The Torah is not at the heart of the Jewish tradition. It is its interpretation that is central to our thinking and our daily life.
While our parashah ends with very hard-curdling threats, the exaggeration of the threats is open to interpretation.
Is it only by means of persistence and threatening that the Torah is more credible? Our sage’s comment on this verse comes from the end of our parashah: “If you fail to observe faithfully all the terms of this Teaching … the LORD will inflict extraordinary plagues upon you and your offspring, strange and lasting plagues, malignant and chronic (lit. ne’emanot) diseases.” (Dt. 28: 58-59)
Rabbi Yohanan said: “These plagues are malignant and persistent. Malignant – by the harshness with which they affect us. Chronic (lit. ne’emanot) – to leave us when it’s time. “
One would think that “chronic” means that they persist in attacking us, but for Rabbi Yohanan, “Chronic” is not the right the translation for the Hebrew term ne’emanot. According to Rabbi Yohanan, the plagues persist in their intention to leave once their mission is accomplished. The Hebrew word here is: ne’emanim, which means “faithful”. They are faith-ful to their mission which is to be trials for us that strengthen us, but ultimately leave us once we have learned the lesson.
The idea behind Moses’ last speech is not to overwhelm people but, on the contrary, to lead us to do good. The future of the people of Israel and the values she carries will depend on that good that is done.
It is important to emphasize over and over the crucial role people’s righteousness will play at the moment of settling in the land of Canaan.
It was necessary to warn the children of Israel of disastrous consequences due to a lack of determination to do good, which could unravel the entire project. But let us not be deterred by exaggerated threats.
Those aspects that were meaningful to the social reality of Moses’ time needed to be retranslated at the time of Rabbi Yohanan. It is time to remember that our people do not fear adversity, and we consider challenges an opportunity for testing and questioning in order to advance further progress.
Thus, we consider that the challenges are here to help us. They are “faithful” to us and they will leave as soon as we ac-quire the tools necessary to recover.
Is this statement truth? Do we always have the ability to use the challenges for good? The answer to this question de-pends on many factors. One of these factors depends on us individually: It is easier to cope with difficulties when we feel very lucky than when we feel overwhelmed.
Another of these factors depends on us, as a community: the more friendly we are, the stronger our network will be and more people in trouble will be able to receive our help to transform their difficulties into learning moments.
To strengthen ourselves, to strengthen the solidarity between us, are two of the central objectives of our Tradition.