When is an individual considered to be like a congregation?
(29,9) “You are standing this day all of you before Hashem, your G-d, the leaders of your tribes and your officers, every man of Yisrael.”
It seems to me this posuk is coming to teach us that even if only one man of Yisrael was standing there it would have been considered as if all of them were standing there, because each one is equal to all of them. Thus the posuk means, “You are standing this day all of you before Hashem, your G-d, the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers - every man of Yisrael” - each man in Yisrael is considered as if all of you are standing before Hashem.
And the reason why it teaches this here now is because in Arvos Moav they accepted upon themselves to be a guarantor for each other. Until now each man had been judged individually, but since they had now accepted upon themselves to be guarantors and thus one of them could be a guarantor for all of them, each one of them was now considered like all of them. Therefore it says here “you are standing this day before Hashem” with “every man in Yisrael” - with each man you are considered as if you are all standing before Hashem.
And further on it gives the reason why it is considered that one of them is like all of them, “to enter the covenant of Hashem…which Hashem, your G-d, is making with you today” - because of the making of the covenant with you today concerning being guarantors you now receive the benefit that each one of you is considered like all of you.
And this was a great comfort to Yisrael who may have thought that this covenant was to their detriment, that each person will now be punished because of the sins of others. Therefore Moshe comforted them by telling them that they will derive great benefit from this covenant. Because now an individual is considered like a congregation, and so if one of them is a Tzaddik he will protect the whole congregation, as the sefer Akeidas Yitzchok wrote in parshas Pinchos.
With this we can understand a puzzling midrash brought in the Yalkut Shimoni on this parsha, which says “You are standing here today” - on Rosh Hashanah. I have already written elsewhere different explanations of this midrash, but we can also explain it according to the gemora in Yevomos 105a which asks that in Devarim 4:7 it says “as Hashem our G-d is whenever we call upon Him”, which implies that He is found always, but in Yeshayohu 55:6 it says “Seek Hashem when He is found, call Him when He is near”, which implies that He is only found sometimes. It answers that one posuk is speaking about an individual and the other is speaking about a congregation. The gemora then asks: The individual when? During the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The question of the gemora “the individual when?” needs explaining, because this question “when is Hashem found” should have been asked directly on the posuk in Yeshayohu. Why did the gemora only ask the question after it gave its resolution to the contradiction between the two posukim?
The answer is that we could not have asked the question directly on the posuk, because we could have explained that the posuk is talking about when the Beis Hamikdash was standing. Because as we know, when the Beis Hamikdash was standing Hashem was always found for us, but when it was destroyed the Shechinah removed itself - as Chazal taught in Rosh Hashanah 31a: “the Shechinah traveled ten journeys”. But the gemora rejected this possibility because another posuk implies that Hashem is there whenever we call Him, even when the Beis Hamikdash no longer stands. Therefore it answered that the posuk in Yeshayohu is speaking about an individual, and the other is speaking about a congregation.
But this answer is problematic, because the first posuk “seek Hashem” is speaking in the plural whereas according to the answer it should have been speaking in the singular. Therefore, we must explain that the posuk in Yeshayohu is also talking about a congregation because Hashem is found only in a congregation, and the gemora means that there is a time when the individual is considered like a congregation, and there are times when we require an actual congregation.
The gemora then asked “the individual when?” - when is the individual considered like a congregation? It could not answer that this was when the Beis Hamikdash was standing, because we do not see anywhere that when the Beis Hamikdash was standing the individual was considered like a congregation. Therefore, it answered that these are the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, because we can readily make a distinction in time and say that there is a time when an individual is considered like a congregation and there is a time when he is considered only like an individual.
This is the meaning of the Yalkut Shimoni: It says here “you are standing this day all of you…every man of Yisrael”, and we explained above that the meaning is that every man of Yisrael is considered like all of you. And when is the individual considered to be like the congregation? Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as Chazal taught in Yevomos. Therefore the Yalkut taught “you are standing today” - on Rosh Hashanah.
How does Hashem punishing us twice show His great love for us?
(29,9) “You are standing this day all of you before Hashem, your G-d, the leaders of your tribes and your officers, every man of Yisrael.”
The Yalkut Shimoni comments on the phrase “you are standing today” that Moshe said to Yisrael: these curses help you stand and endure. This midrash is a puzzle - how do the curses of parshas Ki Sovoh help us stand and endure?
But it seems to me that we can explain it according to the midrash about which I have already written elsewhere on the posuk in Yeshayohu 10:20 “And it shall be on that day that the remnants of Yisrael and the survivors of the house of Ya’akov shall not continue to lean on him that smote them”, and on the posuk in Yirmeyohu 14:19 “Have you indeed rejected Yehudah?”. I wrote there that the commentaries explain that the teaching of the Tanna in Pirkei Avos, “the reward for a sin is a sin” means that the punishment for a sin is itself a new sin, because Hashem shares in Yisrael’s distress and therefore the sinner causes distress to Hashem by making Him punish him. Therefore he deserves a punishment also for the second sin - a punishment for the punishment.
According to this the second punishment shows clearly that Hashem loves us, because if Hashem did not love us He would not be distressed when we suffer distress, but rather we would be like all the nations and thus we would not be punished for being punished. But since He chastises us with a punishment for a punishment it is clear that He has not stopped loving us . So the punishment itself is a comfort for us.
Therefore, here also, we can understand why we needed to be reproved twice - once in Bechukosai and once in Ki Sovoh. Because the first curses - the punishments for sinning - themselves produce a sin, and make us liable for a second punishment which are the curses in parshas Ki Sovoh. From the first curses it was not clear that Hashem loves us when we sin, and perhaps when we sin Hashem hates us. But from the second curses it is clear that even if we sin He loves us and is distressed by our distress, so much so that this is considered a great sin before Him and thus deserving of a second curse.
This is the meaning of the posuk here: “You are standing today before Hashem your G-d” - through these curses you are able to stand and endure, because from this it is clear that He loves us always. This is the meaning of the Yalkut “These curses help you to stand and endure” - even when we are in exile we will not give up hope of being redeemed, because we see from that the fact that Hashem smites us again and again that He loves us.
Why might an individual think that he can sin even big sins with impunity?
(29,17) “Lest there be amongst you a man or a woman or a family or a tribe, whose heart turns away this day from Hashem our G-d to go and serve the gods of those nations. Lest there be amongst you a root that produces gall and wormwood. And it will be, when he hears the words of this curse, that he will bless himself in his heart, saying: I will have peace because I will go after the desires of my heart, in order that the watered be swept away with the dry. Hashem will not be willing to forgive him - on the contrary, Hashem’s fury and jealousy will be kindled against that man, and the whole curse that is written in this book will lie upon him, and Hashem will erase his name from under the heavens. And Hashem will separate him for evil out of all the tribes of Yisrael, according to all the curses of the covenant which are written in this book of the law.”
These posukim are very difficult to understand, as we see from the great lengths which the various commentaries have gone to in order to explain them.
But it seems to me that we can explain them according to Rashi’s explanation of the phrase “in order that the watered be swept away with the dry” - “in order to add the punishment of the unintentional sins to that of the intentional sins”. At first glance this explanation is difficult to understand, because it seems to imply that he intends to sin in order to be punished for both his intentional and unintentional sins alike - but who would be stupid enough to sin in order to be punished!
But it seems to me that the explanation of the matter is according to what I wrote in my youth on the Haftorah of parshas Vayikra on the posuk “I, even I, am He who will erase your sins for My sake, and your iniquities I will not remember (Yeshayohu 43:25)”. I explained this posuk according to the Midrash on parshas Vayikra which taught that Dovid Hamelech said to Hashem “It is fitting for a great G-d to forgive great sins”. I explained that since Hashem created the world and its inhabitants in order to rule over them and have His name sanctified through them, it follows that if a person commits a small transgression for which he should receive a small punishment, Hashem will punish him since he will still remain alive.
But if he commits a great sin for which he should receive a severe punishment which will destroy him completely, then Hashem will save him. Because if He destroys him, through whom will His name be sanctified, and upon whom will He reign, and it is Hashem’s will to reign and to make His name known in the world. Therefore, Hashem will not give him the severe punishment that he deserves.
I brought a proof for this from the Yalkut Shimoni, that it was for this very reason that following the sin of the golden calf Moshe said: “Indeed, this people have committed a great sin and have made gods of gold”. That is, if they had committed a sin for which they could have been punishment and not be destroyed, it would have been possible to punish them. But since the people committed a great sin, if Hashem does not seek for them a merit they would no longer be able to exist, and how could the world exist without Yisrael? Therefore Moshe said to Hashem: You must seek for them a merit in order to save them.
This is what Dovid Hamelech was saying to Hashem: “It is fitting for a great king to forgive great sins” - since You wish to be a great king, it is appropriate for you to forgive great sins, because if You punish great sins there will be destruction, G-d forbid, and how then will You be a great king? This is also what the prophet Yeshayohu said in His name: “I, even I, am He who erases your sins” - your great sins (פשעים are much greater sins than עונות), these I will erase “for My sake” so that I will not lose thereby, “and your iniquities”, even though these deserve only a light punishment and so would not result in a great loss, even so, also this “I will not remember”.
Now we can understand our posukim, because behold, Rashi explained above on the posuk “in order to establish you this day as His people (29:12)” that Hashem went to such much trouble (by warning you with severe oaths and curses) in order to keep you as His people because He has given His word to your forefathers not to exchange their offspring for another nation, He therefore binds you through these oaths so that you will not provoke Him to anger, since He is not able to separate Himself from you.
Therefore, since it is clear from the making of this covenant that Hashem is not able to separate Himself from Yisrael because He swore to our forefathers not to exchange them, the Torah was concerned lest someone will try and be clever and say to himself that if he does not sin intentionally then he has to be afraid of his unintentional sins, and these are difficult to avoid. That is, since unintentional sins only carry a light punishment he can be punished for them, since this will not annul the oath which Hashem made to our forefathers.
Thus to avoid this he will consider adding to his unintentional sins some serious intentional sins, and then Hashem will be forced to forgive him completely since it will impossible to punish him. Because the severe punishment that he deserves would destroy him, and that is not something that can be allowed to happen because Hashem is not able separate Himself from Yisrael, and to forgive the serious intentional sin but punish the less serious unintentional sin is illogical and contradictory. Therefore, Hashem will forgive him completely.
This is what our posukim are saying:“Lest there be amongst you a man or a woman…and it will be when he hears this curse”, and he understands that the reason why Hashem troubled Himself so much was because He is not able to separate Himself from Yisrael, and consequently “he will bless himself in his heart, saying: I will have peace because I will go after the desires of my heart, in order to add the punishment of the intentional sins to the unintentional sins”.
That is, if I follow my heart’s desires completely and commit serious sins, I will have more peace, because then the intentional sins will protect the unintentional sins. Because if Hashem wishes to punish me, He will punish me for everything - for both the unintentional sins and the intentional sins, and since it is impossible for Him to punish me for everything, He will forgive everything, since there He cannot forgive only the intentional sins as we have explained.
Therefore, the Torah tells us that this is not so, but rather “Hashem will not be willing to forgive him - on the contrary, Hashem’s fury and jealousy will be kindled against that man, and the whole curse that is written in this book will lie upon him, and Hashem will erase his name from under the heavens” - Hashem will punish him for everything. Because Hashem refrains from punishing serious sins and thereby cause destruction only when it affects the entirety of the nation, but not when it only affects an individual. Therefore, concerning the individual “Hashem will separate him for evil out of all the tribes of Yisrael, according to all the curses of the covenant which are written in this book of the law. Examine this explanation well, for it is a correct explanation.
Why will only the descendants of those who entered Eretz Yisrael be reincarnated?
(29,21) “And the later generation will say, your descendants who will rise up after you, and the foreigner who comes from a distant land, and they will see the plagues of that land and the sicknesses with which Hashem made it sick.”
It seems to me that the posuk is alluding to the mystery of reincarnation - the returning of souls to this world in a new incarnation in order to rectify past imperfections. But perfect tzaddikim do not need to be reincarnated.
Therefore Moshe said to Yisrael “and the later generation will say” - and who are the later generation - “your descendants who will rise up after them”. Only they will be in the later generation - reincarnated in the later generation. But Moshe promised those who entered the land of Yisrael that they would no longer be reincarnated, because they merited to receive the Torah from the mouth of Hashem, as it says explicitly in parshas Va’eschanan - “Not with our forefathers did Hashem make this covenant, but with us, we who are all of us here alive this day. Face to face Hashem spoke with you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire” (Devarim 5:3). But your descendants who did not see all this, they will come back reincarnated in the later generation.