Parshas Ki Savo

This weeks Parsha is Parshas Ki Savo. In the Parsha we read the instructions the Jewish people are given how they should enter the land of Israel. While they are crossing the Jordan River, they had to take twelve stones and to write the entire Torah on them. Those stones were left there. Then they had to take another twelve stones, bring them to Mount Ebal in Israel, and write the entire Torah on those stones. Our Commentaries compare these stones to a mezuzah. Just like one must pass by a mezuzah before entering a Jewish home, and thereby live in the home with the oneness of G-d that is proclaimed in the mezuzah, so too when the Jewish people enter the land of Israel we only can do so with the allegiance to the Torah that is written on these stones.

After they did this, the entire Jewish people went through a massive public ceremony. Six of the tribes stood on Mount Gerizim, and six of them on Mount Ebal. The Levites stood in the middle, between these mountains, and while facing Mount Gerizim recited eleven blessings for one who observed eleven specific commandments, and after each one the entire Jewish people, both those on Mount Gerizim and those on Mount Ebal answered with a thunderous “Amen”. The Levites then turned to face Mount Ebal, and recited the eleven blessings in the form of eleven curses for one who doesn’t keep them, to which again the entire Jewish people, both those on Mount Gerizim and those on Mount Ebal answered with a thunderous “Amen”. Certainly the experience of seeing this tremendous gathering of millions of Jews accepting to observe the Torah was an inspiring and amazing event. Let us examine the last of the curses that were given at this time.

“Cursed is the man who will not uphold the words of the Torah to do them, and the entire people will say Amen.” (Deuteronomy 27:26) What does this mean? If the Torah meant simply that a person must keep the Torah, why does it talk about upholding before doing? What is meant with the extra words who will not uphold the words of the Torah to do them?

The Chofetz Chaim explained that upholding the words of Torah means to support Torah. The Jewish people are charged with the responsibility of making sure that Torah study is supported and survives. If the world around us creates endowments, funds, and donations for institutions of higher learning, we must do as much for institutions of Torah study. He added that even a person who himself studies Torah and observes it, must still make sure to support the Torah study of others.

Our Classic commentator, Rabainu Yona offers a different thought. He explains that we are not talking about the obligation that one has in actually performing the commandments. Rather, we are talking about the commitment that one has in accepting upon oneself to keep the commandments. Regardless of what challenges may come to a person in actually keeping the commandments, every Jew must accept on themselves to keep all the commandments. That is the meaning of the blessing and curse that the Jews took upon themselves at this special moment in history.

It seems very fitting that this is always read right before Rosh Hashana, just as we prepare to begin our New Year. It seems that this message, to have a mind frame of commitment to Torah and mitzvohs, is essential for us to begin our New Year.