5762 - #43


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's
3 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 k’lalah 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 God’s 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 k’lalot 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 translators.

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 11:14,15.

5 Note that Rambam in Ikur 11 refers specifically to Olam Haba, the Future World, as the essential schar, reward.

6 See also Ntziv, HaEmek Davar.

7 See Encyclopedia Talmudit 4:382.

8 T.B. Shevuot 39a.

9 See T.B. Sotah 37b.

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 from God.

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