Parshas Ki Tavo – Divine Protection

By Avner Friedmann

The Parshah of this week states,[1] “But it shall be that if you do not hearken to the voice of HaShem your G-d, to guard and to fulfill all His commandments and statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.” This verse points to three requirements needed for us, as Jews, to enjoy HaShem’s blessings. We must learn HaShem’s Torah, we must avoid transgressing the 365 negative mitzvos and we must fulfill the 248 positive mitzvos. HaShem assures us that through Torah and mitzvos we will be blessed with goodness and prosperity, both physically and spiritually and that we will have nothing to fear. However, if we ignore HaShem’s will, the results are severe, G-d forbid. Among the consequences it states[2]: “Your life will hang in doubt; you will be frightened night and day, and you will be unsure of your life.”

Man was created in the image of G-d, as written[3]: “For in the image of G-d He made man.” And[4]: “On the day that G-d created Man, He made him in the likeness of G-d.” The Holy Zohar explains[5] that from the beginning, man was given dominion over all creatures. All creatures would fear him because of his G-dly image, as written[6]: “The dread and awe of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, on all that creeps on earth and on all the fish of the sea”. This teaches us that as long as we remain holy by keeping Torah and not transgressing it, HaShem’s image remains upon us.

However, if G-d forbid, we leave the ways of Torah and surrender to our passions and temptations, the Divine spark within us becomes hidden and we become no better than animals. As a result, the animals no longer fear us, because our appearance becomes like any other creature, as scripture states,[7] “And man shall not repose in glory, he is likened to the silenced animals.” In this fallen state, we fear the animals rather than them fearing us, G-d forbid[8].

We learn this from the story of Cayin and Hevel. After murdering his brother Hevel, Cayin said to HaShem,[9] “My iniquity is too great to bear. See, You have expelled me today from the face of the earth and I will be hidden from Your presence. I will be a vagabond and a wanderer in the world and whoever finds me will kill me”. Rashi points out that being that, other than his father and mother, there yet were no other humans, this statement refers to the animals. Cayin said to himself, “Until this point all animals feared me. However, because of my sin, they no longer fear me and will kill me instead”. He pleaded to HaShem and in His mercy HaShem accepted his plea, as it states,[10] “And HaShem placed a sign upon Cayin, so that none who meet him might kill him”. HaShem engraved one of the letters of His Holy Name upon Cayin’s forehead and the animals feared him once again.

We also learn this from the story of Yosef and his brothers[11]. The brothers wanted to kill Yosef, but wishing to come back and rescue him, Reuven, his eldest brother, convinced them not to shed blood, but rather to throw him into a pit. Now, why wasn’t Reuven worried that Yosef would be killed by the snakes and scorpions that inhabited the pit? It was because he knew that since Yosef was a tzaddik (a perfectly righteous individual who adhered to HaShem) no animal could harm him, because the fear of him would be upon them.

This is because as long as a Jew adheres to HaShem, the image of G-d is recognizable in him, even to the animals. As we see from the story of Daniel, even hungry lions will not harm him. Daniel was thrown into a den of hungry lions that had been starved for three days. Nonetheless, because they recognized the image of G-d in him, they were in awe and did not harm him. He adhered to HaShem’s presence and therefore, the mouths of the lions remained shut[12].

The Holy Ohr HaChaim, Rabbi Chaim ben Atar, lived in Morocco in the 18th century. By trade he was a highly skilled embroiderer, who specialized in embroidering with golden thread. It was his custom to work only as much as necessary to earn enough to live, so that he could occupy most of his time with the study of Torah. It so happened that the king of Morocco wanted embroidery done for his daughter’s wedding dress. He had heard of the Ohr HaChaim’s extraordinary craftsmanship and wanted him to embroider her gown. He promised him a great deal of money in payment, but was surprised at the Rabbi’s refusal to do the work within the short timeframe given him. Even when threatened with death he refused to do so. The king commanded that he be put into a den of hungry lions. The Ohr HaChaim sat down in the den and began reciting Tehillim (Psalms). The king’s men couldn’t believe their eyes. Not only did the lions not devour him, but they behaved like tame puppy dogs. The king was notified and came to see the miracle with his own eyes. He immediately ordered his servants to take the Ohr HaChaim out of the den, apologized profusely and showered the Ohr HaChaim with precious gifts. He realized that the G-d of Israel, who neither sleeps nor slumbers, had protected him.

In truth, the same principle holds true for every Jew and for the nation of Israel as a whole[13]. When we adhere to HaShem and follow His will, we transcend all the nations of the world, and no nation can harm us, as written[14]: “No man will be able to stand up against you; HaShem, your G-d, will place your dread and awe over the face of the entire earth upon which you will tread, as He spoke to you”. However, if we do not adhere to Him, the nations subjugate us without fear, G-d forbid.

May it be that we fear only HaShem and adhere to His great and glorious name with all our souls and all our hearts, as it states,[15] “Now, O Israel, what does HaShem, your G-d, ask of you? Only to fear HaShem your G-d, to go in all His ways and to love Him, and to serve HaShem your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul. To keep the commandments of HaShem and His statutes, which I command you today, for your benefit.” May HaShem protect Israel and bring about the true and complete redemption, speedily in our days.

[1] Devarim 28:15.

[2] Devarim 28:66.

[3] Bereishis 9:6.

[4] Bereishis  5:1.

[5] Noach 71a, Vayeishev 191a, and Zohar Chadash Bereishis 22b.

[6] Bereishis 9:2.

[7] Tehillim 49:13.

[8] See more in Shabbos 151b, and Sanhedrin38b.

[9] Bereishis 4:14.

[10] Bereishis 4:15.

[11] Masaat Hamelech on Bereishis 50:15. See Bereishis 37:22 for the story details.

[12] Zohar Mishpatim 125b.

[13] Abarbanel on Devarim 11:25.

[14] Devarim 11:25.

[15] Devarim 10:12-13.

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