“Atem nitzavim hayom – You are standing today, all of you (Devarim
Moshe gathered the B’nei Yisroel on the day of his death (see Rashi 29:9)
in order to renew their covenant with Hashem before Moshe took leave of
this world. Rashi quoting a Midrash Tanchuma, notes that after hearing the
ninety-eight curses of the “Tochacha” (the “rebuke” of the B’nei Yisroel,
found in Parshas Ki Savo), the Jews became despondent and asked, "Who can
withstand all of these curses?” Moshe Rebbeinu attempted to lift their
spirits by reminding them that despite their numerous complaints in the
desert, Hashem did not destroy them. “You are standing today,” said Moshe,
encouraging them to look forward to the future with confidence.
One can certainly understand Moshe’s approach as he attempted to comfort
his people. However, was he not guilty of undermining the rebuke of
Hashem? It would seem that the Tochacha had its intended effect of
frightening the B’nei Yisroel into carefully considering their future
actions and avoiding avaros (sins). Why did Moshe tell the Jews that they
were not destroyed for their previous misdeeds – and offer them a sublime
message that they need not fear retribution?
Serious and Somber; Not Terrified
I would like to suggest that Moshe spoke words of encouragement to the
Jews once he saw that the B’nei Yisroel were frightened by the Tochacha to
the point that “Horiku p’neihem – their faces turned pale,” due to
their fear – (See Rashi, Devarim 29:9). Moshe wanted them to be serious
and introspective, not terrified. Once he saw that they were frozen by
fear, he wanted to redirect their understanding of the rebuke from dread
to awe and reflection.
A close friend of mine, Mark Grunwald, recently shared with me a poignant
thought on this subject of fear vs. introspection that he heard many years
ago from Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the Noviminsker Rebbi s’hlita. The Rebbi
pointed out that the tochacha of Parshas Ki Savo is read about two weeks
before Rosh Hashana each year, and the shorter version of rebuke in
Parshas Bechukosai is read approximately two weeks before Shavuos.
The Rebbi explained that the two-week lapse was intended to see to it that
the Teshuvah of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur be driven by sincere regret
for our misdeeds combined with an earnest commitment to improve in the
future, as explained by the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva). Our Kabbolas HaTorah
of Shavuos should be inspired by our quest to grow close to Hashem and our
willingness to accept His eternal Torah. Neither of these spiritual
commitments should be undertaken as the result of the raw fright caused by
listening to the Tochacha. The two-week delay is intended to allow the
messages of the tochacha to be absorbed with reflection.
Crying and Rejoicing
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov remarked that the roshei tevos (first letter of
each word) of the phrase, “B’shimcha yegilun kol hayom" (we will
rejoice with your Presence the entire day), which refers to the Days of
Judgment, spell the word ‘bechiyah,’ which means to cry. He notes that the
two contradictory emotions, jubilation and crying, are expressed in the
literal meaning of the phrase and its roshei tevos. Rebbi Nachman explains
that this refers to a “Bechiyah Shel Simcha – a crying of happiness.”
However, this cryptic comment of Rebbi Nachman requires explanation as
well. How can one cry and be happy at the same time? And why do we mention
this right before we daven musaf on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?
By way of explanation, I would like to suggest a contrast between a lonely
person who cries him or herself to sleep with a child who cries to a
parent. They are both expressing deep pain with their tears. However,
there is a fundamental difference between the two. The lonely person feels
just as sad after he or she finished crying. Not so with the child, who
feels relieved having unburdened him or herself to a loving parent.
This would offer a deep insight into the stirring words we recite on the
Yomim Noraim (Days of Awe). We cry to Hashem as we daven to Him. But it is
a bechiyah shel simcha – a crying of happiness – as we are confident that
Hashem is listening to our prayers.
Moshe’s Comforting Words
Moshe was certainly not looking to undermine the tochacha of the Torah.
Once he saw, however, that the Jews were so frightened by the ninety-eight
curses found in Parshas Ki Savo, he offered his people words of
encouragement. He reminded them of Hashem’s Fatherly mercy. He spoke words
of chizuk that gave them hope for the future; words that give us strength
and inspiration as we prepare to face the Yomin Nora’im.
Rabbi Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey, NY, as well as the founder and Program Director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), which helps at-risk teens and their parents. He is a popular lecturer on teaching and parenting topics in communities around the world, and is the author of several best-selling parenting tape and CD sets. For more information on Rabbi Horowitz's parenting tapes, visit http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/ or call 845-352-7100 X 133.