Adapted from Parasha U’Pishra by Rabbi Moshe Grylak
Translated and adapted by Rafaella Levine
In his last hours, Moshe starts making the Jews a whole bunch of promises. But he won’t be around to see them through. Nor could he, as he is promising things well beyond human capacity. Why make a promise he can’t keep?
“It shall be that if you hearken to the voice of Hashem, your G-d…all these blessings will come upon you and overtake you….Hashem will command the blessing for you in your storehouses and every undertaking….” (Deuteronomy 28:1-8)
As his last day draws to a close, he is telling the Jews: “For forty days I have been exhorting you to keep the 613 mitzvoth in the Torah. But it’s not coming from me; I didn’t make any of it up. As proof that I am speaking Divine truth, I will fetter myself with promises that as a human being, I will not be able to keep. I am letting you know that the physical future of your land will depend directly on your observance of the mitzvoth: the spirit and letter of the law. I am talking about the actual, physical existence of the land – a result that you will see with your own eyes.”
Moshe is presenting the deed of his pledges to be settled in this world, here and now.
Why did Moshe not hide behind spiritual promises of after-life rewards, as did the fathers of all other religions? Why did he take such a risk?
“Try me,” the leader tells them. “Try me! And if my words come true it will be proof that I am speaking the Almighty’s words to you.”
“Hashem shall open for you His storehouse of goodness, the heavens, to provide rain for you Land in its time, and to bless all your handiwork; you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow…. But it will be that if you do not hearken to the voice of Hashem, your G-d…then all these curses will come upon you… in the city… in the field…. [A nation from afar] will besiege you in all your cities…You will be left few in number, instead of having been like the stars of heaven in abundance, for you will not have hearkened to the voice of Hashem, your G-d” (ibid 28:12, 15-68).
Did Moshe’s promises stand the test of time? Our historical experience tells us that they did. For a time we enjoyed the prosperity described in these verses, and then when our behaviors and lifestyle were no longer in line with the spiritual heritage we had received, we felt the dark side of those promises. We have been working ourselves back ever since, hoping and waiting for the end of Moshe’s promise: “It will be that when all these things come upon you – the blessing and the curse that I have presented before you – then you will take it to your heart among all the nations where Hashem, your G-d has dispersed you, and you will return unto Hashem, your G-d, and listen to His voice… you and your children, with all your heart and all your soul. Then Hashem, your G-d, will bring back your captivity and have mercy upon you, and he will gather you in from all the peoples to which Hashem, your G-d, has scattered you….Hashem, your G-d, will bring you to he Land that your forefathers possessed and you shall posses it….Hashem will make you abundant in all your handiwork….” (ibid 30:1-9)