Select your language

לימוד תורה

Shechem and the choice between blessings and curses

The Parasha in our everyday life – Parasha Re’e – Rosh Chodesh Elul 5782

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - Head of the Hesder Yeshiva 'Meir Harel' Modiin

A little over a week ago, terrorists shot at a bullet-proof bus full of worshipers who came to שכם - Nablus to pray at Joseph's Tomb. This event came after the last time worshipers were fired at by the grave and the area Brigade Commander was wounded, and after several successful countermeasure activities by the IDF, Israel's National Counter Terror Unit and the Israeli Security Agency against terrorist cells in Nablus.

The shooting sparked a media debate, on the one hand the settlers and the 'Israel Defense and Security Forum' (IDSF) who demanded a clear and determined political statement regarding our right to enter Joseph's Tomb to pray, as a holy place of national significance, and not only not to surrender to terrorism, but rather to increase the presence at the place and provide an adequate security response.

On the other hand, there are those who condemned the entrance to Shechem altogether, demanding to avoid entering Joseph's Tomb following the shooting. Polarly opposite conclusions from the same event. It was not difficult to recognize that the different conclusions stemmed from conflicting agendas and positions in the first place. Nablus and Joseph's tomb in the middle and two opposing opinions regarding them, one on each side.

The city of Shechem was the city of the righteous Joseph, according to the blessing of his father Yaacov:

וַאֲנִ֞י נָתַ֧תִּֽי לְךָ֛ שְׁכֶ֥ם אַחַ֖ד עַל־אַחֶ֑יךָ… 

And now, I assign to you one portion more than to your brothers...” (Bereshit 48:22) 

A city of contrasts and complexity: it was given as an inheritance to the sons of Joseph, and Joseph himself was buried there. It was the first city that our father Abraham reached when he came to the land of Canaan:

וַיַּעֲבֹ֤ר אַבְרָם֙ בָּאָ֔רֶץ עַ֚ד מְק֣וֹם שְׁכֶ֔ם עַ֖ד אֵל֣וֹן מוֹרֶ֑ה

And Abram passed through the land, until the place of Shechem, until the plain of Moreh  … (Bereshit 12:6)

However, on the other hand, Nablus was also:

מקום מזומן לפורענות בשכם עינו את דינה בשכם מכרו אחיו את יוסף בשכם נחלקה מלכות בית דוד

“It was taught in the name of Rabbi Yosei: Shechem is a place ordained for calamity. In Shechem, they tormented and raped Dinah, in the outskirts of Shechem the brothers sold Joseph, in Shechem the kingdom of the house of David was divided”. (Sanhedrin 102a:6)

In this week's Parasha we return to Nablus, with the blessing and the curse, the historical presence in Nablus, on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal:

רְאֵ֗ה אָנֹכִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לִפְנֵיכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם בְּרָכָ֖ה וּקְלָלָֽה׃ אֶֽת־הַבְּרָכָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר תִּשְׁמְע֗וּ אֶל־מִצְוֺת֙ ה' ... וְהַקְּלָלָ֗ה אִם־לֹ֤א תִשְׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־מִצְוֺת֙ ה' ... וְהָיָ֗ה כִּ֤י יְבִֽיאֲךָ֙ ה' אֱלֹקיךָ אֶל־הָאָ֕רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־אַתָּ֥ה בָא־שָׁ֖מָּה לְרִשְׁתָּ֑הּ וְנָתַתָּ֤ה אֶת־הַבְּרָכָה֙ עַל־הַ֣ר גְּרִזִ֔ים וְאֶת־הַקְּלָלָ֖ה עַל־הַ֥ר עֵיבָֽל...

"See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of Hashem your G-d… and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of Hashem your G-d… When Hashem your G-d brings you into the land that you are about to enter and possess, you shall pronounce the blessing at Mount Gerizim and the curse at Mount Ebal. (Devarim 11:26-29)

The choice between the 'blessing' and the 'curse' in the Parasha is a balanced possibility of human choice, the ability to choose freely between two ways:

כי אני נותן לפניכם דרך ברכה ודרך קללה, וטעם "לפניכם", שתבררו לכם מהן מה שתרצו, ואודיע שתהיה לכם הברכה כאשר תעשו המצות והקללה אם לא תקיימו אותן וכו'

“Rather, the meaning of the verses is as follows: “I have set ‘before you’ a way [to attain] blessing and a way [to attain] curse. And the expression before you signify that you are to choose for yourselves what you desire, and I inform you that the blessing will be yours when you perform the commandments, and the curse if you do not fulfill them.” (Ramban ibid)

In the historical context of the 'blessing' and the 'curse', the entire nation gathered united:

ששה שבטים יעמדו על הר גריזים וששה בהר עיבל… והלוים בין ההרים עמדו הופכין פניהם ופתחו בברכה…

Six tribes will stand on Mount Gerizim, and six on Mount Ebal. If so, this indicates that the Jewish People stood on Mount Gerizim, and the Levites stood between the mountains”. (Siftei Chachamim Devarim ibid)

The Levites stood in the valley, in Nablus, in between. While they read the blessings, they turned towards the south to the blessings’ mountain, and when they read the verses of the curse, they turned to the north to the mountain of Ebal, the curses mountain. This event has had implications for generations; on the ability to deal with the duality of the one reality, which is related to two faces in the same place:

"נמצא שהעם עמד שם על הר גריזים ועל הר עיבל ומסר לעצמו ולכל דורותיו את הברירה בין ברכה לקללה. בשעת אמירת הברכה פנו הלויים אל הר גריזים, ואילו בשעת אמירת הקללה הם פנו אל הר עיבל. כי הברכה והקללה מומחשות לחושים על ידי מראה שני ההרים האלה המנוגדים בטבעם. וכו'. ועדיין הניגוד שביניהם ניכר לעין. הר גריזים הוא בדרום הר שכם והוא עטוף ירק, וגנות מכסות את המדרגות שבמדרונו ואילו הר עיבל הוא בצד צפון והוא תלול וצחיח ושומם. הר עיבל גבוה כשמונה מאות רגל והר גריזים גבוה ממנו קמעא. לפיכך שני ההרים האלה העומדים זה בצד זה ממחישים יפה את הברכה ואת הקללה. שניהם מתרוממים על אותה אדמה ואותה טיפה של גשם ושל טל מרווה את שניהם, על שניהם חולף אותו אויר ואותה אבקת פרחים מרחפת על זה ועל זה; ואף על פי כן נשאר הר עיבל בקיפאון עקר, ואילו הר גריזים עוטה עדי צמח עד פסגתו. וכך הברכה והקללה אינן תלויות בנסיבות החיצוניות, אלא הן תלויות בכושרנו הפנימי לקבל את זו או את זו; הן תלויות ביחסנו למה שמביא את הברכה. כאשר נעבור את הירדן ונציג את רגלנו על אדמת תורת קדושתנו, ניתן עינינו בשני ההרים האלה; מראיהם יורה לנו שעלינו לבחור בין ברכה לבין קללה, ובהתנהגותנו המוסרית אנחנו מחליטים בעצמנו אם פנינו מועדות להר גריזים או להר עיבל" 

"It was found that the people stood there on Mount Gerizim and on Mount Ebal and gave themselves and all the generations after them the choice between a blessing and a curse. At the time of saying the blessing, the Levites turned to Mount Gerizim, while pronouncing the curse, they turned to Mount Ebal. Because the blessing and the curse are better described to the senses by the sight of these two mountains, which are opposite in nature, etc. And yet the contrast between them is evident to the eye. Mount Gerizim is south of Mount Nablus and is wrapped in greenery, and gardens cover the steps on its slope; while the Ebal is on the north side and is steep and arid and desolate. Mount Ebal is about eight hundred feet high and Mount Gerizim is slightly higher than that. Therefore, these two mountains standing side by side point out beautifully the blessing and the curse. Both rise on the same land and the same drops of rain and dew quenches them both, the same air passes over both of them and the same pollen floats over one and the other; and yet Mount Ebal remains in a barren stasis, while Mount Gerizim is clothed with vegetation to its summit. Thus, the blessing and the curse do not depend on external circumstances, but rather they depend on our inner ability to accept this one or the other; they depend on our attitude to what brings the blessing. When we pass the Jordan and we set foot on the land of our holy Torah, we will set our eyes on these two mountains; their appearance instructs us that we must choose between blessings and curses, and in our moral behavior we decide for ourselves whether we are headed for Mount Gerizim or Mount Ebal" (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch ibid).

This is also Shabbat of Rosh Chodesh Elul where we deal with choices and repentance. In front of us is the scale of our actions and choices. On this side and on that side. Between the blessings and the curses.

Contact Form

Please type your full name.
Invalid email address.
Invalid Input
Invalid Input
Invalid Input