The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Elul 19, 5769/September 8, 2009

"The Blessing and the Curse"
(Deuteronomy 30:1)

On the eve of their exodus from Egypt, the infant nation of Israel was given by G-d an awesome responsibility: the determination of the new moon, the fixing of the calendar. Any error in calculation could place the Israelite nation out of sync with the Divine will, even at odds, G-d forbid, with the Creator's plan. Yet along with the implicit trust of G-d's command, He also "did His part" by seeing to it that the moon would indeed renew itself in its appointed time, and that there would be no celestial surprises that could prove a stumbling block for the young nation. All in all, a grave responsibility was granted, with an implicit expression of eternal trust, and with heavenly guarantees that all would, indeed, go well.

Over the ensuing forty years in the wilderness the young nation grew into maturity, witnessing the Divine revelation at Sinai, and accepting and performing the six hundred and thirteen commandments of the Torah. They faced many challenges and tests along the way, passing some, failing others, but constantly growing stronger and more sure of themselves as a nation. In the concluding chapters of the book of Leviticus appears a terrifying enumeration of tribulations, ("curses"), that will surely befall them should they stray from the path that G-d has set for them. The frightful list concludes with words of consolation and assurance that no matter how far the children of Israel wander, G-d will forgive them and return them, both spiritually and physically, to His Torah and to the land of Israel. For G-d, our heavenly Father, will always pluck His children from danger and faithfully return them to the refuge of His embrace.

Now, in the concluding chapters of the book of Deuteronomy, as G-d and His servant Moses are preparing the forty year old nation for their final destination, the land of Israel, they are being entrusted by G-d with a responsibility even more awesome than the fixing of the calendar and the determination of the new moon. The children of Israel are being handed the responsibility of their own destiny! As a nation of free men and women, it is they who will determine whether they will adhere to the word of G-d, or not. It is they who will determine whether they will establish the Torah nation that G-d has intended for them, or not. It is they who will determine whether they will "build for [G-d] a sanctuary, so that [He] will dwell amongst them" (Exodus 25:8) or not. A second list of repercussions ("curses"), is rolled out, should they fail, this time twice as long as the admonitions spelled out in Leviticus. However, unlike the earlier warnings, this lengthier list is not followed by words of reassurance. G-d doesn't promise Divine intervention to save the children of Israel from their self-inflicted fates, as He did earlier. Why? Are all bets off?

We who have raised children to maturity are certainly familiar with the moment when we recognize that our children have reached the age of responsibility, and that our overt reassurances are no longer required, or even desired. Our love for them, and our trust that they have successfully imbibed all that we have strived to impart to them, ultimately allows us to "let go," to let them take their own steps, with the knowledge that they might stumble, but with the certainty that the will always pick themselves up again. And so it is with G-d, as He prepares His children for entry into the land of Israel. For forty years He has seen to it that their clothes will not fray, that their shoes will not wear thin, and that food awaits them every day as they awaken (Deut. 29:4-5). But now they will be seeing to all these things, and much more, on their own.

Of course G-d never takes leave of His people, and of course He is always there for His children. But the greatest gift He bequeaths them, on the eve of their taking leave of the wilderness, is the Divine promise of repentance, return, and reconciliation:

"and you will return to the L-rd, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul, and you will listen to His voice according to all that I am commanding you this day, you and your children..." (ibid 30:1) Yes, you will wander, yes you will stray, but you will return, and your return will come from your heart, from your soul. This is surely a nation ready to set foot in the holy land of Israel.

Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the "admonitions" delineated in last week's Torah reading of Ki Tavo that will be visited upon the Children of Israel if they do not heed G-d's instructions. But are these chilling "curses" not simply blessings waiting to be realized? What are we to make of the cryptic statement made by Isaiah of "hastening in its time" the advent of the End of Days? Countdown to creation, and a review of the past year's Temple Institute's efforts to ready the world for the building of the Holy Temple.

Part 1
Part 2