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   by Jacob Solomon

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Then I (G-d) will remember My covenant with Jacob; I will also remember my covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham; and I will remember the Land…(26:42).

These are the opening words of consolation at the end of the Tochacha - the words of dire warning from the Almighty to the Israelites of what would happen if they failed to obey His commandments. However, the following questions present themselves:

  1. Why are the Patriarchs written in the reverse chronological order?

  2. Why is the Land mentioned after Abraham: and for that matter, why is it brought at all?

  3. When Moses warned the Israelites of the consequences of sin some forty years later, he did not conclude his words with a message of hope. Instead he told them that, "you shall sell yourselves as servants and maidservants and no-one will buy (Deut. 28:68)."

  4. In neither Tochacha did G-d threaten to hide His face from His people. That only came later on - near the end of Moses' final address. Rashi (to Isaiah 8:17) states that that was the harshest of all the curses. Why was this curse not mentioned in the earlier words of rebuke?

The Ramban develops in detail the theme that the two Tochachot refer to two different periods. The first, in Parashat Bechukotai, refers to the Destruction of the First Temple and the Babylonian Exile. The second, in Parashat Ki-Tavo, predicts the conditions at the Fall of the Second Temple under the Romans. The Ramban proves his theme by looking at the different punishments in the two Tochachot. For example, "Then the land shall make up for its Sabbaths" (26:34), in the first Tochacha refers to Babylonian Exile: the seventy years of Exile between the two Temples paralleled the seventy Shemitta years that were not kept during the First Temple period. By contrast, in the later Tochacha it states, "G-d will scatter you among all the peoples from one end of the Earth to the other end of the Earth" (Deut. 28:64). This forecasted Titus' taking the captives of Israel and spreading them in many countries, taking the younger ones captive and leaving their elders to weep, as it says, "Your sons and daughters shall be given to another people, and your hand will be powerless" (ibid. 28:32).

Taking the Ramban's general theme further, it seems possible to suggest that the Torah contains a third Tochacha, which, in fact, Rashi (above) states was the harshest of all the curses. To quote more fully:

My anger will flare against (the Israelites) on that day and I will forsake them. I will hide My face from them and they will become helpless prey, and many evils and distresses will befall them. (Each Israelite) will say, "Is it not because G-d is not in (my) midst that those evils have come upon me?" I will have surely hidden My face on that day because of all the evil that (the Israelite nation) did, because it had turned to the gods of others (Deut. 31:17-18).

Perhaps G-d did 'hide His face' some 671 years after the Ramban's death. The question people ask about the Shoah is, "How could G-d let such unimaginable suffering and bestiality befall His people?" Recall that this took place in a background of a century of unprecedented acculturation, assimilation, and intermarriage. And the familiar explanation to Jewish suffering - 'because of our sins' - seems inadequate in the light of the many assimilated people who managed to avoid or were not involved in the Holocaust, whilst the Torah scholars most loyal to our traditions suffered out of all proportion to their numbers. My teacher, R. Moshe Schwab ztl. would say, "with faith there are no questions, without faith there are no answers". But, at the time of writing we still do not know why G-d imposed the Shoah in the way He did and on the people He selected.

In the light of this discussion, there appear to be three Tochachot in the Torah. Each refers to a specific period and situation, then in the future.

It could follow that the covenants with Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham mentioned above refer to each of the three periods discussed - and in that order: the Destruction of the First Temple, the Destruction of the Second Temple, and the Destruction of the Six Million. This is explained below.

Jacob's main personality strength was emet - truth (Micah 7:20) - though he had to submit truth to higher causes when the situation justified it. Isaac's personality attribute was gevura - strong commitment to the service of G-d - up to the very limit of being prepared to surrender his life to His service (Gen. 22:8 - see Rashi ad loc.). Abraham's forte was chesed (Micah ad loc.) - kindness and respect and concern for others, but that was disciplined to having to take firm action with Hagar and Ishmael (ibid. 21:9-14).

All the Patriarchs set examples to the Israelite nation. They used their middot (personality traits) to serve Him. However each exile misused those personality traits.

The First Exile was to a great extent connected with idol worship. As Ezekiel put it:

I poured My anger on them because of the blood that they poured on the Land, and they contaminated it with their idols (Ez. 36:18).

They no doubt sincerely believed in the 'truth' and efficacy of idol worship - perhaps influenced by the apparent prosperity of the nations who practiced it. But their truth, in sharp contrast to that of Jacob, was misplaced.

The Second Exile was, according to the Talmud, because of groundless hatred. Jews individually had gevura - the will to serve G-d in the most adverse circumstances. However, unlike Isaac, they took this so far that they neglected personal respect in the process.

The Shoah took place in what was to a great extent a period of emancipation. Jews had been enjoying rights and opportunities amongst the Gentiles that would have been undreamed of in previous generations. They, in fact, had done the, 'chesed' of greatly advancing the welfare of the many nations in which they found themselves. Unlike Abraham, many of the Jews of that period did submit their 'integration' to the Will of the Almighty…

This then explains the conclusion of the Tochacha. The verse may be understood as follows:

"Israelites, after each exile I will remember the merits of the respective Patriarch you should have followed, but you did not. 'I will remember My covenant with Jacob', - after the First Exile. 'And also My covenant with Isaac', - after the Second Exile. 'And I will also remember My covenant with Jacob', - after the Shoah. Then afterwards, 'I will remember the Land' - refers to our times when Israel is once more becoming a 'land of milk and honey'".

May Mashiach Tzidkeinu come speedily in our own days!

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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