do not listen, they will pass away by the sword, and expire for lack of knowledge.
When misfortune begins to strike, we should repent before it strikes with full force. Even better, we should pay careful attention to the curses that the Torah presents, and mend our ways without having to undergo actual suffering. We should not be numb to the Torah’s words, “like a horse or a mule, devoid of understanding” (Tehillim 32:9). If we take the Torah’s blessings and curses to heart, we will reap the blessings.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

1 Comment

  1. North Jerusalem Maggid of Dubno Project » Blog Archive » Parashas Re’eh:

    […] that which is written: “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse.” We previously presented an explanation by the Maggid of this Midrash taken from Ohel Yaakov, parashas […]

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