Parashat Ki Tavo

The Worst Curse Is To Lose All Control

Among the curses for those who break the covenant is the inability to provide for themselves.

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Provided by Hillel's Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, which creates educational resources for Jewish organizations on college campuses.

Most of us, as a rule, do not dwell on the "unpleasant" parts of the Torah. After all, who wants to dwell on unpleasant things any day of the week, let alone on Shabbat, a day where we are supposed to, dare I say, enjoy ourselves a bit. However, after a very optimistic beginning, where the children of Israel imagine bringing their first harvest to the Temple, thanking their Creator for the bounty that has been provided for them, suddenly, the Holy One introduces us to the "downside" of being part of this covenant.

Just as the rewards are great for God's chosen, the punishments are very severe. What God threatens could ruin even a masochist's Shabbat. Even more depressing is that a close reading of the curses will show that the Jewish people have endured all the calamities mentioned, only taking solace that they lived to tell the tale.

Toward the end of the curses, the Torah says: "And your life will hang before you, and you will be frightened night and day, and you will not believe in your life" (Deuteronomy 28:66).

The midrash that introduces the Book of Esther, the Pitichta of Esther Rabba, opens with this verse, and explains it the following way:

Midrash Esther Rabba, the Pitichta (Introduction):
"and your life will hang before (depend upon) you…" this refers to a person who has grain for one year.
"and you will be frightened night and day…" this refers to a person who must buy his flour each day from the miller.
"…and you will not believe in your life." This refers to one who must buy his bread from the baker.

Rabbi Berachya disagreed:
"and your life will hang before (depend upon) you…" This refers to one who has grain for three years.
"and you will be frightened night and day…" This refers to one who has grain for one year.
"…and you will not believe in your life." This refers to one who must get his grain each day from the miller.

The other rabbis asked: What about the one who must get his bread from the baker? Rabbi Berachya answered, "The Torah did not address the dead.”

Your Midrash Navigator

1. The Hebrew word "Talui" can mean either "hang before" or "depend upon." Read the verse both ways and describe how it changes the meaning of the verse. If the verse means "depend upon" is this saying something positive or negative?
 

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Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Rabbi Avi Weinstein is the Head of Jewish Studies at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in Kansas City.