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The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. The Rav’s unique perspective on Chumash permeated many of the shiurim and lectures he presented at various venues over a 40-plus-year period. His words add an important perspective that makes the Chumash in particular, and our tradition in general, vibrant and relevant to our generation.

In memory of Rabbi Chaim Mendel (Marvin) Luban, z”l, father of our esteemed mara d’Atra Rabbi Yaakov Luban.


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Moshe commanded the people to perform the ceremony of presenting the blessings at Mount Grizim and curses at Mount Ayval when they entered the land of Israel. According to Rashi, the beginning of Parshat Re’eh describes the ceremony, the positioning of each tribe relative to the Levites stationed in the middle and who pronounced the blessings and curses to which all responded Amen. According to the Ramban, the introductory section of Re’eh, like sections in Nitzavim, focuses on the concept that man was granted free will and choice. If he wants, he can reach the greatest of heights of Dvaykut, clinging, to Hashem, to attain the level of Moshe. If not, he will remain in a diminished relationship with Hashem, identified by sin and lack of growth. Regarding the phrase V’natata et Habracha Al Har Grizim V’Haklala al Har Ayval, and you shall place the blessings on Mount Grizim and the curses on Mount Ayval, Ramban explains the word V’natata in the same vein as the Torah describes Aaron’s role regarding the Sair Ha’mishtaleach, where Aaron was commanded V’natan, to place the sins of the people on the head of the he-goat that will be thrown off a cliff, thus providing atonement for the sins of the people. How are these two events, the placement of the sins on the he-goat and the presentation of the blessings and curses similar?

The placement of the sins on the he-goat was meant as a symbolic transference of the sins of the people to some other entity which would be dispatched. The goat represented the sins of the people. If successful, the string would turn white after dispatching the goat. If, G-d forbid, it remained red, the people knew that they were not forgiven. There were 3 entities involved in this act, Hashem, the people, represented by Aaron, and the goat. In essence, the goat acted as the guarantor for the Jewish People; rather than punishing the people for their sins, the symbolic transference to the goat removed the sins from their ledger, and the consequences of their actions were accepted by or ascribed to the goat. The people attained forgiveness and purity.

Hashem made two sets of covenants regarding the Jewish People. In fact, references to these two covenants are included in our Selichot, Penitential prayers, as well as Zichronot recited at Mussaf on Rosh Hashanah. The first was the Brit Avot, the Patriarchal Covenant granted to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Torah says that after the people will be exiled, Hashem will recall the Patriarchal Covenant, and He will recall the land, V’Haaretz Ezkor. The Patriarchal Covenant was specifically bound up with the land. For example, Chazal say that the Patriarchs observed Torah law only when they were in what was to be the Land of Israel. Outside of her boundaries they did not. For example, Jacob married sisters in Charan, which is forbidden by Torah Law. In other words, the land was a participant in the covenant and influenced its enforcement scope and dimensions.

The second covenant set, referred to as Brit Rishonim, consisted of the Blessings and Curses from Vayikra (B’Chukoty) and Devarim (Ki Tavo). This covenant was between Hashem and the Jewish People with Moses acting as the go-between. In this covenant, Hashem declared that He took us unto Him as a chosen nation, distinct from all others. This selection was based on the exodus from Egypt and our acceptance of the commandments at Sinai. It is not restricted to a specific geographic location; rather it is binding throughout the universe and creation. The Land of Israel was not a participant in this covenant.

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Rabbi Joshua Rapps attended the Rav's shiur at RIETS from 1977 through 1981 and is a musmach of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He and his wife Tzipporah live in Edison, N.J. Rabbi Rapps can be contacted at [email protected].