September 24, 2016
RB: This is all leading up to the entry into the promised land. It is a statement of blessings and curses; essentially a list of “dos and don’ts.” See “Gleanings” on page 1364. “Jewish tradition has held that at one time or another all the curses of Deuteronomy 28 were fulfilled; still Israel survived because it never totally forgot its God.”
We as a community will be repenting on Yom Kippur in anticipation of the rain of sorrow and then the harvest of reward.
27:11 Thereupon Moses charged the people… curses and blessings. Sets forth who whall stand on the mountain when the blessings are spoken and on a separate mountain for the curses. Note that Reuben winds up with curses. There is also a distinction between children of the wives and the children of the handmaids. There is favoritism here. See Genesis 30 on page 199 – It is not entirely clear but none of the handmaid’s children appear to be on the blessing side. We have a diverse range of curses – but in general they are things that you do in secret. The stranger, the fatherless. The widow… they have no protector. Note that the curses are warnings of divine punishment. Note also that this is a ritualistic portion where there are responses of “say amen” whereas that required respnose does not appear in the blessings – which it is assumed are agreed to. Nor is it required for the more horrific curses. The “strangers” here are people who have already present and have been integrated into the society. They are permanent residents as distinguished from foreigners. There are no converts at the time of this writing. Recall that Ruth was told to go back to her people and “their god.” She adhered to her husband’s religion while she was with him.
28:1 Now if you obey the Eternal your God… blessing will flow from your obedience. The problem is how do you explain when bad things happen? The Hasidim would ascribe all problems to our collective failure to be faithful to the details of the commandments. The Holocaust was ascribed to Reform Judaism by the hyper-conservative. Note that all of the blessings appear to be outcomes. The result of the blessings are children and fruitful land, military security etc.
16 Curses that are the obverse of the blessings. But more graphic… the Egyptian inflammation…madness and dismay…constantly be abused and robbed… But does one violation bring down all of the curses? PC There is a fundamental problem with this entire discussion. Here the Eternal is responsible for everything – which to some degree appears to absolve the individual from personal responsibility. Punishment comes from God rather than the community. SF There was a shift in rabbinic Judaism from collective to individual responsibility – but we can contaminate the group. The thrust of the responsibility is individual. LL There is a good deal of philosophy here. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_philosophy
30: More curses. If you pay the bride price…another man shall enjoy her. …you shall be a consternation, a proverb… LL Very poetic curses. Who is “you” here? It moves between the individual and the group. Individual and collective punishments. “You” Israel as a nation perhaps? LL Although terrible things are described here they are nevertheless couched in poetry. Much of art is a contemplation of the horror of life. More recently see the work of Francis Bacon. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Bacon_(artist)
49 The Eternal shall bring a nation against you… a ruthless nation… that will bring you to ruin. RB This is when we stop being human. LL It is a descent into hell! Again, a favorite subject of artist in the Middle Ages. This plays out in Lamentations when the Temple was destroyed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Lamentations
58 If you fail to observe faithfully…the Eternal shall delight in throwing you out. The Eternal will scatter you with all the other people of the earth… but you shall find no peace… the life you face…return to Egypt but no one will buy you as a slave. LL This seems to be almost a premonition of the diaspora and the Holocaust. Some of this may already have occurred with the invasion of the Babylonians and the exile. SF I come away from this with a feeling of deep divine compassion as the underlying theme. God suffers with us. These are warnings but God wants the best for us. LL this is a conversation that continues to this day. RB Why do bad things happen? This is very early in the development of the theology of Judaism. Here we have a description of the lowest possible state of humanity rendered with particularity for dramatic effect. AdrianF There will always be a remnant that survives.