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by Mordecai Kornfeld
of Har Nof, Jerusalem
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This weeks teaching is dedicated to the memory of Fishel Yitzchok ben Shmuel Zisblatt by his family. His Yarzheit this year is Shabbos Parshas Ki Tavo (16 Elul).

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Parashat Ki-Tavo 5756

100 MINUS 2

Ezra the scribe instituted the public reading of the Tochechah (a list of punishments reserved for sinners) in Vayikra (26:14-43) before Shavuot, and that of Devarim (28:15-68) before Rosh Hashanah. Why is that? In order that the past year finish along with all of the curses associated with it.... Is Shavuot, then, a New Year's day? Yes, it is. As the Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 16a) states, "There are four periods when the world is judged; on Pesach... on Shavuot... on Rosh Hashanah... and on Succot...."
(Gemara Megillah 31b)
Our custom is to read a Parasha that does not mention Tochechah the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah [and to read the Tochechah *two* weeks before Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah,] in order not to read Tochechah immediately prior to Rosh Hashanah.
(Tosafot ad loc., s.v. Kelalot)
How does reading Tochechah before Rosh Hashanah herald a year of blessing? If anything, it would seem as if we are "ushering in" Tochechah, rather than "ushering them out," as can be judged from the reasoning of Tosafot. An answer to this question may be deduced through a thorough examination of the Gemara, quoted above, that provides the source for this custom.


A number of questions may be asked on the words of the Gemara.
(1) Firstly, why do we read specifically the *Vayikra* set of Tochechah before Shavuot and the *Devarim* set before Rosh Hashanah?
(2) Secondly, if there are actually four Rosh Hashanah's in the Mishnah, why did Ezra institute to "end the year and its Tochechah" before only two of them? (3) Finally (as Maharatz Chayot points out), it was once customary among the Jews of Israel to read much smaller weekly Torah portions. Because of this, it took them about three years to finish the entire Torah (Megillah 29b). How would the Jews of Israel fulfill Ezra's institution of reading the Tochechah before Rosh Hashanah? They only read each set of Tochechah once in three years!
These questions lead us to a new understanding of Ezra's institution. Perhaps Ezra did not mean for us to break from our normal routine and read Tochechah when Rosh Hashanah approaches. Rather, he ruled that in the course of our weekly readings, we should *not* read the Tochechah immediately *after* the start of a new year, as starting a year with Tochechah would be a bad omen. He therefore proposed that when, in the course of our weekly Torah readings, the reading of the Tochechah the coincides with a New Year's holiday, we should advance the reading of the Tochechah to the Shabbat *before* the New Year.
(1) This explains why the Tochechah of Vayikra are associated with Shavuot and those of Devarim with Rosh Hashanah. During the course of he yearly cycle of Torah readings, these Parshiot would normally be read immediately before or after those holidays.
(2) For the same reason, there is no need to mention Succot or Pesach in Ezra's institution. The Tochechah wouldn't normally be read after those holidays in either case.
(3) Finally, those who read the Torah according to the triennial cycle could also keep Ezra's institution. If the Tochechah, in such a cycle, was to be read shortly after a Rosh Hashanah, it would be pushed up and read earlier. Ezra made no institution bidding us to *arrange* to read the Tochechah before Shavuot or Rosh Hashanah!
It is now understandable why reading the Tochechah before a holiday is a sign that the New Year will be blessed. The Tochechah must be read shortly before or after the holiday in either case according to the yearly Torah reading cycle. Therefore, reading it before the holiday, as opposed to after it, saves us from "starting the year with Tochechah." This is indeed a way to usher in a year of blessing!.


This explanation provides at least a superficial appreciation of Ezra's institution. A more in-depth understanding may be gleaned from the following Midrash:

When the Bnai Yisroel heard the 100-less-two punishments of Devarim, aside from the 49 of Vayikra, their faces blanched. They exclaimed, "Who can survive all of these!" Moshe Rabbenu calmed them, saying, "...You've already sinned terribly [in the desert], yet you see that you have not been destroyed! "

Why were the gentiles destroyed while we were not? Because when the gentiles are punished they do not turn to Hashem. Instead, they rebel out of suffering. When the Jews are punished, however, they humble themselves and pray to Hashem.... In this manner the Tochechah preserves our spiritual integrity.
(Midrash Tanchuma, beginning of Nitzavim. See Rashi ad loc.)
It is necessary to suffer physical torment in order to be humbled. The prudent do not have to be punished -- simply considering the wrath of Hashem humbles them and turns their hearts to their creator in prayer. This may be the message of Ezra's institution. Read the Tochechah, and arouse the Jews to repent, before Rosh Hashanah. If they repent properly, they will truly be granted a year of prosperity! As depressing as it may be, it is worthwhile to read the Tochechah before Rosh Hashanah. (Our custom is to read the Tochechah two weeks before the holiday, as Tosafot pointed out. Perhaps this is in order to give us time both to repent and to overcome the depression associated with the Tochechah.)
May we merit to conclude this year and its punishments and to start a new year of blessings and joy!


We may add one more observation. The number of punishments mentioned in Devarim, according to the Tanchuma, is "100-less-two." This strange implies that there are not simply "98" punishments listed but rather 100, two of which are somehow different from the others. The K'li Yakar (beg. of Nitzavim) explains brilliantly that the two "missing" ones are those of Devarim 28:61 : "Aside from these, Hashem will bring upon you any sickness and any punishment that is not written in the Torah." The "sickness" and the "punishment" of this Pasuk are at the same time written, and yet left unwritten. They are the two that have been removed from the count of one hundred!
With this in mind, we may suggest that just as Ezra instituted the reading of the Tochechah of Vayikra before Shavouot in order to arouse us to take heed of the 49 punishments and repent so, too, the 49 days of the Omer-count which culminate in Shavuot remind us of these 49 punishments. Similarly, just as Ezra's reading of the Tochechah in Ki-Tavo before Rosh Hashanah reminds us to take heed of the 100 punishments and to repent so, too, the 100 blasts of the Shofar heard on Rosh Hashanahh remind us of the same theme!
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