May 19, 2024
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רְאֵה אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָה: אֶת-הַבְּרָכָה–אֲשֶׁר תִּשְׁמְעוּ, אֶל-מִצְו‍ֹת ה’ אלוקיכם אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם, הַיּוֹם.  וְהַקְּלָלָה, אִם-לֹא תִשְׁמְעוּ אֶל-מִצְו‍ֹת ה’ אלוקיכם וְסַרְתֶּם מִן-הַדֶּרֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם הַיּוֹם: לָלֶכֶת, אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יְדַעְתֶּם. (דברים יא:כו)

“Look, I (Hashem) gave before you blessing and curse. The bracha; that you will listen to the mitzvos of Hashem, your God, that I command you today. The curse; if you do not list the mitzvos of Hashem, your God, and you leave the way that I command you today, to follow other gods that you do not know,” (Devarim 11:26-28).

On these pesukim—the midrash comments—these pesukim can be understood in light of a different pasuk (Yirmiyahu 13:15), “Shimu v’ha’azinu v’al tag’bihu kei Hashem dibair—Listen, internalize what you hear,” “V’al tagbihu—literarily; and don’t be haughty,” but the midrash takes it to mean don’t push Hashem’s benevolence up high and away—like Hashem spoke.

The midrash asks: Where did Hashem say that if we don’t listen and internalize Hashem’s teachings we will push away Hashem’s benevolence? The answer is that it is written in Yeshayahu (1:19-20); “Im tovu u’shmatem, tuv ha’aretz to’chailu, v’im t’mawh’aihnu u’mrisem etc.—If you are willing and listen to Hashem, then the good of the land, you will eat. If you refuse to listen to Hashem and rebel the sword will … ”

The midrash asks: What does it mean, “If you are willing and listen to Hashem, then the good of the land you will eat?”

Rabbi Elazer explained, “The Torah and the sword came down from Heaven wrapped together. Hashem said to them, ‘If you keep what it says in the Torah, you will be saved from the sword. If not … ’ According to this, we can explain the pasuk in our parsha, “Re’eh anochi nosen lifnaichem hayom es habracha klalah. Es habracha asher tishmau el mitzvos Hashem Elokaichem asher ahnochi metzav eschem hayom. V’haklalah im lo sishmu el mitzvos Hashem Elokaichem etc.—that Hashem said to Bnei Yisroel, if you do My will, you will receive goodness and blessing and if not you will be cursed.”

Zera Shimshon asks several questions on this midrash: Firstly—on face value—these pesukim are very easy to understand; if we listen to Hashem’s mitzvos, Hashem will reward us, and if not, we will be punished. What bothered the midrash that it had to bring other pesukim to explain?

Secondly, why does the midrash ask what is the meaning of the pasuk, “If you are willing and listen to Hashem, then the good of the land you will eat?” This pasuk also seems to be pretty straight forward, when someone listens to Hashem, Hashem will reward them!

Another question, what does Rabbi Elazar mean that, “The Torah and the sword came down from Heaven wrapped together?”

Zera Shimshon answers these questions—in light of another midrash—that says that Hashem rhetorically asked klal Yisroel, “Did anyone ever do a mitzvah before I was good to him? Did anyone ever perform the mitzvah to build a fence on his roof before I gave him a house? Did anyone ever perform the mitzvah of tzitzis before I gave him a garment? Did anyone ever perform the mitzvah of milah before I gave him a baby boy?”

We learn from this midrash that Hashem doesn’t only bestow goodness on people as a reward for doing the mitzvos. Sometimes, it is given before we do the mitzvos in order to enable the person to do the mitzvos. When we use these gifts to do mitzvos, Hashem allows us to keep those gifts and Hashem gives us even more gifts as a reward. However, if we don’t do the mitzvos connected with the gifts we receive, chas v’shalom, then not only does Hashem not give us more gifts, but Hashem takes from us what was already given.

According to this, Zera Shimshon explains the midrash: “The midrash was bothered by the well-known question on these pesukim. Regarding the curse, it is written, “V’haklalah im lo sishmu el mitzvos Hashem Elokaichem—and the curse if you don’t listen to the mitzvos of Hashem … ” meaning, there is a cause and effect—the consequence for not doing the mitzvos is being cursed. However, regarding the bracha, it is not written, “Es habracha im tishmau el mitzvos Hashem Elokaichem—the bracha if you listen to the mitzvos of Hashem but rather it is written, “Es habracha asher tishmau el mitzvos Hashem Elokaichem—The bracha that you listen to the mitzvos of Hashem.” Why didn’t it write the bracha the same way that it wrote about the klalah?

The midrash answers with the pasuk: “Listen, internalize, ‘v’al tagbihu—and don’t push away Hashem’s benevolence’—like Hashem spoke.” The fact that the pasuk is talking about pushing away Hashem’s goodness implies that the goodness already exists. In other words, Hashem bestowed goodness even before we did the mitzvos. If a person doesn’t listen to Hashem’s mitzvos, these gifts are taken away; however, they exist even before the performance of the mitzvos. The reason for this—like we learnt in the other midrash—is that Hashem bestows goodness on people to enable them to do the mitzvos, and not only as a reward.

Therefore, since a person merits good things from Hashem even before we do the mitzvos, the pasuk cannot say that we will receive bracha if we listen to Hashem’s mitzvos, since even before we did the mitzvos, we are granted gifts from Hashem. Regarding the curses, however, a person is punished only if he doesn’t listen to Hashem’s mitzvos.

The midrash, however, was bothered with this explanation because the pasuk, “If you humble yourself and listen to Hashem, then the good of the land you will eat …” seems to contradict this idea. From this pasuk, it seems that only after we listen to Hashem, do we get to eat from the good of the land. Therefore—even though the pasuk itself is pretty straightforward—the midrash asks that it is difficult to understand in light of the midrash of, “Did anyone ever do a mitzvah before I was good to him etc.?”

Rabbi Elazar answered, “The Torah and the sword fell from Heaven wrapped together.” Meaning, since the Torah—in which the mitzvos are written—descended from Heaven, then, it must be that the gift of having a house and a baby boy was also given. If not, how can there be a mitzvah to build a fence around the roof and to circumcise a child? In other words, Rabbi Elazar was essentially saying that there are two types of goodness—one in order to be able to do the mitzvah and one as a reward for doing the mitzvah.

This answers how the promise, “the good of the land you will eat,” which implies a person merits prosperity only after he keeps the mitzvos, doesn’t contradict the fact that Hashem gives presents to a person even before he does the mitzvos. The answer is that there are types of “gifts”—an initial “gift” in order to do the mitzvos and another type as a reward for actually doing the mitzvah.

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