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For Goodness Sake

Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8 )

by Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt

In this week's portion, as the Jewish people are getting ready to enter the Land of Israel, God commands them to stand on two hills, with six tribes on each hill, facing each other. The tribe of Levi then stands in the middle and recites a series of 12 blessings and curses. This must have been a very powerful experience, listening the Levites say these blessings and curses out loud, with the entire Jewish people responding "amen."

Actually, the Torah only mentions the curses: "cursed is the one who takes a bribe; cursed is the one who perverts justice; cursed is the one who abuses his parents," etc. The Sages explain that although the blessings are not mentioned in the text, they are the precise opposites of the curses: "blessed is the one who does not take a bribe; blessed is the one who does not pervert justice; blessed is the one who does not abuse his parents," etc.

The wording of the blessings seems quite strange. Instead of saying, "Blessed is the one who does not abuse his parents," why not state the blessings in the positive - i.e. "Blessed is the one who honors his parents"?

I believe the answer is as follows. All of these blessings are areas in which it is impossible for anyone else to know what a person has done. He may never have harmed his parents, but who's to say that he was never in a situation in which he thought to do so? A bribe is a gift given in order to influence a judge in a particular way. But even if he accepted the gift, who can say if the gift made him judge in that manner? Perhaps he saw this as the proper judgment in any case.

It's much easier to be righteous in public than it is in private. The true test of a human being's mettle is what he does when no one is watching and no one will ever know. The good that we do in our lives that goes completely unrewarded in this world is the most precious good of all. The good that no one knows about and no one recognizes - this is the greatest good that we should seek. It is a good with no motive other than doing good for sake of good itself.

This is what God wished to emphasize to the Jewish people when they entered the Land of Israel. Do not chase public good and acclaim, rather seek and value the good that is done with a pure heart and pure motives. Blessed are those moments in our life when we make choices for no reason other than to do what is right, truthful, just or honest. They remain our most prized possessions for eternity.

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