A large part of the sidra is the “Tochechah”, the curses that come upon those who disobey God’s will.
In many synagogues nobody wants to be called up for this portion, though they scramble for other sections of the Torah reading.
Those who decline to be called for this portion are presumably superstitious, fearing that the curses will somehow attach to them and come true. Hence it is sometimes the rabbi who gets the Tochechah, maybe the shammash, possibly the ba’al k’ri’ah (the Torah reader).
Actually whoever gets the curses is not being singled out for misfortune but he, as well as everyone else, is being given a reminder that blessing and curse are part of life.
It doesn’t always work out that an individual who transgresses the Divine word gets to suffer, but a community that attaches itself to wrong-doing will suffer in the long run.
What the Tochechah is about is not necessarily individual but national or communal punishment.
CLOTHING FOR 40 YEARS.
What an engaging idea the sidra puts before us: God led us in the wilderness for 40 years and our clothes didn’t wear out (Deut. 29:4). Moses had already told us this in Deut. 8:4.
Ibn Ezra says it was a miracle, or perhaps the Israelites brought many changes of clothes with them, or perhaps people didn’t perspire so that their clothes remained fresh.
There is a passage in the Midrash to Psalm 23 which applies the words “lo echsar”, “I shall not want” to the generation of the wilderness. The people had only to say the word and the angels would provide clothing; the clothes did not wear out; the clouds of glory kept the clothing clean; the children’s clothes grew with them like shells which grow on the back of the snail.
All these explanations illustrate the general principle that whatever the problems of the long journey, God looked after them and provided their needs.
THE FRUITFUL DIALOGUE.
The 26th chapter of D’varim tells us that when the first fruits are brought to the kohen a declaration must be said.
In those days we didn’t have all the meditations we have today to introduce the mitzvah we are performing such as putting on t’fillin or entering a sukkah. So it is a very special moment when we bring the first fruits and the Torah expects the moment to be put into words.
The Midrash says that when one makes this declaration he will want to add a few words of his own, assuring God how much he loves the Divine commandments and intends to fulfil every mitzvah.
The Midrash adds that a dialogue now develops. A voice comes from heaven and says, “Just as you have fulfilled this mitzvah this year, may you have the merit to observe it again next year and every year.”
The rabbis (e.g. Maimonides in his commentary on Mishnah Bikkurim) remark that the Torah declaration must be said even by a convert whose ancestors were not Israelites redeemed from Egypt, because the convert not only adopts Judaism but acquires Jewish ancestors and becomes one of the Jewish family.
A REALLY GOOD GIFT.
Bringing the first fruits to the kohen was an exciting moment. What a feeling of achievement!
The suffering of the slavery was over. The people were free and independent. They had struggled through the wilderness, and now they had arrived. They had entered the Promised Land, they had planted and sown, and the land had proved fertile and yielded a good crop.
No wonder the Torah commanded, “You shall rejoice in all the good which the Lord your God has given you!”
There is a discussion about this verse in various rabbinic commentaries. What, they ask, is the nature of “the good” that God has given?
Since our ancestors lived in societies that were ruled by kings, many of their parables had to do with kings and royal deeds and doings.
So they make the comment, “When the king gives you a present, does the actual value of the gift really matter? Isn’t the exciting thing the fact that whatever the gift may be, it has come from the king?”
In this case the great thing is not merely the land, but the fact that it was the gift of God.
Modern implication? Israel is great, with all its problems and perplexities… but never let us forget Who gave it to us and to Whom we are responsible for cherishing and looking after it.