5762 - #43
BRACHA AND KLALAH
When one considers
the consequences for observing or not observing the
commandments, the terms that are generally used are: s'char,
reward, and onesh, punishment.1 Interestingly, these are
not the words used in the Torah text itself to define the
general consequences of commitment or non-commitment to
Torah. In Devarim 30:15, the terms that are used
are: chaim, life, and mavet, death; tov,
good, and ra, bad. In Devarim 11:26, the
terms that are used are: bracha, blessing, and k'lalah,
curse.2 While an analysis of all
these variant terms is clearly necessary, it is this
latter pair of words that is of specific interest. Bracha
and k'lalah would seem to represent, what we may
term, an intermediate effect rather than a final effect.
This presentation of consequence implies that the
fulfillment of a mitzvah results in a bracha
which, in turn, results in a final positive result. The
challenge is to understand the nature and necessity of
this intermediate stage.
It is this recognition -- that a bracha is an
intermediate stage -- that might have been the motivation
for the Haketav VeHakabbalah's3 explanation of the
importance of worldly blessings. Throughout the Torah, we
find the promise that observance of commandments will
result in positive physical situations, such as rain in
its proper time and abundant feed for livestock.4 Haketav VeHakabbalah
comments that these blessings must be not be seen as the
final result but rather as ensurances that the physical
obstacles hampering observance will be removed and
thereby the ultimate goals of Torah will be more easily
attainable. Observance will bring forth the blessing that
one's physical surroundings will not be lacking,
therefore one will be able to continue to strive for the
ultimate goals of Torah.5 This explanation clearly builds upon the recognition
of the blessing as an intermediate stage. In performing mitzvot,
the Jew receives a bracha that his environment
will be supportive of further observance.
Malbim, Devarim 11:26,27 approaches the issue in a
different manner.6 From the words bracha and k'lalah,
he asserts that the Torah is indicating to us that the
worldly benefits that arise from mitzvot are
Divinely implanted natural results from observance. In
other words, mitzvot are bestowed with a bracha
that their performance will inherently yield a positive
effect in this world. Similarly, this explanation
understands the nature of a bracha as an
intermediate stage. A mitzvah is bestowed with a
specific energy, a bracha, that it will have an
inherent further positive effect.
A difficulty in both these approaches may lie in the
structure of the bracha and k'lalah,
specifically the involvement of others who bestow the
blessing or curse. Part of the significance of the bracha
and k'lalah, as presented in the Torah text, is
the commanded event to occur, at some point upon entry to
Israel,7 at Mount Gerizim and Mount
Eval. A blessing is enunciated, bestowed from one unto
another. What is the significance of this enunciation?
One would think that there is a natural cause-and-effect
flowing from the performance of mitzvot. Why is it
necessary for one -- the person giving the blessing -- to
declare, through the bracha, that another who
performs the commandments -- the person thereby receiving
the blessing -- is to be be blessed?
Essentially, this question is the same one asked by many
in regard to blessings. What exactly is the significance
of a bracha? Why should a bracha or a klalah
affect the Divine cause-and-effect? If God is All-Knowing
and His decisions are inherently correct, the potential
effect of any blessing must be challenged. Why would a bracha
change the Divine decision? The only possibility is that
the bracha inherently changes the facts upon which
the decision is made. The bracha does not cause a
change in Gods decision. The bracha changes
the situation thus demanding a new decision. How,
however, does a bracha change the situation?
Returning to the issue before us -- the brachot
and klalot attached to the very observance
of Torah -- what do these blessings and curses do to
change the situation, effectively changing the
cause-and-effect of Torah?
Kli Yakar, Devarim 11:26 identifies the use of
both singular and plural forms in this verse. There are
consequences to the individual as a singular person.
There are consequences to the individual as part of the
group, the nation. The consequences to the group arising
from an individual's actions flow from the mutual
responsibility of one for another. Kol Yisrael aravin
zeh b'zeh; All of Israel are guarantors one for
another.8 And this principle of
mutual responsibility was established at Mounts Gerizim
and Eval9 with the enunciation of the
bracha and the k'lalah.
At their roots, a bracha and a k'lalah form
connections.10 When one gives a blessing
to another a bond is created between the one giving the
blessing and the one receiving the blessing within the
overall perspective of Divine Providence.11 Herein may lie the essence
of the choice that was placed before us at Mounts Gerizim
and Eval. We may choose bracha, a unity that is most
positive or sadly, we may chose unions that lead to
tragic consequences, i.e. k'lalah. We must choose
bracha, the union of one human with another human and
with God that fosters Torah advancement.
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail
1 See, for example,
Rambam, Commentary to the Mishna, Sanhedrin, Introduction
to Chapter 10 (Chelek), Ikur 11. Of course, Rambam
wrote this commentary in Arabic yet the point is still
made in that it is these words that were used by the
2 These terms are
also found in the above noted section in Devarim 30:19.
Although beyond the parameters of this Insight, it should
be noted that from this verse, it would further seem that
the most significant operative word, from these many
terms, is chaim.
3 As quoted in Nechama
Leibowitz, Ki Tavo 5. See, further, note 2
which indicates that these thoughts of the Haketav
VeHakabbalah are, in turn, built upon comments of the Rambam.
4 See Devarim
5 Note that Rambam
in Ikur 11 refers specifically to Olam Haba,
the Future World, as the essential schar, reward.
6 See also Ntziv,
7 See Encyclopedia
8 T.B. Shevuot
9 See T.B. Sotah
10 This further
applies to the many blessings we make throughout the day.
Rabbeinu Bachya, Kad HaKemach, Bracha states that
by reciting a blessing on food, for example, we attest to
Divine Providence. Through the bracha we are
recognizing God in this world; we are, within our
perceptions, connecting God to this world .
11 It is this new
bond that changes the facts and demands a new decision
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