David Walk

The Upright

This week’s Torah reading is famous for its blessings and curses. Blessings for ‘walking in My rules’; curses if you ‘reject My laws and spurn My rules’. There is a common concern that the catalog of curses appears to outweigh the brief of blessings. This anxiety that God’s justice outweighs Divine compassion is buttressed by the fact that there are eleven verses of blessings and 32 verses of curses. Does the mere volume tell the whole story?

Of course not! Rabbeinu Bechaue points out:

A Midrash warns us not to say that God did not offer many verses of blessings but instead devoted many verses to the list of curses and that this reflects on the preponderance of the attribute of Justice. We should note instead that the list of blessings commences with the letter ALEPH and concludes with the letter TAV, i.e. the blessings cover all the letters of the aleph bet, whereas by contrast the curses begin with the letter VAV and conclude with the letter HEY, as if to show that they go in reverse order and do not even cover one single whole letter of the aleph bet. It is not the number of verses which is the relative strength of the attribute of Mercy and the attribute of Justice but the order in which these letters are arranged,the attribute of Mercy is far greater.

The power of the Blessings is in the content and structure, not the mere amount. Other authorities point out that the potency of the Blessings comes from the vigor of our imagination. The goodness isn’t described in detail, because we want everyone to dream the nature of the rewards in our own minds. The punishments are described in detail, because they aren’t the stuff of our dreams. They are the prose of punishment. The blessings are the infinite poetry of everyone’s sublime fantasies. We see evil as limited; God’s bounty is infinite.

However, there is one unique term in the blessings which I believe opens an entire universe of ideas. That term is KOMEMIYUT. This word appears nowhere else in TANACH. That makes it hard to translate exactly.

That’s why we find so many attempts to translate it: make you go upright, with heads held high, to live in freedom, make you stand up straight, let you walk proudly, make you walk with your faces uplifted, so that you can walk with dignity, make you walk straight, make you walk erect.

Robert Alter powerfully describes the term in the context of the verse to deliver a compelling metaphor: ‘I broke the bars of your yoke, and made you walk upright’-the two bars of the yoke connecting to the crossbar are broken and enslaved Israel, forced to go about pulling heavy burdens on all four like a beast, can now stand up straight.

God has returned our humanity to us. Anti-Semites have dehumanized us throughout the ages. The blessing is that our return to Eretz Yisrael will undo millennia of degradation.

But what is this KOMEMIYUT? Many Israelis call the 1948 War of Independence, MILCHEMET HAKOMEMIYUT. There are a number of answers to this question. Rav Solveitchik explained:

Fourth, the Beloved knocks in the heart of the youth which is assimilated and perplexed. ‎The ‎period of hester panim in the 1940’s brought confusion among the Jewish masses ‎and ‎especially Jewish youth. Assimilation increased, and the urge to flee from Judaism and the ‎Jewish ‎people reached its apex. Fear, despair, and ignorance caused many to forsake the ‎Jewish ‎community… A seemingly unstoppable tidal wave ‎stood over ‎us and threatened to destroy us. Suddenly, the Beloved began to beckon to the hearts ‎of the ‎perplexed, and His beckoning, the establishment of the State of Israel, at least slowed the ‎process ‎of flight. Many who were once alienated are now bound to the Jewish State with ties of ‎pride in its ‎mighty accomplishments…(Kol Dodi Dofek).

Jewish Pride became a Thing. That’s KOMEMIYUT!

Reb Aharon Lichtenstein wrote similarly:

Unquestionably, the movement to return to Zion has brought about physical salvation for many Jews; no less important has been its restoring their pride. Jews who were subject to persecution have now reclaimed their dignity.  The State of Israel imbued Jews everywhere with an “upright stature”. 

But I think my favorite is the explanation of Rav Ari Kahn: The blessing of komemiyut, can be understood from the previous verse:

And I will walk among you, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. This is an incredible combination: God will walk with us, manifest, like a friend. We will appreciate the vastness which separates us from God, yet feel close. We are then able to hold our heads high, yet not be arrogant…The last exile lasted longer than any other. From this exile we have now begun to emerge – hopefully, with heads raised high, not due to an exaggerated self- worth, but because we know it is God who has chosen to take us along this historic path. This time, we will not hide, nor will we deceive ourselves. The pendulum has begun to swing back, and the blessings have begun to pick up momentum. We will walk this Land together with God.

We’re living through a very difficult episode in our rebuilding of the Holy Land. We can’t allow the events of October 7 and their aftermath to loosen our commitment to Medinat Yisrael. Even people walking KOMEMIYUT can feel tragedy and loss. It’s how we react to these difficulties which defines our KOMEMIYUT.

There are always descendants of Amalek whose life’s purpose is to drag us down and place us in chains. They accuse us of the most heinous crimes. We must remain committed to KOMEMIYUT, and continue to stand tall.

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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