By Rabbi Berach Steinfeld
The Torah tells us in Devarim 29:9 “All Yidden are standing here before Hashem…” The Medrash says the reason why Parshas Nitzavim was placed right next to the klalos is because when the Yidden heard the 98 curses, which were in addition to the 49 of Parshas Bechukosai, their collective faces turned green, and they started giving up. Moshe started to appease them by saying that Bnei Yisroel angered Hashem many times and Hashem never destroyed them so there is nothing to be worried about. How is it that after Klal Yisroel heard all the curses, Moshe comes along and says that these curses are ineffective since Hashem has never destroyed you? From here on the Yidden may not be scared anymore and even sin brazenly! Klal Yisroel lived through many difficult chapters in our history, including many Yidden dying in Mitzrayim, and more recently the devastation of the holocaust. Aren’t these examples of the tochecha? How is the fact that not everyone was wiped out supposed to make you feel better?
There are a few different tirutzim to explain this. The first tirutz is based on Reb Elya Lopian in his Sefer Lev Eliyahu Vol 4 where he explains that punishment that Hashem brings upon a person is not in the form of revenge and tit for tat. Rather, it is for the good of the person; his heart should break, and he will then be able to do teshuva as the posuk in Tehillim 51 says that the Korban of Hashem is a broken spirit, and a broken heart is not an embarrassment before Hashem. The Gra explains that a person’s heart is like a field. Just like in order for a person to plant in a field, the field must first be plowed; so too, the heart of a person must be plowed via yesurim in order for a person to do proper teshuva. This explains why there was no reason for the yesurim to come; the Yidden turned green, and their hearts broke so the tochacha accomplished its mission.
The second tirutz is that once Moshe saw their faces turn green, he was worried that from here onward Klal Yisroel would serve Hashem out of yirah and not out of ahava. We know that the best way of serving Hashem is out of ahava; therefore, Moshe told them that you angered Hashem many times and he did not destroy you. This proves that Hashem is maarich af and does not punish instantly, so it is possible to serve Hashem out of love.
The third tirutz is that Moshe was teaching the Yidden the derech of teshuva. The posuk in Tehillim 130:4 says Ki … Haslicha… l’maan tivarai. It would seem from the posuk that when Hashem forgives us, we would fear him. The logical approach would seem to be the opposite; that a person will feel that if Hashem forgave me, there is less fear. The Meforshim explain that the truth is to the contrary. Were Hashem not to forgive sins, a person would not even try to bring himself to fear Hashem to do teshuva. He would just give up hope. The fact that Hashem forgives us gives us a chance to do teshuva and to bring about a special yirah of Hashem. This explains the course of events; Yidden heard the klalos and were ready to give up, so Moshe calmed them and told them that they have a chance to do teshuva.
The fourth tirutz is that when the Yidden heard the klalos, they started worrying that maybe these curses will befall us on account of a few who sinned. Moshe told them that Klal Yisroel were punished many times, and yet were never wiped out, as one does not get punished unless he himself sinned.
Acknowledging that everything is from Hashem will bring us closer to the proper yirah necessary for analyzing our sins in the process of doing teshuva. May we all zocheh to do proper teshuva.