Our parsha opens with the declaration of a covenant. Mosheonce again emphasizes Israel’s covenant with God and His land, highlighting the choices of honoring the covenant or violating it:
“Life and death I set before you, the blessing and the curse; choose life, in order that you and your descendants will live” (Devarim 30).
But the more we read, the more uncomfortable we become about the way in which the choice is presented. The respective options of preserving and violating the covenant are not given equal treatment. In the previous parsha, the Torah elaborated on the Divine rebuke and punishment at much greater length than on the consolation, and in our parsha, too, it seems that the consequences of violating the covenant are given ever-increasing emphasis.
Not only that, but as Moshe’s speech progresses, the expressions of threat and condition are replaced by the language of prophecy concerning the future: “If there be.” becomes “It will be, when all of these things come upon you”; “All the nations will say: for what reason has God done this to this land?”
Is failure then assured in advance? Is Moshegoing to leave this world with a sense of disappointment and frustration?
The Sages address this problem in the climactic verse of this grim prophecy at the point where God tells Moshe:
“Behold, you will lie with your forefathers and this nation will arise and go astray after the foreign gods of the land into the midst of which it is coming; they will abandon Me and violate My covenant which I have forged with them. And My anger will burn against them on that day; I will abandon them and hide My face from them, and they will be left for devouring. And many evils and troubles will befall them..”
Indeed, looking at the nation and assessing the challenges awaiting it in the confrontation with the nations of the land, and its ability to continue serving God without the leadership of Mosheand Yehoshua, there is no escaping the harsh conclusion – it cannot work; the future holds a tragic end to their possession of the land.
It is specifically on this verse that the Sages teach (Mekhilta Beshalah) that this is one of the instances where the text has no unequivocal meaning; i.e., it can be read in two ways, both of which are true:
One reading places a comma after “with your forefathers”: “Behold – you will lie with your forefathers, and this nation will arise and go astray.”.
The other reading places a comma after the word “arise”: “Behold – you will sleep with your forefathers and arise, .” – this being the biblical source for the principle of resurrection.
From a grammatical point of view, if we adopt the second possibility it is difficult to understand the remainder of the verse. Our Sages saw fit to emphasize here the principle of resurrection: Moshewill lie with his forefathers, and is destined to arise once again. But what is the connection between the resurrection and the subject of all the problems that will overtake the nation?
The resurrection is the answer to the question that we posed above. Death – the necessity of the body undergoing a stage of destruction when it parts from the soul – is a reality that comes about in the world as a result of the sin of Adam. On the graph representing the ascent and repair of man and of the world, the continuity was broken. The soul of the individual can no longer achieve its full repair and perfection without a stage of destruction and rebirth. On the communal and national level, too, it sometimes happens that our path of repair passes through scenes of exile and destruction on the way to redemption.
The Sages are emphasizing to us: Indeed, Moshedies at the gateway to the land. Mosheleaves this world knowing that the nation will not hold out in the land; it will fail in its mission and will be punished with exile. But Moshealso knows that this tragedy is not the end of the story. In contrast to the classical Greek tragedy, our parshot also speak of return, of teshuva. After the many evils and troubles, after the descriptions of exile and the terrible curses, we will be revived and will live again.
During this period of teshuva, let us remember that twice already our nation has arisen from the dust. Let us engage in profound teshuva and pray that we will need no further suffering on the road to repair, and let us try to appreciate the full meaning of the blessing, “You are faithful to resurrect the dead”.