Parashas Ki Savo

The Torah contains two passages called tochachah (admonition), with a litany of curses that will befall us if we do not obey Hashem’s will. One of these passages appears in parashas Bechukosai, while the second, a much longer one, appears in this week’s parashah. The Midrash teaches (Devarim Rabbah 4:1):
A question in halachah: Is it permitted to split the reading of the tochachah into multiple segments? Thus the Sages taught: “We do not interrupt the reading of the curses.” … Said R. Chiya bar Gamda: “For it is written (Mishlei 3:11), ‘The chastisement of Hashem, my child, do not disdain, and do not abhor (al takutz) His rebuke.’ Do not break up the litany of admonitions into separate ‘thorns’ (kotzim). Rather, one person should read them all.”
The final accepted halachah is that (1) it is forbidden to split up the tochachah in parashas Bechukosai (where Moshe was speaking in Hashem’s Name), and (2) it is technically permitted to split up the tochachah in this week’s parashah (where Moshe was speaking in his own name) but customary not to do so (Megillah 31b; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 428:6). The Maggid elaborates on why we refrain from splitting up the tochachah.
He brings out the idea with a striking parable. A young boy fell ill to the point of being bedridden, and his father called in a doctor to treat him. The doctor examined the boy, and stated that he would have to prescribe medications to make the boy vomit. The father told the doctor to be cautious, because the boy had a very delicate constitution and could not withstand powerful medicines. The doctor replied: “Yes, I saw that he is a delicate boy the moment I set eyes on him. But still, we have to do what we have to do in order to cure him, and he must be made to vomit at least ten times.” The father said: “Even so, try to minimize the medicine as much as you can.” The doctor responded: “As I just told you, I realize that your son has a delicate nature. I will take care not to overload him. Now, bring me a pen and paper, and I’ll write down a list of the medications I wish to prescribe.” The doctor proceeded to fill the page, top to bottom and side to side, with a long and varied list of medications. The father, seeing the list, pleaded with the doctor: “Please hold back – my son can’t take all this!” The doctor replied: “Just wait, you’ll see that I’m making it easy for him with this fearsome-looking prescription. He won’t be overloaded at all.”
The father, having no choice, sent his errand boy to the drug store to get the medicine. The errand boy returned with several large bundles of medications. The father was extremely distressed. The doctor took the bundles of medications and asked to have a table for preparing them set up next to the boy’s bed. He began chopping up various herbs and grinding various other materials. Fumes began to waft through the room, and the foul smell nauseated the boy: He vomited twice. The doctor continued chopping and grinding on and on, the smell grew fouler and fouler, and the boy vomited more and more. Eventually he vomited for the tenth time. The doctor then announced: “All right, we can pack up the medicine now, we’re finished.” And then he said to the father: “See, my dear friend, it is just as I told you. Had I planned to actually administer medication, I wouldn’t have needed to write out such a long list. One or two spoonfuls would have been enough. But I saw that your son was too delicate to withstand any medicine at all. So I had to write out a long list of medications, and make a big deal out of chopping and grinding them, so that the process of preparing the medications by itself would effect the cure.”
So it is with us. If Hashem intended, far be it, to put us through calamities of the type listed in the tochachah in order to cure us of our spiritual ills, surely just a few of these calamities would have been enough to achieve the goal. Why, then, does the Torah present such a long list (98 curses in the tochachah of this week’s parashah)? The reason is that Hashem, in His love and compassion for us, sized up our constitution and concluded that we could not bear the dose of affliction needed to cure us, and He therefore sought to present us with a list of curses so fearsome that merely reading it would do the job. We can now understand very well why we do not split the reading of the tochachah into multiple segments. When the long list of curses is read in a series of short segments, it makes little impression on us. Reading the list of curses all in one shot heightens the impact it has on us, and makes it a more effective means of purifying our hearts.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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