Parshas Nitzavim-Vayeilech comes on the heels of the curses of Parshas Ki Savo. The parshah begins, “אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם” “You are all standing this today before Hashem, your God” (Devarim 29:9). Rashi explains what this pasuk means in the context of the Torah. “After Yisrael heard these 100-minus-two curses, besides for the forty-nine curses they heard in Sefer Vayikra, they turned pale, and said ‘Who could possible endure these?’ Moshe began to appease them. (He said) ‘You have angered the Omnipresent many times, yet He has not destroyed you. And behold, you still stand before Him (today).” (Rashi to Devarim 29:12).
The Kli Yakar asks a few questions on this Rashi. First of all, Hashem warns Bnei Yisrael that not keeping the Torah can result in these curses and understandably, they are very scared by this. So how is Moshe doing consoling them by saying that even with all the terrible things they have already done, Hashem has still not destroyed them so they have nothing to worry about? Either the curses are real and Moshe is giving them false hope, or the curses will not come true and Moshe has now guaranteed that Bnei Yisrael will never have to worry about not keeping the Torah since they have seen that nothing will happen to them anyway! And if you want to suggest that the curses will happen but they will not result in complete destruction, Hashem already promised Bnei Yisrael that He would never destroy them completely (See Vayikra 26:44), so why would Moshe have to repeat it here?
The second question is when the Torah lists the curses in Sefer Vayikra, we do not see them having the same effect on Bnei Yisrael as the ones here in Parshas Ki Savo. Why not? And finally, why does Rashi write “100-minus-two” when describing the curses? Why doesn’t he just say “ninety-eight” (the same way he wrote “forty-nine” in the very same Rashi)?
The Kli Yakar explains; by both sets of curses, those here and the ones in Sefer Vayikra, a stubborn person could come up with some way of bypassing the curses. For example, one of the curses is that the heavens will turn to iron, preventing rain from falling. This stubborn individual could claim that the curse only applies to the skies over Bnei Yisrael. The goyim however, will remain unaffected by the curse, allowing us to get food from them! He will ignore the true message of the curses, to repent, and instead look for loopholes to every single one. The only way to combat a person like this is to not tell him exactly what the punishment will be for his sins, giving him no chance to look for loopholes and instead have to focus on repenting in order to escape the curses.
Besides for the strange way it’s written, if you go back and count up the curses, there actually are 100 written in the Torah. So why does Rashi say there are only ninety-eight? The answer is that all 100 are written in the pesukim, but two of them are not explained fully as to what they actually are. This way, the stubborn man we mentioned before has no way of nothing what to prepare for thereby causing immense confusion and fear (and the need to repent). This is what Moshe had to relax Bnei Yisrael about. He explained to them that Hashem does not expect anyone to be as stubborn as this individual we have alluded to, and therefore you do not need to worry about an extra unknown punishment that might be coming.
So what is the purpose of including these curses if we don’t even know what they are? Furthermore, if He was going to put them in anyway, why didn’t Hashem just explain them clearly to us? The Kli Yakar explains that these are potential punishments that would be given in Olam Haba (The World to Come). Since it is impossible for the human mind to comprehend what exists in that completely spiritual realm, the Torah hid these curses from us, the same way it does not mention the reward of Olam Haba as well. So when Moshe gave a number, he only gave the number ninety-eight, the amount of curses Bnei Yisrael could fully comprehend, while at the same time explaining that there are really 100. He was also warning them that this world is not the end; our actions are also taken into account for the World to Come where we will be rewarded and punished as well.
The last part of Rashi says, “Just as this day exists, that it becomes dark (for a time) and becomes light (following the dark), so too God has made it light for you and will make it light for you again in the future”. (ibid) The Kli Yakar explains that this is referring to Olam Haba. Even though the sun sets on you, when you die, it will return when you reach Olam Haba. “The curses and sufferings preserve you and enable you to stand before Him”; Moshe is explaining how, in the end, even the curses are a good thing. Because only with these punishments given in this world, can we can be assured of a place in Olam Haba. With this knowledge, Bnei Yisrael were able to relax and fully appreciate Hashem’s commitment to them.
Click here for last year's Dvar Torah on Parshas Nitzavim (doubles as a prep for Rosh Hashanah)
For any questions, comments, or to subscribe to our email list, please email us at AIMeMtorah@gmail.com.
Check out our other AIMeMTorah project, Nation's Wisdom!