The Severity of Punishment


Moshe Ben-Chaim



Howard: Why are the punishments for Torah violations so severe, as we read in this week’s Parsha Ki Tavo: light-hearted women become so callous eating their own children out of starvation; we are smitten with boils; ultimate despair sets in; kidnappings and the sale of our children into slavery in front of our eyes? Why so severe?


Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: God wishes the best for all of mankind. This means that man lives as God intended, following the Torah, as it is the best life. We read in this week’s Parsha, that we receive punishments for not “serving God with happiness, and with a good heart, because of the abundance of everything.” (Deut. 28:46,47) The laws are clearly a good, and contain joy. By abandoning the Torah, our severe punishments render us a “sign and a wonder, as well as our children, forever. For we did not serve God with happiness.” Next week’s Parsha also states, “And all the nations will say, ‘For what did the Jews commit that God did this to the land…why this great, flaming fury? And they will say, ‘For they forsook the treaty of God, the God of their fathers which He cut with them when He took them from the land of Egypt.” (Deut. 29:23,24)


The Torah says the nations will see our utter devastation and will affirm that this tragedy is due to our abandonment of the Torah. How will they know this? Why does God record their response in His selected, Torah verses?


It is because God wishes to validate the Torah by removing all doubts. What doubts? That the Jewish nation might experience harm “accidentally”. God delivers a fate to us so severe, not only as a deterrent to keep us on the proper track, but also, that our severe destruction becomes clear lesson that “God” caused our destruction: it could not have occurred through nature…no, not this level of severity. God’s warnings and punishments came true. Thus, Torah is true.


Just as we are rewarded as a testament to the fulfillments of God’s oaths for our good, we are tragically punished when we deviate, and history has validated this time and time again. Our ruin serves the same purposes as our grandeur: God wishes all people to see His Torah as truth, and therefore, their disturbed and alarmed response to our devastation is a proof, and God desires this response in Torah: He desires the nations to react with this affirmation of His fulfillment of His words. With such fulfillment – good or evil – God’s words become a reality, and hopefully, all mankind will subjugate themselves, for their own good, to God’s Torah. Be it a minimum of the 7 Noachide Laws, or the Jews’ 613 Laws.