Parashat Ki Tavo

Discovering The Relationship Between Curses And Blessings

By viewing the troubles and joys of our lives as part of a continuum we can uncover blessings even in the most challenging curses.

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Provided by the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.

Parashah Overview

  • The Israelites are instructed to express their gratitude to God for their bountiful harvests and freedom from slavery by tithing ten percent of their crops for the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow. (26)

  • The people are told to display on large stones God’s commandments for all to see. (27:1–8)

  • The Levites are to proclaim curses upon those who violate God’s commandments. (27:15–26)

  • The Israelites are told that if they obey God’s mitzvot (commandments) faithfully, they will receive every blessing imaginable. They are also told that if do not fulfill their b'rit (covenant) with God, many curses will descend upon them. (28:1–69)

  • Moses reminds the Israelites of the miracles they witnessed in the wilderness and commands them to observe the terms of the covenant so that they may succeed in all that they undertake. (29:1–8)

Focal Point

Now, if you obey Adonai your God to observe faithfully all God’s commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, Adonai your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings shall come upon you and take effect if you will but heed the word of Adonai your God…. But if you do not obey Adonai your God to observe faithfully all God’s commandments and laws that I enjoin upon you this day, all these curses shall come upon you and take effect (Deuteronomy 28:1–2; 15).

Your Guide

Why does the list of curses follow immediately on the heels of the list of blessings?

How are the blessings and curses related to each other?

Are the blessings and curses really polar opposites? Might they be opposite ends of the same continuum?

By the Way…

Thereupon Balak said to Balaam, “Don’t curse them and don’t bless them!” In reply, Balaam said to Balak, “But I told you: Whatever Adonai says, that I must do.” Then Balak said to Balaam, “Come now, I will take you to another place. Perhaps God will deem it right that you damn them for me there.”… Now Balaam, seeing that it pleased God to bless Israel, did not, as on previous occasions, go in search of omens but turned his face toward the wilderness. As Balaam looked up and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the spirit of God came upon him (Numbers 23:25; 24:1–2).

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Andrew F. Klein is the assistant rabbi of Hevreh of Southern Berkshire, Great Barrington, Mass.