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The Weekly Internet
P A R A S H A - P A G E
by Mordecai Kornfeld
of Har Nof, Jerusalem
Founder of the Dafyomi Advancement Forum

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I would like to dedicate this issue to the memory of a dear friend of the family, Dr. Simcha Bekelnitzky of Queens N.Y., whose sudden passing a few weeks ago left us all in shock. May Hashem console his wife and children and provide them with the strength necessary to weather this difficult time.

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Entering the Land of Israel after 40 years of drifting over the hot desert sands and after losing 600,000 prime members of the nation, must have been an emotionally loaded experience for all of those who merited to participate in the event. As if the sheer excitement of stepping foot in the land were not enough, the day of their arrival in Israel was marked with countless miracles and numerous never-to-be-repeated religious rites, some of which are described in this week's Parasha.

Shortly after stepping foot on the soil of the Holy Land, the Jews miraculously found themselves standing before Mts. Grizim and Eival, a pair of mountains bordering on the city of Shechem to the west and the east, respectively. There, they were commanded to perform a unique "swearing-in ceremony" in which they accepted upon themselves all of the Mitzvos of the Torah. Although the Torah only provides a broad description of what was to transpire, the Mishnah describes it in full detail:

Six tribes climbed to the top of Mt. Grizim while the other six climbed to the top of Mt. Eival. The Kohanim, the Levi'im and the Holy Ark remained below, between the two.... the Kohanim turned their faces towards Mt. Grizim and began with the blessing, "Blessed be the person who does not make an idol!" -- and the Israelites atop the two mountains responded, "Amen!" Next, the Kohanim turned towards Mt. Eival and pronounced the first of the curses: "Cursed be the person who makes an idol!" -- to which the groups atop both mountains responded, "Amen!" They continued in this manner (i.e. blessing, curse, blessing, curse) for the rest of the curses (mentioned in Devarim 27:15-26). (Mishnah, Sotah 32a)


The Torah provides a full list of the 12 curses that were to be pronounced during this ceremony, each preceded by a blessing produced by inverting the curse. The number "12" was presumably chosen because it corresponds with the number of the tribes of Israel (Ba'alei ha'Tosfos; Chizkuni). In truth, however, the first eleven are summed up by the twelfth, most general, curse, "Cursed be one who does not accept upon himself to fulfill all of the commandments of the Torah." This makes all of the preceding, more specific, curses extraneous. Rashi explains (27:24) that the preceding 11 curses were meant to correspond to 11 of the twelve tribes, while the twelfth was directed towards the entire nation. Which tribe was not relegated a curse? The tribe of Shimon, Rashi explains. Moshe did not want to direct a curse towards Shimon, since he did not intend to direct a *blessing* towards that tribe before he passed away as he did with the other tribes.

At first blush, Rashi seems to be explaining no more than why, in general, the number 11 was chosen for the curses. There does not seem to be a direct correlation between each one of the curses and a specific tribe. Abravanel, in his commentary, attempts to actually link each curse to a specific tribe, although he does so in no particular order. Outdoing that, the Pirchei Nisan (by the author of "Kohelet Yitzchak," Vilna 1900, Parashat Vayishlach) suggests that each of the curses corresponds to a tribe in a very clear order; specifically, that in which the tribes are listed in the section of the Torah that lists the 11 curses (Devarim 27: 12:13).

The Torah commands that six of those tribes descended from Yakov's primary wives (Rachel and Leah) should stand upon the "Mountain of the Blessing," Mt. Grizim. The four who descended from his concubines (Bilhah and Zilpah) along with the descendants of Leah's eldest and youngest sons should stand upon the "Mountain of the Curse," Mt. Eival. In specifying this command, the Torah lists the 12 tribes in the following order: Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yisachar, Yosef, Binyamin (Mt. Grizim), Reuven, Gad, Asher, Zevulun, Dan, Naftali (Mt. Eival). Disregarding Shimon, at whom no curse was directed according to Rashi, the 11 curses each correspond to a different tribe in the order in which they are listed here. If this is true, the Pirchei Nisan asserts, we may gain insight into a statement made by the Gemara in Shabbat.


Whoever says that Reuven sinned, is simply mistaken.... What, then, does the verse mean when it says that, "Reuven slept with Bilhah, his father's concubine (Bereishit 35:22)" [thereby transgressing the prohibition of taking his father's wife]? Reuven moved his father's bed out of Bilhah's tent, and the Torah considered it as if he had slept with her.

Said Rebbi Shimon ben Elazar, "The righteous [Reuven] is absolved from sin in this matter. How could it be that Reuven's children would stand upon Mt. Eival and say, 'Cursed be the one who sleeps with his father's wife,' if Reuven had himself done so?!"

Rebbi Shimon ben Elazar appears to be proving Reuven guiltless, for otherwise, by asking Reuven's descendants to answer "Amen" on Mt. Eival, Hashem would be asking them to accept a curse upon themselves, which is absolutely unheard of. According to Pirchei Nisan's contention, though, the Gemara is saying much more than that.

"Cursed be the one who sleeps with his father's wife" is number six in line. Excluding Shimon, Reuven is the sixth tribe mentioned in the list of the tribes that stood upon the two mountains. Rebbi Shimon ben Elazar is therefore saying as follows: The curse for sleeping with one's father's wife was addressed *specifically* towards Reuven. Since these curses were part of a swearing-in ceremony, it could not be that Hashem intended to curse the tribe of Reuven whether they accepted His commands or not. Instead, the Torah must have addressed that curse (and its corresponding inverse blessing) towards the tribe of Reuven in order to make it clear that *even* they were, so far, free of condemnation for that incestuous act. Their ancestor was hence officially vindicated from having committed such a transgression!


If the Pirchei Nisan's postulation about the order of the curses is true, can we then show that *each* of the 11 curses was appropriate to the particular tribes towards which they were directed? Pirchei Nisan asserts that we indeed can! Although he only explains the first six of the curses, I found another work, "Techeles Mordechai" (Harav Mordechai Drucker of Strya, Hungary, Parashat Ki Tavo) who resolves the entire lot of them following the Pirchei Nisan's approach. Together with a friend of mine, Rav Gedaliah Press of Jerusalem, I think that I've managed to fill in any of the gaps left over by these two authors. In general, the assumption is that the Torah links a curse to a particular tribe either (a) in order to show that the sin mentioned in the curse *cannot* be attributed to that tribe, as mentioned above, or (b) because that tribe was *outstanding* in that respect, or (c) because that tribe was more *liable* than the others to sin in such a manner, and thus needed a more direct warning. Here is the way the list looks (I have initialed each explanation to show whose suggestion it is):

(1) LEVI - "Cursed be one who makes idols." The tribe of Levi was the only one that did not serve the Golden Calf (see Rashi to Devarim 33:9). (PN)
(2) YEHUDAH - "Cursed be one who shows disrespect to his parents." Yehudah promised his father to return Binyamin unscathed, and then risked his life to fulfill his promise for the sake of his father (Bereishit 42:32) (PN)
(3) YISACHAR - "Cursed be one who tries to take for himself his neighbor's property." Yisachar was conceived when Leah claimed Yakov for herself even though it was Rachel's night. However, she paid Rachel in full for the privelege (Bereishit 30:16) (PN). Secondly, Yisachar's leader brought his sacrifices (during the dedication ceremony of the Mishkan) before Reuven's leader. Reuven's leader complained that he rightfully ought to be first, since his tribal ancestor was older, but Hashem supported Yisachar's leader, saying that it was rightfully Yisachar's turn after all (Rashi to Bamidbar 7:19). (TM)
(4) YOSEF - "Cursed be one who misleads the blind on the road." When Yosef was on the road trying to locate his brothers, he "blindly" trusted that they would do him no harm. They, however, took advantage of him and did harm him. Thus, he was the only one of the brothers that did not mislead the blind (PN). Alternatively, when Yosef was viceroy of Egypt, his brothers "blindly" stumbled upon him. Although they did not know who he was, Yosef did not take advantage of that fact to take his revenge. (MK)
(5) BINYAMIN - "Cursed be one who does injustice to a proselyte, orphan or widow." Binyamin was an orphan, and thus this curse protected him. (PN)
(6) REUVEN - (Explained above)
(7) GAD - "Cursed be he who cohabits with an animal" - Gad gave precedence to their animals even over their own children (Rashi Bamidbar 32:16). It was therefore necessary to warn them of this more than the other tribes. (MK)
(8) ASHER - "Cursed be he who cohabits with his sister." The women of the tribe of Asher were particularly pretty (Rashi Devarim 33:24), so Asher had to be warned of this more than any other tribe (TM).
(9) ZEVULUN - "Cursed be he who cohabits with his mother in law." The members of the tribe of Zevulun were merchants who sailed long distances to trade goods with other nations (Rashi Devarim 33:18). Undoubtedly, their wives would often live together with their mothers so that they could help each other out while their husbands were away at sea. Special warning must be given to the man whose wife and mother in law are living under the same roof, since a man may become fond of his mother in law (Bava Basra 98b; Pesachim 103a). (GP)
(10) DAN - "Cursed be the one who smites his friend secretly (i.e., who slanders his friend - Rashi)." Dan is compared to a "snake" who "bites his enemies horses' hooves" (Bereishit 49:17). He must be warned to direct his energies against the enemy, and not to use the character of a snake (the snake is associated with slander in many Midrashim, such as in Tanchuma, Metzora #2) to slyly hurt others from his own nation. (MK)
(11) NAFTALI - "Cursed be the one who receives a bribe to kill the innocent." Naftali was so named because he was born after Rachel "attempted by any and all means ("Naftulei... Niftalti") to beg Hashem to grant her children through her maid-servant (Bereishit 30:8). Naftali was therefore liable to try to attain his will through any means, however illicit, so he in particular had to be warned not to be involved with bribes.

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