The messages of this week’s parsha are certainly mixed ones, to put it mildly. The parsha begins on an optimistic, almost cheerful note. The Jewish farmer, secure in his homeland in the Land of Israel and blessed with a bountiful harvest as a reward for his labors and toil, brings a thanksgiving offering of his first fruits to the priest in the Temple. There he records his memory of the Jewish story till his day. As he stands in the Temple with his offering in hand, he remembers the Patriarchs and the enslavement of Israel in Egypt, and God’s ensuing redemption and beneficence to Israel over the centuries until that very moment. This is truly an idyllic scene, the realization of the personal and national aspirations of Jews from the time of Abraham onwards. It represents the fulfillment of all of the dreams and hopes that the prophets of Israel in later centuries predicted would yet occur. It truly is paradise on this earth.
How startling therefore is it that the long and bitter tochacha – the predictions of disaster and tragedy that would befall Israel – is found in the same parsha that begins with such blessing and serenity. We are all witness to the fact that there is no hyperbole or exaggeration in the doleful words of the tochacha. We possess the film footage and pictures to prove its authenticity. The Torah makes it clear that the tochacha is not so much a punishment of Israel as it is an almost natural result of the Jewish people forsaking its tradition and reneging on its obligations undertaken in the covenant forged between God and Israel at Sinai. The tochacha occurs because God’s protective hand, so to speak, is removed from us and what results is the natural flow of history, hatred and violence proceeds unchecked. I have no understanding and/or explanation for the tochacha and its ferocity, or for the Holocaust that consumed six million Jews in the past century, but I am nevertheless struck by the uncanny prediction of its details in this week’s parsha, written over three millennia before the event itself occurred. God’s will is inscrutable to we mortals, but it is obvious to all that that will exists and works throughout human history and events. Moshe himself will confirm this analysis for us in next week’s parsha when he states that: “The hidden and not understandable belongs to God but the revealed message is clear to us and our children – to live up to the covenant of Sinai and do our duty and fulfill our obligations.” So has it been throughout time and so it remains.
Jews always live in a paradoxical world. – suspended between the material blessings of the farmer’s offering at the Temple and the realization of the possibility of the tochacha becoming a reality once again. It is the presence of these two possibilities that drive Jewish life and account for the angst and tension that surround us. Yet, there remains the core of unfailing optimism and utopianism of the Jews. May the coming year show that the tochacha has spent itself and that we are well on the way to again bring our loving offering of the fruits of our labor to the Temple in Jerusalem.