Monday, September 03, 2007

Ki Tavo 2 - Baruch atah b'vo'echa

Two of the berachos stated by Moshe in P' Ki Tavo as a result of our following the mitzvos are "Baruch atah b'vo'echa u-varuch atah b'tzeisecha" - "Blessed are you when you come, and blessed are you when you go". Rashi explains this passuk as per the drasha of Rabbi Yochanan on Bava Metzia 107a - Just like your entrance to the world is without sin (lit., b'lo chait), so, too, should your departure from the world be without sin. The Sifsei Chachamim states that Rashi chose this drasha rather than a more literal explanation of the passuk such as he accepts for the previous three pesukim due to the question that could be asked regarding why coming is listed before going, being that the normal sequence of events is to go forth from one's house and only then to come home.

However, if we understand the bracha in this way, it does not seem to fit the context. How is leaving the world without sin a "blessing" that results from doing the mitzvos? It seems, instead, to be a reality, in that if one spends one's time doing the mitzvos, then one will not have been spending time doing aveiros. Secondly, all of the other blessing clauses of this section are self-contained; how can Baruch Atah B'vo'echa, therefore, be used as merely as a basis of comparison, rather than as a blessing? Finally, how can we understand the first clause of the parallel passuk in the curses "Arur atah b'vo'echa v'arur atah b'tzeisecha"? One does not enter the world with sins!

To answer the first question, perhaps one can say that "b'lo cheit" does not mean without sin, as is usually the case, but rather means without deficiency, or without deviation from a target (see I Melachim 1:21 and Shoftim 20:16 for examples of these usages). Hence, just like the blessed one entered the world as a complete human being with no injuries, so, too, will the blessed one leave the world free of all injury. Alternatively, just like the blessed one smoothly passed through the birth canal into the hands of those assisting the mother, so, too, will the blessed one smoothly leave the world via a painless form of death directly into the next world (This latter explanation is based on the mechanical reality that if an object passing through a passage is directed precisely, it will not excessively rub against the walls which would cause frictional loss of energy and/or damage, while one that is not aimed precisely but rather veers against the wall will be adversely affected by the resulting friction).

The first clause of the bracha passuk can be viewed as a blessing, in addition to its use as a basis for comparison. Perhaps a childbirth without deficiency or without excessive friction is one of the blessings granted to the previous generation, so that the subject of this set of blessings is the community, parents and offspring, rather than to an individual. Indeed, many children are unfortunately born deficient, while complications in childbirth can cause considerably more friction, thereby illustrating the need for such a blessing. Conversely, almost all children are born deficient in some ways that are only rectified through the process of maturation (e.g., teeth, hair, foramen ovale) and the natural process of childbirth is, indeed, exceptionally frictional, thereby providing a basis for the comparison of a deficient or painful death. Hence, the drasha also works for the two clauses of the curse passuk.

The opposing opinion to Rabbi Yochanan's is that of Rav, who expounds, "Blessed are you that you will come home from a journey and find your wife not in a situation of safeik nida, and blessed are you that your offspring will be like you" (The Mesoras HaShas directs us to the blessing that Rabbi Yitzchak gave to Rav Nachman on Ta'anis 6a which uses similar wording). It seems that one could propound an even more parallel drash than that stated by Rav, in that bi'ah could also be the conjugal act itself, in that it should occur in a blessed manner, rather than merely the returning home for the act, but perhaps Rav did not want to refer directly to the act of conjugal relations in his drash. Rabbi Yochanan (and Rashi) may have rejected this drash because the bi'ah and yetziah thus referred to by the passuk would end up being non-parallel.

Targum Yonasan expounds, "Blessed are you when you enter the Beis HaMedrash and blessed are you when you go forth to do business; accursed are you when you enter theatres and circuses and accursed are you when you go forth to do business". Rav and Rabbi Yochanan may not learn in this fashion because the bi'ah itself is not a blessing or curse, but rather is merely the cause of the blessing or curse.



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