Rabbi Mayer Twersky
Rabbi Mayer Twersky

Covenant and Curse

"For you to pass into the covenant of Hashem, your God, and into his imprecation that Hashem, your God, seals with you today." (1)

The covenant (bris) which Hakadosh Baruch Hu established with Benei Yisrael in Arvos Moav is sealed with an imprecation. God forbid, in forsaking the Torah, we not only incur punishment, but also the consequences of that curse. The threat of dire punishment is certainly as powerful a deterrent as can be, even without that punishment being presented in the form of an imprecation. What then is the purpose and significance of the curse?

The answer to this question requires an understanding of the concept of bris (2). What does a bris entail? When nations form a defense alliance or pact they are pledging to defend one another. In other words, their national interests merge. An attack on one is viewed and responded to as an attack on both. In a more profound vein, when a man and woman enter into a covenant of marriage their separate destinies merge into one. They are bound to each other,

This is also the Torah's understanding of bris. Our bris with Hashem was established, " in order to establish you today as a people to Him, and that he be a God to you. (3)" The core of our existence is that we are Hashem's people; and reciprocally He is our God (4). We are bound to Him, and he to us. That is, he reveals Himself to the world through us.

For this reason the Torah employs the idiom kerisas bris, "cutting a covenant". As explained by Rashi (1), this idiom reflects the practice of establishing a covenant by cutting an animal in half, and having the committed parties pass through. The passage through the bifurcated animal signifies that the baalei bris are bound to each other; each one is but half, needing the other to be whole.

Let us now examine the concept of curse. What triggers a curse? When is this dire response appropriate? Noach cursed the descendants of his son Chom. Chom did not simply sin against Noach. When a son takes evil advantage of his father's vulnerability, he betrays filial obligations and paternal trust.

Sin elicits punishment. Betrayal results in curse.

Similarly, the serpent abused the blessing of cunning bestowed upon him by Hakadosh Baruch Hu. This betrayal of trust occasioned imprecation.

This too is the significance of the imprecation associated with forsaking Hashem and His Torah. We are bound to Him and He to us by a bris. Thus, to forsake Hashem is not only to sin but to betray His trust, His bris with us.

Paradoxically yet intentionally, the imprecation of Arvos Moav underscores the great awesome bond we share with Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and our resultant tremendous spiritual potential and responsibility.

 

  1. Devarim 29:11
  2. The understanding of bris presented here is a superficial summary of a profound analysis of that concept by my esteemed brother shlit"a.
  3. Devarim 29:12
  4. See Rashi to Bamidbar 10:35. Those who hate Benei Yisroel, eo ipso, hate Hashem.

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