There’s a curious verse in the middle of our parsha (Nitzavim) – “And when all of these events will happen to you, the blessings and the curses, and you resolve in your heart whilst among all the nations that I have forced you into…and you will return to the Lord your God…with all your heart and with all your soul”  (Deut 30:1-2).  We understand that curses can lead to a person doing tshuva, as we see in our previous parsha (Ki Tavo) in which there are many curses that are meant to lead the Jews to so tshuva.  However, how do blessings aid in the process of tshuva?

One possible explanation (from the Shach and the Ohr Hachaim) is that the verse contains words of prophecy, as if to say, “in the future there will be blessings as you enter Israel.”  However, it is impossible to accept this explanation, since the prophecy removes man’s free choice.  God places before us curses and blessings and instructs us to choose, so the blessings must result from man’s free choice and not arrive to us as the fulfillment of a prophecy.  Therefore, we understand that the blessing are contingent upon our behavior – if we conduct ourselves properly, the blessings will apply, and if not – then we will have to do tshuva.  However, we still must understand what is the place of blessings in the process of tshuva?

The answer is that the verse is referring to a high level of tshuva, one that arrives not only after curses, that break down the person (as we saw in the previous parsha), but after blessings.  For, the person who experiences blessings, and then loses those blessings, is far more disturbed over his lost situation than one who never experienced blessings in his life.  It is bad enough to suffer curses, which are meant to make us into a keli, or vessel for divine light from above to permeate our lives when we do tshuva.  But, an even more powerful form of tshuva is that which arrives after we experience blessings, and then because of our behavior we lose those blessings and then suffer curses as well.

This explanation will be understood even by the five year old learning the written Torah for the first time.  He has already read in parshat Re’eh (Deut 15:8) that when giving tzedaka, we must give “enough to fulfill the deficiency” in the poor person’s life, and Rashi explains that means “even a horse to ride upon with a servant running before it” in the case of a wealthy man who had gotten used to that lifestyle but become poor.  Why?  We are not commanded to “make the man whole” and replace his former lifestyle?  But the answer is that “deficiency” is relative, and the person who previously got used to blessings and a high lifestyle, deserves to be reminded of that so that his current situation will not be too unbearable for him – and therefore Rashi explains that “enough to fulfill his deficiency means ‘even a horse…”

From this it is evident that the level of tshuva described in our parsha must follow upon “blessings,” because only after suffering the loss of blessings do some people come to the proper level of tshuva.

As we enter Rosh Hashana, we are in a situation comparable to that of the Jews prior to entering the land of Israel.  We have all received blessings in our lives, on the condition that we “listen to HIm.”  If we do so, then we are guaranteed that the blessing will remain a blessing and not become something else…

For a longer more detailed version, go to

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 14, page 118-121

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