SALT - Friday, 15 Elul 5780 - September 4, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Towards the beginning of the “tokheicha” section in Parashat Ki-Tavo, in which Moshe warns of the calamities that will befall Benei Yisrael if they breach their covenant with God, he foresees the time when God will send “me’eira,” “mehuma” and “mig’eret” in all the people’s undertakings (28:20).  Rav Saadia Gaon explains the word “me’eira” to mean failure; “mehuma” as anxiety; and “mig’eret” as unsurmountable obstacles that stand in the way of success.  In short, the Torah here warns of perennial failure which will cause unending anxiety.
            Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch offers a unique interpretation of this verse, noting the construction of the verb “yeshalach” (“send”).  Normally, the form used for “send” is “yishlach” (in the “kal” construction), but here, the Torah employs the “pi’el” form – “yeshalach.”  Rav Hirsch elsewhere in his Torah commentary (Bamidbar 21:6) explains that this form of the verb means not “send,” but allowing a natural process to occur.  For example, when the Torah speaks of God “sending” (“va-yeshalach”) snakes to bite Benei Yisrael in punishment for their complaints, this means, according to Rav Hirsch, that God removed the supernatural barriers which had protected the people, so that the snakes naturally came and caused harm.  Similarly, Rav Hirsch suggests, the Torah here speaks of “me’eira,” “mehuma” and “mig’eret” as occurring naturally as a consequence of sin.  He explains that “me’eira” means simply “curse,” and the next two terms identify the nature of the “curse” that will result from sin.  “Mehuma,” Rav Hirsch writes, denotes “disquietude,” a sense of uneasiness and discomfiture.  When we fail, when we act in a way which we know is wrong, we experience inner unrest, a loss of serenity and peace of mind.  Similarly, the word “mig’eret,” according to Rav Hirsch, means “a constant feeling of reproach.”  Rav Hirsch associates the word “mig’eret” with the root g.a.r. which means to reprimand (as in Yaakov’s reaction to Yosef telling about his dreams: “Va-yig’ar bo aviv” – Bereishit 37:10.)  The curse of “mig’eret” is the curse of an overburdened conscience, the incessant criticism we hear spoken by ourselves in our own minds for the wrongs we’ve committed.
            The verse warns that these curses will affect “kol mishlach yadekha asher ta’aseh” – all our undertakings, everything we set out to do.  Rav Hirsch explains, “This inner feeling of restlessness and constant self-reproach disturbs the success of all that you do.”  When we feel uncomfortable with ourselves, and we constantly criticize ourselves, we lose our ambition and our confidence, making it very difficult for us to achieve any sort of success.
            The institution of teshuva allows us to reverse this devastating “curse,” by enabling us to feel confident despite our failings.  Our internal, emotional responses to sin could indeed be debilitating, thus sending us along a vicious cycle of failure.  Teshuva is the mechanism given to us to break this cycle, guaranteeing us that genuine remorse and a sincere commitment to improve has the effect of erasing our shameful past and clearing the path ahead to a brighter future.  Through honest and sincere repentance, we overcome the “curse” of “mehuma” and “mig’eret,” and are able to feel proud and confident in our ability to achieve and build ourselves into the people we are meant to be.