What a dramatic scene it must have been. Half of the tribes were assembled on Mount Gerizim; the other half on Mount Eival. Half were to echo words of blessing; the others, words of curse. And for the latter, after the Levites prompted them with the words of the curses, the entire people was to answer “Amen!”
What was the content of those curses, and why should they leave such an imprint on the conscience of the People? It’s actually a very interesting list of 11 transgressions that seem to require special mention. It begins with the big one–idolatry–and then moves into crimes of communal and sexual misconduct. Just about all of them–incest, taking bribes, oppression of the stranger, orphan and widow–have received attention elsewhere in the Torah. So why are they reemphasized here?
As you read the relevant verses (27:15-25) here, consider the message of the following legend from the Talmud:
[When Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai was dying], his students said, “Our master teacher–bless us.” He answered: “May it be [God’s] will that the fear of Heaven should be upon you as much as the fear of other people.” The students answered, “That’s all?” He said, “If only it would happen that you would be as worried about sinning as you are about other people seeing you sin.” (Bavli Berahot 28b)
We’ll explore this question in greater depth on Shabbat morning, with help again from our commentator of the year, Ibn Ezra.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise