Commentary on Parashat Ki Tavo, Deuteronomy 26:1 - 29:8
The Tokhackah, 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 Parashat Bechukotai and again in this week’s Torah portion. This follows the ruling of the prophet Ezra, “that they read the curses in Torat Kohanim (Leviticus) before Atzeret (Shavuot) and the ones in Mishneh Torah (Deuteronomy) before Rosh Hashanah.”
The link between the Tokhakhah and Shavuot — the anniversary of our acceptance of the Torah — is readily understandable. But what accounts for the connection between this week’s Tokhakhah and the start of the New Year?
The new year includes Yom Kippur, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Z”tl (may his memory be a blessing) notes, which is also Zeman Matan Torateinu (the time of the giving of the Torah)–it is the date on which Moses brought down the second lukhot (tablets) from Sinai.
But there is a difference between the two Tokhakhot, Abayei points out in Tractate Megillah. The first Tokhakhah is stated in the plural and delivered by Moses from the mouth of G-d. The second Tochacha is stated in the singular and delivered by Moses on his own.
How is it that the second Tokhakhah was delivered independently by Moses? Tosafot (Talmudic scholars of 12th-13th centuries) answer that he did so with ruah hakodesh (divine inspiration)–the words still came from G-d.
Rav Soloveitchik suggests another, textual answer. The Tokhakhah in Ki Tavo concludes, “These are the words of the covenant…besides the covenant that was executed with [the Jewish people] at Horev [Sinai].”
The Tokhakhah 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 Tokhakhah G-d establishes His covenant with all of Israel. Although Moses delivered the words, G-d is considered to have administered the oath to the entire Jewish people–including Moses.
In the second Tokhakhah, however, Moses made the covenant, one-on-one, with each member of Klal Yisrael (the congregation of Israel). Though he did so with ruah hakodesh, he is considered to be the administrator of the oath.
There is another critical difference between the two Tokhakhot. The contents of the first Tokhakhah 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 Tokhakhah 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 Rav Soloveitchik, 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 Tokhakhah itself?
Rav Soloveitchik finds the answer in an insight of the Ramban (Nahmanides). 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, Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah).
But the destruction of the Second Temple and its consequent exile came with no such promise. This is the curse of the second Tokhakhah. 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 Tokhakhah now, as we observe the penitential season. We do teshuvah (repentance) 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.
Provided by the Orthodox Union, the central coordinating agency for North American Orthodox congregations.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.
Pronounced: tuh-SHOO-vah, (oo as in boot) Origin: Hebrew, literally “return”, referring to the “return to God” teshuvah is often translated as “repentance.” It is one of the most significant themes and spiritual components of the High Holidays.