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Sotah, 36

SOTAH 36 - Dedicated by Lawrence and Judy Turkel to Mr. and Mrs. David Kornfeld and their lovely family. May they always be blessed with good health and all that they need.


AGADAH: The Gemara points out that the division of the Shevatim who stood on Har Gerizim and Har Eival did not resemble any other division in history in which the Shevatim were divided into two groups. Six of those tribes, who were descended from Yakov's primary wives (Rachel and Leah), stood upon Har Gerizim, while the four who descended from Bilhah and Zilpah, along with the descendants of Leah's eldest and youngest sons, stood upon Har Eival, as follows: Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yisachar, Yosef, Binyamin were on Har Gerizim, while Reuven, Gad, Asher, Zevulun, Dan, Naftali stood on Har Eival.

Upon careful examination, it is possible to see a direct correlation between the order in which the Shevatim were listed at Har Gerizim and Har Eival, and the Berachos and Kelalos that they accepted upon themselves on that occasion.

The Torah provides a list of 12 curses that were to be pronounced during this ceremony. The number 12 was presumably chosen because it corresponds with the number of the tribes of Yisrael (Ba'alei ha'Tosfos; Chizkuni). In truth, however, the first eleven are summed up by the twelfth, most general, curse, "Cursed be one who does not accept upon himself to fulfill all of the commandments of the Torah." This makes all of the preceding, more specific curses extraneous. Rashi (Devarim 27:24) explains that the preceding 11 curses were meant to correspond to 11 of the twelve tribes, while the twelfth was directed towards the entire nation. Which tribe was not relegated a curse? Rashi explains that it was the tribe of Shimon. Moshe did not want to direct a curse towards Shimon, since he did not intend to direct a *blessing* towards that tribe before he passed away as he did with the other tribes.

On the surface, Rashi seems to be explaining no more than why the number 11 was chosen for the curses. There does not seem to be a direct correlation between each one of the curses and a specific tribe. Abarbanel, in his commentary, attempts to actually link each curse to a specific tribe, although he does so in no particular order. The PIRCHEI NISAN (by the author of "Koheles Yitzchak," Parashat Vayishlach) suggests that each of the curses corresponds to a tribe in a very clear order; specifically, that in which the tribes are listed in the section of the Torah that lists the 11 curses (Devarim 27: 12:13).

Disregarding Shimon, at whom no curse was directed according to Rashi, the 11 curses each correspond to a different tribe in the order in which they are listed here. If this is true, the Pirchei Nisan asserts, we may gain insight into a statement made by the Gemara in Shabbos. The Gemara in Shabbos (55b) says that, "Whoever says that Reuven sinned is mistaken.... What, then, does the verse mean when it says that, 'Reuven slept with Bilhah, his father's concubine' (Bereishis 35:22)? Reuven moved his father's bed out of Bilhah's tent, and the Torah considered it as if he had slept with her." Rebbi Shimon ben Elazar there adds, "The righteous [Reuven] is absolved from sin in this matter. How could it be that Reuven's children would stand upon Har Eival and say, 'Cursed be the one who sleeps with his father's wife,' if Reuven had himself done so?"

Rebbi Shimon ben Elazar appears to be proving Reuven guiltless, for otherwise, by asking Reuven's descendants to answer "Amen" on Har Eival, Hashem would be asking them to accept a curse upon themselves, which is certainly not the case. According to the Pirchei Nisan's contention, though, the Gemara is saying much more than that.

"Cursed be the one who sleeps with his father's wife" is the sixth curse in the list. Excluding Shimon, Reuven is the sixth tribe mentioned in the list of the tribes that stood upon the two mountains. Rebbi Shimon ben Elazar, therefore, is saying as follows: The curse for sleeping with one's father's wife was addressed *specifically* towards Reuven. Since these curses were part of the establishment of a covenant, it could not be that Hashem intended to curse the tribe of Reuven whether they accepted His commands or not. Instead, the Torah must have addressed that curse (and its corresponding, inverse blessing) towards the tribe of Reuven in order to make it clear that *even* they were, so far, free of condemnation for that incestuous act. Their ancestor was hence officially vindicated from having committed such a transgression!

The Pirchei Nisan asserts further that we can show that *each* of the 11 curses was appropriate to the particular tribes towards which they were directed. Although he only explains the first six of the curses, another work, "Techeles Mordechai" (Harav Mordechai Drucker of Strya, Hungary, Parshas Ki Savo) resolves all of them following the Pirchei Nisan's approach. (We also include some explanations which were suggested by Rabbis Gedalyah Press and M. Kornfeld. See also Mei ha'Shilo'ach (Izhbitz), vol. II, Parshas Ki Savo.)

Our assumption is that the Torah links a curse to a particular tribe either (a) in order to show that the sin mentioned in the curse *cannot* be attributed to that tribe, as mentioned above, or (b) because that tribe was *outstanding* in that respect, or (c) because that tribe was more *liable* than the others to sin in such a manner, and thus needed a more direct warning.

(1) LEVI - "Cursed be one who makes idols." The tribe of Levi was the only one that did not serve the Egel ha'Zahav (see Rashi to Devarim 33:9). (Pirchei Nisan)
(2) YEHUDAH - "Cursed be one who shows disrespect to his parents." Yehudah promised his father to return Binyamin unscathed, and then risked his life to fulfill his promise for the sake of his father (Bereishis 42:32). (Pirchei Nisan)
(3) YISACHAR - "Cursed be one who tries to take for himself his neighbor's property." Yisachar was conceived when Leah claimed Yakov for herself even though it was Rachel's night. However, she paid Rachel in full for the privilege (Bereishis 30:16) (Pirchei Nisan). Secondly, Yisachar's leader brought his sacrifices (during the dedication ceremony of the Mishkan) before Reuven's leader. Reuven's leader complained that he rightfully should be first, since his tribal ancestor was older, but Hashem supported Yisachar's leader, saying that it was rightfully Yisachar's turn after all (Rashi to Bamidbar 7:19). (Techeles Mordechai)
(4) YOSEF - "Cursed be one who misleads the blind on the road." When Yosef was on the road trying to locate his brothers, he "blindly" trusted that they would do him no harm. They, however, took advantage of him and did harm him. Thus, he was the only one of the brothers that did not mislead the blind (Pirchei Nisan). Alternatively, when Yosef was viceroy of Mitzrayim, his brothers "blindly" stumbled upon him. Although they did not know who he was, Yosef did not take advantage of that fact to take his revenge. (M. Kornfeld)
(5) BINYAMIN - "Cursed be one who does injustice to a proselyte, orphan or widow." Binyamin was an orphan, and thus this curse protected him. (Pirchei Nisan)
(6) REUVEN - "Cursed be one who sleeps with his father's wife." As explained above, the Torah addressed this curse to the tribe of Reuven to make it clear beyond any doubt that they were, so far, free of condemnation for that sin. Addressing this curse to the descendants of Reuven officially vindicated Reuven from having committed such a transgression. (Pirchei Nisan)
(7) GAD - "Cursed be he who cohabits with an animal" - Gad gave precedence to their animals even over their own children (Rashi, Bamidbar 32:16). It was therefore necessary to warn them of this more than the other tribes. (M. Kornfeld)
(8) ASHER - "Cursed be he who cohabits with his sister." The women of the tribe of Asher were particularly pretty (Rashi, Devarim 33:24), so Asher had to be warned of this more than any other tribe. (Techeles Mordechai)
(9) ZEVULUN - "Cursed be he who cohabits with his mother-in-law." The members of the tribe of Zevulun were merchants who sailed long distances to trade goods with other nations (Rashi, Devarim 33:18). Undoubtedly, their wives would often live together with their mothers so that they could help each other out while their husbands were away at sea. Special warning must be given to the man whose wife and mother-in-law are living under the same roof, since a man might become fond of his mother-in-law (Bava Basra 98b; Pesachim 103a). (Rav G. Press)
(10) DAN - "Cursed be the one who smites his friend secretly" (who slanders his friend; Rashi). Dan is compared to a "snake" who "bites his enemies' horses' hooves" (Bereishis 49:17). He must be warned to direct his energies against the enemy, and not to use the character of a snake (the snake is associated with slander in many Midrashim, such as in Tanchuma, Metzora #2) to slyly hurt others from his own nation. (M. Kornfeld)
(11) NAFTALI - "Cursed be the one who receives a bribe to kill the innocent." Naftali was so named because he was born after Rachel attempted by any and all means ("Naftulei... Niftalti") to beg Hashem to grant her children through her maidservant (Bereishis 30:8). Naftali was therefore liable to try to attain his will through any means, however illicit, so he in particular had to be warned not to be involved with bribes. (Rav G. Press)


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