R'aye - Blessings and Curses on Mt. Tops
Moshe Ben-Chaim
What is the concept intended by Moses commanding the Jews to receive both blessings and curses upon Mt. Grizzim and Mt. Eval respectively?

There are a number of questions to be addressed:

1) What were these specific areas of blessing and curse?
2) What is a "blessing" and what is a "curse"?
3) Why at this time?
4) Why on 2 mountain tops?
5) Why six tribes on each mountain top?
6) Why were the priests, Levites and the Ark remaining in the valley between these mountains, and what was achieved by these individuals placing the blessings and curses?
7) What connection, if any, do both Ibn Ezra and Ramban allude to by referencing the Scapegoat thrown off of Mount Azazel on Yom Kippur?

To answer these questions, we must first take note at what time these blessings and curses were commanded to be placed. It was upon the Jewish nation's enterance to the land of Israel.

I feel this would be an appropriate time for Moshe to urge the Jews to follow the right way of life, and more so, to put the land in perspective, the conquest of which was anticipated for decades. Perhaps Moshe's plan was to drive a point home to the Jews, that is, that the Land is not a goal in itself. The goal is the adherence to the Torah. To make this point cogent and concrete, and for the sake of being seen from a distance by those who did not ascend, Moshe first commanded the Jews to stand on two mountain tops. (I do not believe all women and infants ascended.) In order for the event to be witnessed by all, elevation was necessary. Moshe desired that the people take to heart the fortune and consequences of living with, or abandoning the Torah. Proper conduct would lead to one retaining the gift of Israel, as is seen by the blessing being placed upon the lush Mt. Grizzim. However, if one abandons G-d, the fate of a barren Mt. Eval is certain. Moshe desired the best for the Jews, and showing them real differences between bountiful and barren topography would be the best means for opening their eyes to the truth of the purpose of the Land, and to the real results of one's actions.

Moshe decreed that people should act as models for both the correct and incorrect lifestyles. He therefore chose that six tribes stand on each mountain top, to indicate that just as there are only six tribes, and either a tribe was on Mt. Grizzim or Mt. Eval, so too, one's life can go in only one of two paths. There is no other choice. As the Talmud's analogy goes, (paraphrased) "...A man is a very sick creature, but there is a bandage. If he keeps on the bandage, all will be well. If however he removes it, his death is certain. The bandage is Torah".

The tribes modeled for the rest of the Jews, as well as themselves, what would result from one of the two paths of life. This is what I believe Ibn Ezra was alluding to with the reference to the scapegoat. The two goats on Yom Kippur also teach man of the only two possibilities he can travel in life. If he chooses the Torah, then he is as the goat offered to G-d. If he does not, then he is as the second goat destined for tragedy as it is sliced to death by the rocky outline of Mt. Azazel. As the priests and Levites were always involved in study, and do not inherit the land, land-related fortune does not apply to them. Further, they are above the need to do labor, as Maimonides teaches in the last law of Shmita v'Yovale, "not only the Levites, but any one who enters this world - even Gentile - who dedicates himself to learning, G-d will give such a person a portion (his physical needs) as is sufficient for him". Maimonides teaches that there is a special Providence administered by G-d for any human being who sincerely spends his life in the pursuit of wisdom. For such an individual, G-d maintains his sufficient needs. This makes sense, as G-d's desire is just this, that man pursue wisdom. It follows that G-d will then create a situation for such a man to continue his growth of knowledge.

The concept of blessing and curse is not to be understood as anything other than the actual experienced lifestyle. Following the Torah itself, is the blessing, the pure enjoyment of the pursuit of wisdom. Conversely, abandoning a life of wisdom will result in constant frustration and a life of pain.

To say there is blessing besides the Torah is false and diminishes the Torah's worth. To suggest another pain aside from abandoning Torah is unnecessary.

Reader: I was reading your article on Mt Grizim and Mt Eval this morning. I felt a bit confused on one point- at the end you write that the Torah life is its own reward, while simultaneously stating that the right to a bounteous (and secure!) land of Israel is the direct result of following a life of Torah. I feel sure that the answer lies not in one extreme or the other, but in a blend of the two concepts, or maybe in the idea of a result as different from reward or motivation; I would appreciate some clarification on the point though. Thanks!!!

Mesora: Israel is only given as a means to prolong adherence to Torah deals, as we see Divine eviction the result of abandoning Torah. But even so this is not a "reward", as a Rabbi mentioned, there can be no reward in the true sense for Torah adherence, as that would make the reward a more prized object than following the Torah itself, and this cannot be.

Even Olam Haba - the Future World - is only an increase in the same area of involvement in ideas, as the soul is the only part of us which survives death.

Therefore, there are three things discussed, 1) Torah - intellectual involvement, the pursuit of understanding reality - THE prized involvement , 2) Israel - as a secured vehicle for Torah involvement on Earth, and 3) Olam Haba, the highest level of involvement in reality with no physical limitations.