Ki Tavo- Collective Cautioning

A large part of our parsha contains the תוכחה (admonition) that Moshe Rabeinu gives to עם ישראל to repeat once they enter ארץ ישראל. In it, he separates the tribes and gives blessings and curses to the nation if they follow or do not follow G-d’s commands, respectively. While it is clear that עם ישראל occasionally need a reminder to stay on the right path, it is quite baffling to those who are keeping track that there would need to be another תוכחה after G-d’s horrifying admonition at the end of ספר ויקרא. This leaves us to wonder; what could be the significance of a second תוכחה, this time from Moshe instead of Hashem?

Before answering this question, it is important to note one obvious difference in language between the two admonitions- the first one, featured in פרשת בחוקותי, is written in the first person (“if you shall sin”), whereas the one here in כי תבוא, is exclusively in the third person (“if one shall sin”). While this discrepancy could be simply be attributed to the difference in speaker (G-d vs. Moshe), the change in person could very play into our question on why a second תוכחה was given at all. With this in mind, there are two main schools of thought on the two admonitions:

Ohr Hachaim, taking a personal growth perspective on this issue, answers that the reason for two different admonitions is an issue of audience. The first תוכחה, spoken by G-d in the wilderness and addressed to the masses (plural), addresses the unfortunate case of the nation as a whole sinning, and the even more unfortunate punishments for this. Our תוכחה, given by Moshe on behalf of G-d by the Jordan River in singular, is addressed to very different listeners; to those individuals who sin. One might think that in a righteous nation, a few sinners can go overlooked without being punished. The second תוכחה comes to teach us that this is not the case- G-d will never tolerate individual sinners, even if the rest of the nation is not involved in these עבירות.

Ramban, taking a completely different perspective on our question, turns it into a historical issue. He answers that the two תוכחות are addressed to two different times in Jewish history. G-d’s direct תוכחה of ספר ויקרא was directed to Jews of the first בית המקדש, and the subsequent exile. Moshe’s תוכחה here, however, is directed to a different era- to those who lived during the fall of the Second Bet Hamikdash and our current exile. With this in mind, we can explain why one תוכחה was written in first person, and the other in third. The first תוכחה, written to the despaired Jews who lived in גלות בבל, was written in first person to remind individual Jews of their own responsibilities- that the first בית המקדש was destroyed because of their individual sins. But, the second תוכחה, directed to us and our forebears in the Edomite Exile, is one of collective responsibility. We are not warned about what will happen if “you do not follow the word of G-d”, but we are rather given a list of those who will be cursed- “cursed is the one who doesn’t follow the word of G-d.” This is because the reason for our extended exile is a lack of collective responsibility- we are too busy worrying about ourselves and in the process, we lose focus on how our communities interact with each other. שלמה המלך wrote in the third chapter of Kohelet: “לכל, זמן; ועת לכל-חפץ, תחת השמים…”- there is a time for everything in this world. The Babylonian Exile was a time for introspection, but now is a time for changing our perspective, shifting the focus from individuals to communities, and only through this improved perspective can we properly follow G-d’s will, end our exile, and ensure that we receive only the good parts of משה רבינו’s תוכחה instead of risking the bad parts by continuing to sin. This is the message of the Ramban’s take on the two admonitions, and this is an important message for us as well, as we eagerly and loyally wait for an end to our current and final exile.

In the first תוכחה of פרשת בחוקתי, we are given a very clear indication on what will happen when we follow G-d’s commands (and, based on the Ramban, at the end of the first exile):

וְזָכַרְתִּי לָהֶם, בְּרִית רִאשֹׁנִים אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִי אֹתָם … לְעֵינֵי הַגּוֹיִם, לִהְיוֹת לָהֶם לֵאלֹקים–אֲנִי ה’

And I will remember the covenant of the forefathers who I took out… in the sight of the nations, to be for them their G-d, I am Hashem. (ויקרא לו:מה).

However, in the context of the ברכה before the second תוכחה, representing what can and will happen at the end of our exile, ארץ ישראל isn’t as clearly spelled out- we are merely told that we will be successful and happy and healthy and our lands will be fruitful. This could lead some to say that ארץ ישראל is not necessarily the endgame for our following מצות and eventual גאולה. To answer this claim, one simply needs to look earlier in the פרשה, which reads:

הַשְׁקִיפָה מִמְּעוֹן קָדְשְׁךָ מִן-הַשָּׁמַיִם, וּבָרֵךְ אֶת-עַמְּךָ אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֵת הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר נָתַתָּה לָנוּ–כַּאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתָּ לַאֲבֹתֵינוּ, אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ.

Watch us from Your holy abode,  from the heavens, and bless your nation Israel, and the land that You gave us, as You promised to our forefathers, a land flowing with milk and honey. (דברים כו:טו)

There’s a clear reference here to ארץ ישראל, but where is the connection to the תוכחה? Rashi answers:

השקיפה ממעון קדשך- עשינו מה שגזרת עלינו, עשה אתה מה שעליך לעשות שאמרת: אם בחוקתי תלכו ונתתי גשמיכם בעתם. אשר נתתה לנו כאשר נשבעת לאבתינו, לתת לנו וקיימת ארץ זבת חלב ודבש

Watch us from Your holy abode- (Israel says) ‘We have done what you decreed (followed your mitzvot), so now You (G-d) do what You decreed: “If you follow my laws, I will grant you rains in their times…” As you promised to our forefathers, to give us and establish [our home in] the land flowing with milk and honey. (רש”י שם).

So, we can see that our goal and our reward for following G-d’s commandments is His giving us back the “ארץ זבת חלב ודבש.” While it’s clear that our גלות is not yet over, the fact that the Jewish People have regained control of ארץ ישראל is no coincidence- we have, in G-d’s mercy, earned back the land by following His commandments, and are following His will by settling the land. Now, there is one thing left before we can earn “השקיפה ממעון קדשך” and have G-d’s שכינה join us in ארץ ישראל and end our גלות- we must follow the advice of the second תוכחה, focus on our communal mistakes (not to mention the location of our communities), do תשובה and join the over six million Jews who currently call “ארץ זבת חלב ודבש” their home. Only through this, can we earn the ברכה of פרשת כי תבא for good, and see the end of our exile and the coming of the גאולה. With Hashem’s help, we will merit this day very soon.