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|It shall be that just as G-d rejoiced over you to be good to you and multiply you, so G-d will cause them (Israel’s enemies) to rejoice over you - to make you perish and destroy you… (28:63)
These words form part of the climax of the tochacha – words of dire warning of the Israelites’ fate should they neglect and abuse the observance of the commandments. This is the second tochacha in the Torah – the first was from G-d though Moses (Lev. 2:14-46), and this second set of admonitions came from Moses himself to the Israelites, just before his death.
The Ramban puts forward the view that the first tochacha refers to the Destruction of the First Temple (586 BCE), and the second, in this parasha, forecasts the events leading up to and including the Destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE). He comments that this parasha’s spine-chilling curses were meant for the years of spiritual decline leading up to the Destruction. This was a period when the Jews indeed did suffer the invasion, subjugation, forced exile, and hunger leading to cannibalism detailed in this tochacha.
Abarbanel, however argues that both tochachot refer to the Destruction of the First Temple and all the events after that until the Final Redemption, observing that the Second Temple period did not see the physical return of the majority of the Israelites to the Holy Land. He views the Second Temple period as part of the longer exile - the Divine Presence of G-d not reaching the intensity of the First Temple in the Second Temple.
With those ideas in mind – why should G-d be stated as making the gruesome work of those enemies who bring destruction on Israel pleasurable? For the Talmud (Megillah 29a) implies that G-d himself suffers when His Chosen People are forced into exile: when Israel is dispersed, His Presence travels with them. So the Babylonians and later the Romans did not only ‘hurt’ the Jews, but (anthropomorphologically) they ‘hurt’ G-d as well. Indeed Moses himself stated that ‘He will avenge the blood of his servants (the Israelites). He (G-d) will bring retribution upon His enemies’ (32:43) – His enemies being those who destroy His people. [History bore this out with the virtually total destruction of those civilizations – the former by the Persians and the latter by the Goths, Huns, and Vandals].
In answering this problem, look at a comment of the Talmud on the following verse:
When you build a new house you shall make a fence for your roof, so that you will not place blood in your house if the fallen one falls from it (22:8).
The Talmud (Shabbat 32a) comments:
He indeed deserved to fall (because of previous sins). But nevertheless, his death should not have occurred on your account. (Why?) Because good things are brought about through worthy people and bad things are brought about through guilty people.
Therefore the nations who killed the Jews in the destruction of both Temples (Ramban), or from the Destruction of the First Temple until the present day (Abarbanel), were in themselves already ‘guilty’ people. They were regarded by G-d as evil even by the standards they themselves were expected to observe – i.e. within the scope of the Seven Noachite Laws. Otherwise He would have not selected those nations for the task of destroying His own people.
This only explains why the nations concerned were the ones who participated in Israel’s expulsion from the Promised Land. Why should G-d make such people happy?
Consider two other sections in the parasha which deal with happiness – as a way of life. After the bringing of the first fruits to the Temple, we are told:
You shall rejoice in all the good that the L-rd your G-d gave to you (26:11).
The concept of joy also occurs in the tochacha itself, where Moses tells the Israelites that the curses would befall them:
Because you did not serve G-d with joy and good heart, when you had abundance of everything (28:45).
Thus the Torah idealizes happiness as a product of being grateful for all the good things that He has given us. After eating an apple, for example, one should say a blessing that recognizes ‘all the many things… (He) has created to keep people alive’. No scientist has yet been able to understand the miracle of the simplest cell (life giving force) within that apple. If we think carefully about this when eating it, we should feel happy in being able to benefit from His creation in this way. Thus the next time we perform a mitzva – whether davening Mincha or giving to tzedaka (supporting someone in genuine need), we should recall the happy relationship we have with G-d though the apple example above and perform His requirement ‘with joy and good heart’ – having enjoyed His ‘abundance’.
However it is known that many people do not connect their performance of the mitzvot with gratefulness – and joy! They see the commandments as burdens: to be perfunctorily disposed of with maximum speed and minimum inconvenience. They take their high standard of living for granted, and know only how to grumble and complain rather than feel and display gratitude and happiness.
The Talmud in several places (e.g. Shabbat 105b) brings the principle that G-d punishes ‘measure for measure’ – He makes the punishment fit the crime. As the Israelites came to take their higher standard of living for granted (when the Holy Land was under the Greeks and Romans for example) they forgot how to genuinely ‘rejoice in all the good that G-d gave’. That led to reluctant, rather than happy observance of the commandments. G-d stressed that by showing the Israelites what it was like to go without happiness – in their own persecution and exile. He emphasized that by punishing them measure for measure – by showing them the genuine happiness of their enemies who, sadly for them, were carrying out His bidding…
By way of conclusion, the following incident below (from the Yeshivat Ohr Sameach ‘Ohrnet’) illustrates the Torah ideal of being happy with all the good that G-d gives us, and serving Him with joy and good heart:
A few years ago, an El Al flight to London was carrying a young child in need of an urgent and critical operation. Apart from the child’s medical problem, there was another problem — money. The parents had barely enough to cover the cost of the flight to London which involved the purchase of a whole row of seats to accommodate the stricken child and his medical support systems.
During the flight a religious Jew who was travelling in first class came to the back of the plane to pray with a minyan. On his way back to his seat he went over to the father of the child and asked how the child was doing. In the course of the conversation the father mentioned that he had no idea how he was going to be able to cover the cost of the operation. He was already way over his head in debt with the medical expenses that he had already incurred. He would need nothing short of a small miracle.
Without further ado, the man walked back to the first class cabin, pulled out his hat and proceeded to tour the aisles of the first class cabin collecting for the operation. In approximately ten minutes his hat contained checks to the value of some $100,000 — sufficient for both the operation and the flights and all the medical expenses to date.
In this case the people involved realized their own good health and fortune when they saw the plight of the child. And such a sum of money from a single flight could scarcely be raised without the greatest goodwill towards serving one on His children… ‘when you have an abundance of everything…’
May we strive to keep the Mitzvot through joy and gratitude and thus merit the Full Redemption.
This D’var Torah is dedicated to the Ilui Nishmat of my dear Mother, Harabanit Devorah Solomon ztl, who ascended to the Yeshiva Shel Maalah two years ago on Shabbat Parashat Ki Tavo.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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