Geography, Polemics, and Parshanut
Many of the sites named in Tanakh cannot be located with certainty, and even the locations of places which are well known have been debated. Mt. Eival and Mt. Gerizim are a case in point. While R. Yehuda (and many others) suggest that they are in the vicinity of Shekhem, R. Eliezer claims that they are near Gilgal, close to the Jordan River. What motivates each side of the debate?
- What in the description of the mountain's location in Devarim 11 would support each position?
- If the mountains really were in the middle of the country, how could the nation be expected to arrange the ceremony "on the day that you cross the Jordan". Would that not involve passing through as of yet unconquered enemy territory?
- What was the purpose of the ceremony held on the mountains? Which location would best help achieve this goal?
- Finally, a polemical factor might also play a role in the discussion. Since the Samaritans sanctify Mt. Gerizim of Shekhem, setting a totally different geographical location for the mountain rids their claims of all validity. Does the fact that an approach is polemically motivated make it less valid or intellectually rigorous than one which is influenced by the text alone?
See When Did the Ceremony on Mt. Eival Occur for elaboration.
Why do the Righteous Suffer?
Much of Parashat Ki Tavo is devoted to listing the blessings to befall those who observe the commandments and the curses which will plague non-observers. Based on the promises, the righteous should be living their lives in peace and prosperity while the wicked suffer. Unfortunately, though, life does not seem to always play out that way. Why does it so often appear as if Hashem is not keeping His promises?
- Some commentators claim that despite our perceptions to the contrary, justice really is meted out in this world. We perceive injustice only because we don't always see the full picture. Thus, what we assume is a reward might actually be detrimental, and what we view as punishment might be beneficial. Similarly, people who we label as righteous might not be so and vice versa. Do you find this approach satisfying? Why or why not?
- Others claim that it is only in the next world that people receive their full compensation. Since this world is mostly run by natural order, people can become victims of chance, or be included with the collective even when undeserving. Is it fair to delay retribution to the next world? Do the blessings and curses described in our Parashah support the possibility that they are referring to the World to Come? Where does the concept of individual providence play into a world run by natural order? For more, see Theodicy – צדיק ורע לו.