Shabbat Ki Tavo - On Tochacha (Rebuke)
by R. Yahnatan Lasko ~
The passage that we read this morning describes a ceremony Moses directed the children of Israel to perform, including specifications of blessings and curses which are dependent upon observance of the covenant.
This passage in Ki Tavo resembles an even more bracing list of curses pronounced by God at the end of Leviticus (in parsha Bechukotai, Lev. 26). A number of practices have emerged in relation to the reading of these two passages…things like reading the passage in an undertone, calling up the person making an aliyah anonymously instead of by name, and even an aversion to receiving this aliyah (lest it precipitate some personal misfortune).
Our Sages called these passages “the tochacha,” usually translated the rebuke. Rabbi Zave Brudman explains, however, that the actual meaning is “to provide proof”:
The purpose of tochacha is as a prerequisite to teshuva – return to God and to self. In order for a person to return, he must first acknowledge that he was lost. But human beings have a propensity to deny their faults, So tochacha is like holding up a mirror, providing irrefutable proof of self. And that, ultimately, is the only effective rebuke...