BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
As we near the end of the fifth and final book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, you may have already noticed that many of the themes presented in this book seem to reiterate topics discussed earlier in the Torah. Indeed, for this very reason, this book is known as Mishneh Torah, the repetition of the Torah.
As we near the end of the fifth and final book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, you may have already noticed that many of the themes presented in this book seem to reiterate topics discussed earlier in the Torah. Indeed, for this very reason, this book is known as Mishneh Torah, the repetition of the Torah. How surprising, then, to find a totally new and unique entity in this week's Torah portion, the declaration that curses will be conferred upon those people who commit eleven particular sins: "Accursed is the man who will make a graven or molten image. . .Accursed is one who degrades his father or mother. . .Accursed is one who moves the boundary of his fellow. . .Accursed is one who causes a blind person to go astray on the road. . .(these four are followed by seven others, and then by one umbrella curse for people who abandon the Torah in general)" (Deuteronomy 27:15-26).
However, beyond their appeal as a fresh and original theme, these eleven condemnations present a source of difficulty. For starters, why are people who commit these eleven evils singled out for classification as cursed? What sets these apart from every other sin? And second, why does the Torah see fit to label any crime as "cursed"? We have already been warned of their evil elsewhere in the Torah - why must they be specifically categorized as sins deserving a special curse?
As always, serving as a light through the darkness of confusion, the great classical commentators (the Ibn Ezra and Ohr Hachaim in this case) of the Torah show the way. In order to answer the first question, explain the commentators, we need only look at a hint provided in the language of the first two sins which specifies that only those who practice their evil "in secret" shall be cursed. Thus, the common denominator among these transgressions is that all are usually performed quietly without attracting much attention. Only those who sin under the veil of darkness without arousing any hint of suspicion, hiding their evil while presenting themselves to the public as righteous, deserve the title of cursed.
However, to fully understand the severity of these eleven transgressions, we must still address our second question: Why the need for these admonitions at all? To this, the commentators respond that we must inspect the sections of the Torah that immediately follow the curses: the lengthy account of the wonderful and horrible things which will befall the Jewish people depending on their behavior. Beginning with the upcoming blessings and curses, and continuing with the covenant described in next week's Torah portion, the Jewish people enter a state known as Areivim (responsible parties). From now on, every Jew bears responsibility for his fellow Jew. If one Jew performs a mitzvah, the whole Jewish nation rises. If one Jew sins, the whole Jewish nation must bear the consequences. For the first time in history, a group of people act as one individual. However, the Torah precedes this momentous event with a disclaimer: Those who choose to perform their evil in secret, as we find with these eleven cursed categories, must stand alone. No one else must share the blame for their actions. They alone bear the consequences of their evil.
A powerful condemnation, yet not surprising that the Torah, a book of truth, should so severely punish those who attach themselves to falsehood and duplicity. Those who have the audacity to present themselves as fully practicing Jews and then act opposite the ways of the Torah behind close doors, deserve to be cast beyond the fold of the community of Israel. Of course, we will slip in our commitment to Hashem and His Torah; life is full of ups and downs. Hashem understands this and therefore provided us with the wonderful gift of repentance. But to try to hide our evil under a cloak of righteousness is to condone the reprehensible deception and hypocrisy. If we truly wish to improve our ways and move closer to Hashem, we must come clean and admit our feelings instead of trying to hide them. Only when we are finally ready to confront our shortcomings can we hope to eradicate them.
Yoel Spotts, a native Atlantan and alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is enrolled in a joint program with Ner Israel Rabbinical College and the University of Maryland, both in Baltimore.
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