Moses’ Blessings & Curses in Torah
The call of G-d, Blessed be He, to Abram in Genesis 12 began a theme that will run through Tanakh regarding the relationships between Jews, their promised Land of Israel, and other nations. These three are clashing today – as we see daily in news headlines. But the Tanakh can aid us in understanding the root of what is happening.
Moses’ fifth book in the Torah, Deuteronomy, contains his last proclamations given just before he died. These were his Blessings to the people of Israel – but also his Curses. Moses wrote that these Blessings and Curses would shape Jewish history and should be reflected on, not just by the Jews, but also by all other nations. The complete Blessings and Curses are here. We reflect on the major points below.
The Blessings of Moses
Moses began by describing the blessings that Israelites would receive if they obeyed The Law – the commands in the Torah. The blessings were from G-d, blessed be He, and would be so great that all other nations would recognize His blessing. The outcome of these blessings would impact other nations such that:
Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you.
… and the Curses
However, if the Israelites failed to obey the Commands then they would receive Curses that would be opposite from the Blessings. These Curses would be seen by the surrounding nations so that:
You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the LORD will drive you.
And the Curses would extend through history.
They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever.
But G-d warned that the worst part of the Curses would come from other nations.
The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed … until you are ruined. They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land.
It would go from bad to worse.
You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. … Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart.
These Blessings and Curses were established by a covenant (an agreement) between G-d, blessed be He, and the Israelites:
…to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am making this covenant, with its oath … also with those who are not here today.
So this covenant of Blessings and Curses, would be binding on the children, or future generations – Jews through history. But the covenant would even be something for the other nations to reflect on.
Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the LORD has afflicted it. … nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. … All the nations will ask: “Why has the LORD done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”
And the answer will be:
“It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt….Therefore the LORD’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. … the LORD uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.”
The Conclusion to Moses’ Blessings and Curses
But this final prophecy of Moses did not end with Curses. It continued. Here is the conclusion to what Moses predicted.
When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors
After Moses, successive prophets of the Tanakh continued with this promise first stated here – that there would be a restoration and re-gathering after the Curses. These later prophets made bold, troubling and detailed predictions which we look at later.
Did The Blessings & Curses happen?
The Blessings were delightful, but the Curses were utterly destructive. Jews through history have themselves sometimes been anti-Semitic (ex. Karl Marx). Other Jews, even today, view Zionism negatively. But here Moses, even as he states terrible Curses, does not carry an anti-semitic or anti-zion tone. He concludes with the promise of Zionism – that the Jews in his distant future, will be re-gathered and restored to the land of Israel. Yet at the same time he is brutally honest about the failures and difficult future awaiting the Jewish people. This same straight honesty in criticism of the Israelites will re-appear in the pens of later prophets in the Tanakh. They criticize, condemn and lay bare the failures of the Jewish people. But they do so as fellow Jews, writing with holy zeal to warn and protect their own people. They will write in the name of G-d, blessed be He, and this will outweigh any desire they may have had to hide the sins or conceal coming tragedies that the Jews will experience.
Since these prophecies were given in the name of the G-d of Israel, blessed be He, the most important question we can ask is: ‘Did they happen?’ The Tanakh contains extensive records of Israelite history and many Jews have also recorded histories. The land of Israel also has a rich archaeology. All of these sources paint a consistent picture of the Jewish history. A summary of this history is given here.
When you compare the predictions of Moses with Jewish/Israelite history, it is clear that his predictions came true – and we are witnessing them still in our modern era. Though questions remain unanswered, this should cause us to openly consider that there is a G-d who has guided Jewish history. If this is so, then current events, and future Israeli destiny, murky as it may seem to us, will be guided also by this same G-d. That may bring us comfort, or strike fear into our hearts. But it would be foolish to ignore what the later prophets of the Tanakh prophesied about the Jews, their land, and other nations – in the name of this same G-d, blessed be He, who seemingly can control the destiny of His people.