Parshat Ki Tavo: The Accursed Transgressors

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Rabbi Matt Schneeweiss | Special to JT

In Parashat Ki Tavo, a series of curses are directed at twelve categories of transgressors: anyone who (1) makes a secret idol; (2) degrades his parents; (3) moves the boundary of his fellow; (4) intentionally misleads his fellow; (5) perverts the judgment of a convert, orphan, or widow; (6) lies with his father’s wife; (7) or with an animal; (8) or with his sister; (9) or with his mother-in-law; (10) strikes his fellow in secret; (11) takes a bribe to kill an innocent person; or (12) does not “uphold the words of the Torah, to do them.”
What do all these transgressions have in common? What makes these transgressions more deserving of God’s curse than others?


(Courtesy Rabbi Matt Schneiweiss)

Most medieval commentators give the same answer to our first question: the thing in common among these twelve transgressions is that they are all commonly done in secret. Rashbam (Deuteronomy 27:15) adds that the only two transgressions listed which are not always done in secret are making an idol and striking one’s fellow. This is why the Torah needs to specify “in secret” in both of these cases.

What makes a secret transgression more deserving of a curse than an open transgression? The answer can be found in a Mishnah: “Anyone who does not have mercy on the glory of his Creator — it would be better for him not to have come into the world” (Chagigah 2:1). The Gemara explains: “To whom does this refer? To one who commits a transgression in secret” (ibid. 16a).


Rambam writes that the phrase “one who does not have mercy on the glory of his Creator” refers “to someone who has no mercy on his intellect, for the intellect is the glory of Hashem.” He explains the Sages’ statement about those who transgress in secret by citing another teaching of the Sages: “Adulterers do not commit adultery unless they are invaded by a spirit of stupidity” (Tanchuma: Nasso 5).

“The matter is true,” Rambam writes, “for at the moment of craving — whichever craving it may be — the intellect is deficient.”

Based on these words of the Sages and Rambam’s explanation, we can answer our second question: Secret transgressors are especially “curse-worthy” is because their acts involve a greater corruption of the intellect than those of public transgressors. A transgression in secret reinforces the false notion that God is ignorant of what we are doing or has no dominion over our actions — in other words, that our actions do not “register” in reality.

The essence of the human being is the intellect, as the Torah states: “And God created man in His form; in the divine form He created him” (Genesis 1:27). Thus, the transgressor who corrupts their intellect is truly accursed.

Rabbi Matt Schneeweiss is a rebbi and administrator at Yeshiva Bnei Torah in Far Rockaway, New York. Check out his Torah content on YouTube, kolhaseridim.blogspot.com, and podcasts “The Stoic Jew Podcast,” “Machshavah Lab,” and more.

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