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The Battle of the Generation - Day 75

Our weekly excerpt from the book "The Battle of the Generation"

Part 7- Willpower

Chapter 27- The Right Attitude Toward Willpower

After forty years of traveling in the desert, the Jews were ready to enter Eretz Yisrael. But their leader, Moshe Rabbeinu, would not be joining them. Shortly before his death, Moshe informed them that after crossing into Eretz Yisrael, they would enter a treaty with Hashem at two mountains, Har Gerizim and Har Eival.

Moshe explained how the process would work. First, the Leviim would turn toward Har Gerizim and proclaim, “Blessed will be the man who does not make idols.” The nation would answer “Amen.” Then, the Leviim would turn toward Har Eival and say, “Cursed will be the man who makes idols,” and the nation would answer “Amen.” This process would continue with the Leviim mentioning certain aveiros in this blessing and curse format. The procedure would conclude with a blessing for those who would uphold the Torah, and a curse for those who would not.

Moshe proceeded to tell the people some of the blessings they would receive for keeping the Torah. Then, he told the nation what would befall them if they would not listen to Hashem’s commandments, listing ninety-eight of the most horrifying curses — torments that our nation has unfortunately experienced over its long history. This was the treaty between Hashem and the Jewish nation (Devarim Chapters 27-28).

Right before informing the nation about this treaty, Moshe Rabbeinu instructed them to build an altar upon entering Eretz Yisrael and to offer sacrifices to Hashem on it. Moshe related that at that point, they would be happy before Hashem. The Sforno (Devarim 27:7) explains that they would rejoice because of the treaty they would be entering with Hashem on Har Gerizim and Har Eival.

Rabbi Henach Leibowitz, zt”l, (Chiddushei Lev Sefer Devarim, pages 161-162) deduced that the Sforno is saying that the nation would be happy because of the portion of the treaty that would take place on Har Gerizim as well as the part that would be accepted on Har Eival. (The deduction appears to be from the Sforno’s comment that the nation would be happy because of the treaty of Har Gerizim and Har Eival. Had the Sforno meant just the blessings of Har Gerizim, that’s all he would have written.) This is perplexing. We can understand why the people would be happy upon hearing of the blessings, but why would the Har Eival portion bring them joy? Why would they be happy to hear that they would undergo horrific suffering if they would not keep the mitzvos?

Rabbi Leibowitz explained that the Jews understood life. They realized that the point of this world is to accomplish for the next world. They recognized that experiences in this world are inconsequential when compared to the pleasures of the next world. Further, acting properly was of utmost importance to them. They cared about serving Hashem far more than anything else. Thus, there was no doubt they would be ecstatic to hear the curses. They would appreciate them as an extra safeguard to make sure they would accomplish what they really wanted to and not stumble into sin.

Moshe Rabbeinu knew that even hearing about torturous punishments would bring joy to the people because they would understand that this safeguard was necessary. They would realize that although accomplishment was their strongest goal, motivation eventually wears off. Excitement and perspective do not last forever, and desire can increase far beyond what is normally anticipated. They would understand that they might feel differently in the future and overlook what truly matters. Because of their desire to serve Hashem, they would surely be happy to enter a treaty that would ensure that they avoid sin and accomplish what mattered most to them. They would be overjoyed to receive this gift from Hashem that they could use to overpower their temptations even if their determination would weaken.