May 27, 2024
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Curses That Lead to Blessings Through Torah Learning

Last year close to 25 men from the Yeshiva Ner Boruch/PTI Morning Seder Chabura completed learning the entire Gemara Sukkah in depth. It was a multi-year project, and the first siyum for some members of the group. I was very emotional at this phenomenal accomplishment. At the same time, we started a new morning seder, learning Gemara Eruvin.

The siyum and our new seder took place a few weeks before Rosh Hashanah—surely Divine providence! As we approach Rosh Hashanah, many of us wonder what commitment we can make to merit a sweet new year.

Parshas Ki Savo is always the second-to-last parsha before Rosh Hashanah. The Gemara says, “Ezra instituted that Parshas Bechukosai must be read before Shavuos and Parshas Ki Savo must be read before Rosh Hashanah.” This is “in order to end the year by depleting all the curses.”

Parshiyos Bechukosai and Ki Savo both contain the tochacha, a long list of curses. How does reading these parshiyos, which list scary curses, close out any curses and punishments that are supposed to be meted out for sins committed during the year?

Rav Moshe Shapiro explains that there is an additional element to these curses. Each curse was part of a package. Hashem sealed a covenant (kerisas bris) with Klal Yisrael. As the pasuk says, “These are the words of the bris that Hashem commanded Moshe to seal with Bnei Yisrael … besides the bris that He sealed with them at Har Sinai.” Hashem gave the Torah along with a covenant which includes both the blessings—and the curses.

Therefore, when we receive the Torah at Shavuos, we read the tochacha of Bechukosai. But what’s special about reading Parshas Ki Savo before Rosh Hashanah?

Rav Moshe Shapiro points out that there is another day in the Jewish calendar year that we received the Torah: Yom Kippur. The Gemara explains that Moshe came down from Har Sinai with the second set of luchos, tablets, on Yom Kippur. Therefore, Ki Savo is read before Rosh Hashanah, which begins the Ten Days of Teshuva that end with Yom Kippur.

It’s quite interesting to note that the tochacha in Ki Savo contains twice the amount of curses as the one in Bechukosai! That’s 98 curses versus 49 curses. Why is it double?

Rav Shapiro explains that both in Bechukosai and Ki Savo, the curses came along with a covenant. Bechukosai recounts a bris for receiving the Torah at Har Sinai, but after Klal Yisrael sinned with the golden calf and Moshe smashed the luchos, Klal Yisrael needed to renew their covenant to keep the Torah and mitzvos. Parshas Ki Savo signifies a double bris. This second bris was unique to receiving the second luchos.

There was a major difference between the first and second set of luchos. In the first set, Hashem carved the tablets and inscribed the words. In the second set, Hashem inscribed the words, but Moshe carved out the tablets.

Shlomo HaMelech says “Kosveim al luach libecha, Write them on the tablets of your heart.” The Ra’avad says that the second luchos were shaped like a heart—a symbol that through these Luchos, the Torah is etched into the heart of every Jew.

Reading the curses at the end of the year is a reminder that we received a “double deal.” By reading about this covenant, we’re reminded of the need to recommit. In this merit, we will start the new year with bracha.

There is no greater way to recommit to this double covenant than with diligent Torah study. When we apply ourselves to really delve into a depth of understanding of the Gemara, we are preparing ourselves, and Hashem in turn is etching the words of Torah into us.

As children start the new school year, it is a time for us to look for new opportunities to engage in active Torah study, and in that merit, be blessed with a sweet new year!


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com

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