Parshas Ki Savo
Volume 4 Issue 49
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
There is nothing more disheartening than a curse. And this week the Torah
singles out specific violations that are worthy of the epithet, "cursed is
he who..." The Torah tells us that the nation was divided into two parts.
Six tribes stood on Mount Grizim, and the rest stood on Mount Ebal. The
Levites began to specify the sins that the Torah prefaced with the harsh
warning, "accursed is one who," and the nation would respond amen. Included
among the terrible crimes are one who moves his neighbors' boundary and one
who misleads a blind man on the road. The curses also include carnal sins
and striking a person covertly (Deuteronomy 27:12-25). In fact, almost each
curse is directed toward a sin that entails some degree of
surreptitiousness. All except the final curse, "Accursed is the one who
does not uphold the words of the Torah to perform them" (Deuteronomy
27:26). Rashi explains the last admonition as a general warning to heed
all the laws in the Torah lest one suffer the curses.
The Ramban, however, softens Rashi's severe interpretation. He explains
that the curse is not cast on one who actually commits a sin, but rather on
those who scoff at the validity of the Torah's laws.
Following his simple explanation, the Ramban writes something startling.
"It appears to me that the words 'accursed is the one who does not uphold
the words of the Torah' refers to one who is called upon to do the hagbah
ceremony in the synagogue and does not stretch out the Torah wide enough
for the congregation to see the words."
For years I was terribly disturbed by that explanation. I could not fathom
the sense of comparison. How can the Ramban equate one who does a poor
hagbah with those who surreptitiously undermine the welfare of their
neighbor or create clandestine instability within the family? How can we
attribute the harsh words of accursed to one who does not have what it
takes to do a proper hagbah?
On a whistle stop tour during his term in office Calvin Coolidge's train
stopped in St. Louis where a crowd of nearly 2,500 people gathered to hear
him. He was sleeping in his rail car when the train stopped at the station
and Colonel Starling, Coolidge's personal assistant and agent-in-charge,
nudged him awake.
"Mr. President," he said while tapping him on the shoulder, "there are
almost three thousand people who are waiting to hear you!"
The remarkably restrained Coolidge and the first lady stepped out onto the
train's observation platform. The crowd applauded wildly. Then the local
master of ceremonies called for silence. "The President is about to speak
The President stood silently with his wide smile. He straightened his
jacket and smoothed his hair and appeared very presidential. The crowd
waited anxiously for him to begin his speech. The President waited, too.
Just then, there was a hiss of air as the brakes were released and the
train began pulling away from the station. The President, still smiling,
raised his hand, waved, and spoke. He said, "Goodbye."
Perhaps the Ramban is telling us more. When one displays the parchment of
the Torah but does not unfurl the columns, he deprives a congregation of
seeing the true essence of Torah. He parades with a Torah scroll with the
shiny handles and the traditional parchment. It looks beautiful, and
majestic. It even looks very Jewish. And the crowd waits for the real
context to be shown and seen. But if those columns are not unfurled for
the congregation to read, the stark reality of G-d's command is hidden
behind the splendor of the moment. The one who does hagbah is in effect
misleading the blind, sneaking a false border and making overt displays of
honesty that are rife with deceit. For in reality a serious truth is being
underhandedly hidden. And for that, the Ramban links him with the
definitive consequences of those who morally deprave Torah ideals.
Obviously, one who proudly unfurls the truth and tells the story as it
appears, is worthy of the greatest blessings offered in the Torah. For
there is no greater blessing than the open honesty and true teaching of
Hashem's will. Lifting a Torah, unopened, in front of a waiting audience
is nothing more than dissapointing an excited crowd who are waiting for a
substantive speech. You may be waving enthusiastically, but all you are
saying is goodbye.
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Please pray for a speedy recovery on behalf of Chaya Aviva Chana bas Perel
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
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