This week's parsha
It stands out very prominently in this week's Torah reading: fifty-five consecutive verses of nightmarish misery and torture, all destined to befall the Jewish people when they will be exiled from their land because of their sins. Many of the curses are so appalling that they are difficult to read. Indeed, the Baal Koreh (public reader of the Torah in the synagogue) is expected to read these verses quickly and in a quieter voice than usual. Astoundingly, these maledictions are included in Moses' parting words to the nation he loved so much, whom he lovingly shepherded for forty difficult years.
Some questions don't need to be asked -- they jump out at you. Even if G‑d intended to bring all these punishments on His people, what is the purpose in describing them in the Torah in such gruesome detail? Furthermore, why does Moses use only fourteen verses to describe the rewards and blessings which G‑d will shower upon us when we will obey His commandments -- less than a third of the verses used to describe the maledictions?!
Sadly, every one of these dreadful prophecies has come to pass. Indeed, if these verses wouldn't be part of the Torah, they could be mistaken for a Holocaust memoir written by a concentration camp survivor: "You will serve your enemies, whom the L-rd will send against you, [when you are] in famine, thirst, destitution, and lacking everything... And your life will hang in suspense before you. You will be in fear night and day, and you will not believe in your life. In the morning, you will say, 'If only it were already evening!' and in the evening, you will say, 'If only it were already morning!'…"
After experiencing such horrors it is only natural to ask, "Where was G‑d?" and, "If there really is a G‑d, how could He allow the inhumanity and cruelty of the Holocaust?" No one questions the source of our blessings, but after enduring excruciating pain, people begin to have doubts. Perhaps this is why all the suffering is so vividly portrayed in the Torah. How can the Holocaust be used to deny G‑d's existence when G‑d Himself informed us that this event will occur? This is not to say that we can possibly understand the reasons for our nation's tormented history, but we do know that it is all from G‑d -- and therefore ultimately for our good.
It seems to me that Moses is doing much more than informing us of the troubles which we will experience, he is telling us not to lose our faith because of them. Reading this week's Torah portion and seeing how it has actually all come to pass offers us a measure of hope. It strengthens our belief that we will also certainly see the realization of the conclusion of this prophecy (in next week's Torah portion): "The L-rd, your G‑d, will bring back your exiles, and He will have mercy upon you… Even if your exiles are at the end of the heavens, the L-rd, your G‑d, will gather you from there…And the L-rd, your G‑d, will place all these curses upon your enemies and upon your adversaries who pursued you."