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There’s a curious verse in the middle of our parsha (Nitzavim). It reads, “And when all of these events will happen to you, the blessings and the curses, and you will resolve in your heart among all the nations that I have pushed you into…and you will return to the Lord your G-d…with all your heart and all your soul” (Deut. 30:1-2). The question that this verse poses is how do “blessings” encourage a person to return to G-d (if he has strayed off the path of Torah and mitzvoth)? It is understood that unfortunate and catastrophic events like the curses described in the previous Torah portion (Ki Tavo) can lead one to a broken heart, and from there to tshuva, or “return” to the One above. But, how do blessings and positive events influence one who has strayed to come back to G-d? Moreover, this is a question regarding the simple meaning of the text, and yet Rashi says nothing about it. If Rashi, whose declared task is to explain the simple meaning of the Torah in the eyes of a five-year old, does not answer this question, it must be that it is not really a question in the simple level of the text.

There are some (the Shach on the Torah, and the Ohr Hachaim) who would like to suggest that these verses are words of prophecy, as if to say, “in the future, this is what will occur to you in Israel…first there will be blessings and thenŔ However, for a variety of reason it is impossible to interpret the verses this way. First of all, later in parshat Vayelech, the Torah itself prophesies about what will happen to the Jews when they enter Israel – and there nothing is written regarding blessings whatsoever. More generally, it is not logical that the Torah would resort to prophecy regarding future events, when in truth they are dependent upon human choice. As written later in our parsha (30:15), “And I have placed before you today life…and you should choose lifeŔ That is, man has to make a choice between good and the opposite of good, and blessings descend from Above when man makes the proper choice. So, it is not logical to interpret our verses as prophecy (that the Jews will receive blessings) when in truth those blessings are dependent upon human free choice.

Therefore, we must understand the verses as conditional. That is, if the Jews do not walk the correct path, these verses describe what will happen to them. The “curses” will apply and in the end, the Jews will do tshuva. But then again the question returns, what do the “blessings” mentioned in the text have to do with tshuva?

The explanation is the following. Our verse describes a very high level of tshuva, resulting in a strong desire to cleave to G-d after straying off the path. That is why the verse describes this tshuva as “with all your heart and all of your soul.” And to induce such a high level of tshuvah, it was necessary to bring the Jews to a high level of regret over having strayed off the path. That is why the verse mentions both blessings and curses; one who has first experienced blessings, and then loses the blessings and experiences curses, experiences far more pain and regret than one who only experiences curses. The contrast between the two states of mind leads to more regret and pain than if there had never been any blessings at all. For example, one who was previously wealthy and then lost all of his wealth will feel far more pain than one who never possessed any wealth whatsoever. Similarly, one who was successful in his career but subsequently failed, will feel a greater sense of disappointment than one who never succeeded in the first place.

So, our verse says the following; “When all of these events will occur to you – the blessing and the curseŔ From this we understand that all of the details of the curses will follow upon all of the details of the positive blessings. And the nature of man is that negative events that follow upon positive events are felt much more keenly. The feeling of loss and negativity is much stronger, in both quantity and quality than if they did not follow anything good. And this is something that the five-year old can also understand, as we can see from Rashi in a previous parsha…

In parshat Re’eh (Deut. 15:8), on the verse enjoining us to give charity to the poor, we are told that we must give “enough to fulfill the deficiency that he is lackingŔ Rashi explains that we must give tzedoka (alms) in the amount that fulfills what a person is (not only physically but also) psychologically lacking. For example, if a rich man formerly rode on a horse that was led by a servant running before it, then we are obligated to provide that for him even after he lost his wealth. Rashi comments on the words, “enough to fulfill the deficiency” by saying, “you are not obligated to make him wealthy.” And on the words, “that he is lacking” – Rashi comments, “even a horse to ride upon and a servant to run before it.” But, this seems contradictory; we are not required to make the man “whole” again. We are not obligated to give him so much tzedoka that he becomes a wealthy man once more. So, why must we give him a horse with a runner in front of it, which is usually a sign of wealth? But, as Rashi explains, the phrase “that he is lacking” is subjective. Since this person got accustomed to a certain life-style, for him it is no longer a matter of wealth. It is simply what he is used to – so, the Torah tells us to replicate that style of life for him, since the obligation of tzedako is to give another Jew “what he is lacking.” This is a subjective judgment call based on his previous way of life, not on what the “giver” considers to be the receiver’s needs, but upon what the receiver perceives as his way of life.

From this it is evident why the simple textual meaning of the verse demands the inclusion of blessings that lead to tshuva, as well as curses. The curses themselves lead to full and complete tshuva (“with all your heart and with all your soul”) when they are experienced in all of their raw power, and that is when they follow upon blessings. That is when they have the power to arouse us to full and complete tshuva – return to the One above.

But, if the above is true, and full and complete tshuva occurs after curses that follow blessings, then we have another question. It is evident from our parsha that in the end, so to speak, every Jew will do tshuva and return to the path of Torah and mitzvoth. But, according to the path of tshuva laid out above, it is only those who first experience blessings, and then lose those blessings and suffer curses, who do proper tshuva. How, then do those who suffer only curses, without the benefit of the previous blessings, properly return to G-d?

The explanation to this question also emerges from parshat Re’eh. There, in the beginning of the parsha, the Torah says, “Behold, I have placed before you today a blessing and a curse – the blessings in order that you listen to the mitzvoth of G-dŔ Rashi explains the words “that you listen” as “on condition that you listen.” Rashi’s explanation seems to be slightly different from what the verse says; the verse says “if” you listen, while Rashi explains “on condition” that you listen. The difference is the following; “if” describes a situation that occurs before an event. Thus, the verse seems to saying that the Jews will be blessed if they “first” follow the mitzvoth. However, Rashi’s explanation, “on condition,” implies that the events occur after the blessings. That is, “on condition” implies that the blessings will apply in any case, but only “on condition” that the Jews live up to their potential and fulfill Torah and mitzvoth. If not, then afterward the blessings will turn into curses. The amazing thing about Rashi’s explanation is that it implies that not just some of the Jews, but all Jews will receive blessings and be successful upon their entrance to Israel. The blessings apply immediately, according to Rashi, “on condition” that the Jews do their part; if not, they would turn into curses.

It emerges, then, that all of the Jews, even those who sinned and transgressed and strayed from the path and who were punished for it, benefited from the initial blessings that G-d blessed the Jews. It was just that afterward, when it became clear that they did not fulfill the condition of keeping mitzvoth, the blessings turned into curses. But, there were no Jews who were left out of the initial blessings.

As we approach Rosh Hashana, we are faced with a similar situation as faced the Jews upon entry to Israel; G-d gives us a blessing no matter what our situation is – but on condition that we “listen to Him.” And the reason is understood; as descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Jews are the sons and daughters of “kings,” and therefore everything is coming to them in perfection. And since, this time around, G-d willing, we will continue to follow His word in totality, the blessing will remain a blessing and not turn into something else, G-d forbid.

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, ztz’l, vol. 14, Pp. 118-121 Rabbi David Sterne, Jerusalem Connection in the old city of Jerusalem