The question is asked: why, in this week’s Parshat Ki Tavo, do we read the Tochechah (curse we may get if we don’t observe the mitzvot) quietly, in a low voice? It seems that we do so in order to hush it up – sort of “shove it under the rug”. That seems wrong! Why was such a minhag promulgated? Shouldn’t we read these warnings aloud, so that we hear and understand and accept the ”warning”?
Answer: Many communities have the custom to read the tochecha (curses) quietly as to “not open our mouth” to bring negative things. We believe in the power of speech, to add positive and good feelings in life, and not, chas v’shalom, the opposite. Just like we don’t say to anyone, “you may die of cancer”, so as to stay positive and stress the goodness (see Ktuvot 8b). On the other hand, we are not naïve and must face up to the fact that reward and punishment are part (not all!) of life. So we compromise, and don’t skip that which we don’t like, yet many read it in a lower voice.
I’ll just add a related true story – I personally know an eye witness, R. Shlomo Riskin, who was there – that took place in the shul of the Sanz-Klausenberg Rebbe, in Brooklyn, in Parshat Ki Tavo 5702 (1952). That Shabbat, just seven years after the Holocaust, in which the rebbe’s wife and thirteen children had been murdered, when the Torah reader began reading the Tochecha quietly, the rebbe whispered to him to read louder. The reader stopped, apparently wondering if he had heard the rebbe correctly, and out of doubt decided that he must be mistaken and continued reading quietly, as is the custom. The rebbe than turned around to face the congregation, banged on the table and shouted: “I said: louder! Let the Master of the Universe hear! We have nothing to be afraid of. We have already received all of the curses – and more! Let the Almighty hear, and let Him understand that to the contrary, the time has come to send the blessings!” The ba’al koreh began to read the tochecha loudly and clearly.
At the end of musaf, the rebbe once again turned to his congregation, but this time with great love and sensitivity. “My beloved sisters and brothers, the blessings will come, but not from America. G-d has promised the blessings after the curses, but they will only come from the Land of Israel (Tehilim 133, 3 and Devarim 30). Let us pack our bags for the last time. Our community is setting out for Eretz Yisrael!”
Indeed, soon afterwards, the rebbe led his flock to settle in Netanya, where they founded Kiryat Zanz and the famous Laniado hospital!
May all of us learn from their shining example and help bring the blessings by joining Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael forever!
With Love of Israel,
Rav Ari Shvat