Parsha of the Week

Moshe’s necessarily repetitive goodbyes, and ours


In our parsha, Ki Savo, we find Moshe being repetitive with his goodbyes. Which seems excessive.

At the end of chapter 26, he tells the people, “God is commanding you to keep the laws. Observe them with all your heart. He has declared He will be your God, as you keep the mitzvos and laws, and He has told you be His treasured nation, and to keep His mitzvos. He is putting you above other nations to be an Am Kadosh.”

At the beginning of chapter 29 Moshe delivers a history lesson, about their leaving Egypt, surviving through the wilderness with their clothes and shoes not wearing out, their seemingly impossible defeat of Sichon and Og, and the fact that he divided those lands to 2.5 tribes. All of this indicates that God has chosen the Israelites as His nation, while He is their God. And Moshe concludes once again, saying, keep the words of the Covenant and do them. Which is another way of saying, “Follow the laws and commandments.”

Not a whole lot of time passes in this parsha. Is Moshe so forgetful that he is forgetting what he said not so long ago? I think it’s not so much about the passage of time, as it’s about what happened in between the two statements. Of course, what happened is the proclamation of the tokhacha (the great rebuke of chapter 28, in which Moshe spells out what will happen if people don’t listen to and follow the law).

Look at the transition verses between the blessing and the curses in 28:14-15. “Do not stray to the right or left from all the words that I am commanding you today. [Be especially careful not to] follow other gods or serve them. If you do not obey God your Lord and do not carefully keep all His commandments and decrees as I am prescribing them for you today, then all these curses will come to bear on you.”

Moshe lays out the case that when the Israelites follow the ways of the Torah, heed its lessons, respect one another and respect the Almighty, life in the Land will be the closest thing to heavenly bliss in this world. Peace, abundance in rain, food, blessings of health, wealth, children, animals, growth in all good ways, victory over enemies. 

However, if people ignore the law and don’t heed the warnings of where human nature can take them, the tokhacha’s warnings can swiftly become a devastating reality.

• • •  

Any generation who saw this happen to them – whether in Biblical times or later – leaders looked to the tokhacha and said, “See? Moshe warned us!” It happened in the time of Yeshayahu and Yirmiyahu, it happened during the second Churban, it happened at the time of the Spanish expulsion, and it happened post-Holocaust.

And so when Moshe comes back around at the very end of the parsha, giving us his immediate follow up to the tokhacha, Moshe chooses to go a different route than mere fealty to the Lord. At the end of chapter 26 he’s bringing his long speech, which included close to 200 mitzvos, to its conclusion. So he’s said it all already. “I just spent 21 chapters telling you a little history and a lot of laws. Keep the mitzvot.”

After the tokhacha, however, people may feel like, “What do we need this for? I mean, the blessings were nice. But if the balance on the other side is these curses, what kind of loving God would do this to us just for turning away from Him?”

And to this, Moshe’s response is the last aliyah in the parsha. “Israel! You must have a sense of history! The only reason you are in the land is because of Hashem’s love for you! And His love for you is because of his love of your ancestors, to whom he promised a process that would turn you into a formidable nation that will outlive and outlast every other nation, no matter what they do to you! You must have a sense of history! See where you fit into the story of your people! See what Hashem did for you in taking you out of Egypt, in taking care of you for 40 years.

• • •

Despite your disloyalty with the Golden Calf and the spies, the Man never stopped, you never needed new clothes or shoes. And all of this was done so that you can live a holy existence in the land.

You don’t want to live a holy existence in the land? Then don’t be in the Land. You can go elsewhere. But if you’re going to be in the Land, remember why God wants you to be there. If you lose sight of that, and you want to stay there all the same, forces beyond your control will likely change your reality.”

That is why the tokhacha is followed by a history lesson. To remind us why we’re doing everything we do. Why we don’t want to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Moshe was not forgetful at all. He actually had extreme clarity. He knew with whom he was dealing and with what he was dealing. He understood human nature. And he dealt with what he needed to appropriately.

In the words of our sages, there are two answers to the question of “Who is wise?” One answer is “one who learns from everyone.” The other answer is “one who can anticipate outcomes.”

Moshe was trying to anticipate what was coming. Moshe was hoping for people to learn important lessons. Knowing the nature of the people, he needed them to know not only all the mitzvot but that the tokhacha’s devastation is always lurking around the corner. 

• • •

Last wishes or parting wishes are often like this. Lessons are shared from those who have been around the block, or they are learned on a personal level through the school of hard knocks. Most of all, we need to try as hard as we can to anticipate outcomes.

So here is an exercise in thinking about outcomes.

•Have we put our house in order, in case of untimely tragedy or natural end-of-life?

•Do we anticipate fights our children will have and take steps to avoid them in advance?

•Do we aim to resolve conflict with others, with a mediator/moderator if necessary?

•Do we adequately prepare ourselves for our encounters with God, turning off our phones during the week, and otherwise preparing or meditating to be ready to enter the presence of the Divine?

•Do we set ground rules before engaging in political conversations?

•Do we choose to waste our time and engage in arguments with irrational people?

•Do we ever think that maybe it’s time to move on from a years or decades long conflict with a friend, or even more tragic, a family member?

May we all be blessed to do our own forms of teshuva, and find peace in the coming year, with both expected and unexpected outcomes that life will bring our way.

Previously published.