The parsha of the klalot seems asymmetrical. Ten psukim detailing the brachot and twenty-seven detailing the klalot! Why does the Torah need to doubly drum into our heads what punishment we will get if we fail to serve HKB”H the way He wants us to? Psychologists will tell you that positive reinforcement is more beneficial in the long run than negative reinforcement and if they had written the Torah, the ratio would be reversed – more blessings and less curses. Or at least make it even, like Har Grizim and Har Eival.
Chazal offer various perushim for this (Tanchuma, Re’ei, 4), that the disproportionality is actually an optical illusion, there are in fact more brachot than klalot – hinted at by the fact that brachot begin with the letter alef and end with the letter tav, whereas the klalot begin with vav and end with heh. Another perush says that in actuality, in the long run, the brachot outnumber the klalot – Hashem ultimately will give us more brachot and whatever klalot we receive will be “watered down.” We must look at the “big” picture that includes both olam hazeh and olam haba.
I would like to offer an additional explanation for this phenomenon and it has to do with statistics. The science of statistics is invaluable in studying the natural world, predicting the position of electrons in their orbit, game theory, etc. When abused however, statistics poses the greatest threat to our existence.
Statistics seemingly is the human species’ greatest defense mechanism. It allows us to live “normal” lives of stability and security. According to the laws of statistics we will wake up in the morning, go to work, return home at night, have dinner with our family, go to sleep, repeat. If we were to live with the constant threat that we could die in our sleep, be run over by a bus on the way to work, etc., our lives would be lived in constant, paralytic fear. So we relegate these fears, using statistics, to the realm of the “norm” – by all probability I will wake up in the morning, return home safely. Even the Torah has similar concepts – Derech ha’Olam, Olam ke’Minhago Noheg – that there are certain laws governing our natural world which are “normal.” The earth spins in its orbit, there is day and night, there are seasons. When used in this way, statistics allow us to live full, productive lives.
The danger is when we sever any link between the “norm” and our behavior – “This will continue to be the norm regardless of what we do or don’t do!” In this way, the governing force in the universe becomes statistics and there is no accountability. Everything that happens in the world follows some physical or statistical model and can be explained away.
This is what Hashem is referring to when, in the klalot, He repeatedly uses the word “keri”, which Chazal interpret as “chance” (mikreh). When you use statistics to explain away events, you take Hashem out of the equation. The Red Sea split because of a high pressure system over Suez. The drought is caused by global warming combined with pollution of our subterranean water sources. The COVID-19 pandemic is a periodic genetic mutation of viruses that occurs approximately once in a century, like the Spanish flu.
How do we get to such a stage of detachment? It begins with the food we eat.
When Am Yisrael was in the Midbar, there was no way to explain our existence with statistics. The mann rained down from Heaven and the water bubbled up from Miriam’s Well – the laws of statistics went out the window. The Meraglim did not want this idyllic state to end, a state akin to Gan Eden before Adam HaRishon sinned. They foresaw the dangers of entering Eretz Yisrael where Am Yisrael would have to toil for their daily bread, that they would lose this cocooned connection with HKB”H. And they were partially correct – when Am Yisrael settled in Eretz Yisrael they fulfilled Moshe’s prophecy of Vayishman Yeshurun Vayiv’at.
In order to be “metaken olam” and restore the world to its state before Adam HaRishon’s sin, (which was also Vayishman Yeshurun Vayiv’at – Sefer Meir Panim, chap. 15), Am Yisrael needed to live in Eretz Yisrael and uplift the physical, mundane world in spirituality – to atone for Adam HaRishon.
In doing so however, an element of “Kochi ve’Otzem Yadi” had to be involved. We have to do our hishtadlut and leave the rest up to HKB”H. The question is what weight we give the “hishtadlut.” If we fall into the statistical trap above, our hishtadlut may chas vechalila become the “norm” – a cause and effect equation. “I work harder ergo I earn more money.” And the danger is that HKB”H is eliminated from the equation and everything becomes statistics – “I had a bumper crop because the weather was favorable,” “The crops failed because of a mite infestation due to imported produce,” etc.
HKB”H did not want us to remain in the Midbar, He wanted us to have to “fend for ourselves” and thus be metaken the sin of Adam HaRishon, but He doesn’t want us to abuse statistics and explain everything away using statistics. That is “keri.”
To teach us a lesson when/if we do that, HKB”H breaks our “bread staff” (Vayikra 26, 26). He strips everything away and attacks our food source. Without food there is no survival and there are no statistics. HKB”H shows us that what we regard as the “norm” is relative. The children born in the Midbar were born into a reality of mann – that was their norm! There is no absolute norm. The norm is totally dependent on our actions, we create the norm by virtue of how we behave and our relationship with HKB”H.
The focus of the brachot is food related, because when everything else is stripped away, this is where HKB”H becomes undeniably visible. We can delude ourselves with false concepts such as “global economy,” “internet cloud,” “global village,” etc., and we can abuse them to chas vechalila statistically eliminate Hashem from the equation. But HKB”H has the remedy – to stop our food – iron skies, brass earth – no rain, no crops. This dispels all the illusions. This is the basis of the curses. All the other details are simply repercussions.
HKB”H created statistics, but He created it to be used to serve Him not to rebel against Him. When we abuse statistics, it is as Adam HaRishon said in Mizmor Shir Leyom haShabbat – איש בער לא ידע. The gematria of בער is סטטיסטיקה – statistics. When someone only sees statistics, they do not understand how the world works.
So, in truth, the proportion between the brachot and the klalot is identical, three psukim of the brachot deal with food, and three psukim of the klalot deal with food. The rest are just the repercussions, but at the core they are equivalent.
Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: What exactly is the “bread staff” referred to in the klalot?
Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: In the seven year cycle, which year is Mashiach supposed to arrive? The Gemara (Megilla 17b) says that in the 6th year there will be “kolot” (symptoms and warning signs), in the 7th (Shemittah) year will be wars and at the end of the 7th year Mashiach will appear.