Blessings and Curses – Over Which Commandments?


Mt. Sinai vs. Ohel Moed

Prior to the building of the Tabernacle, most if not all commandments were conveyed to Moshe on Mt. Sinai.  However, following the construction of the Tabernacle described at the end of Sefer Shemot, the locus of Divine revelation naturally shifted to the Holy of Holies.1  Thus, Sefer Vayikra opens with Hashem speaking to Moshe from the Tent of Meeting ("אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד"):


וַיִּקְרָא אֶל מֹשֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר י"י אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר.

And the Lord called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the tent of meeting, saying:

Perplexingly, however, subsequent units of Sefer Vayikra appear to oscillate back and forth between Mt. Sinai and the Tent of Meeting.  Thus, the unit of Vayikra 6-7 concludes2:


(לז) זֹאת הַתּוֹרָה לָעֹלָה לַמִּנְחָה וְלַחַטָּאת וְלָאָשָׁם וְלַמִּלּוּאִים וּלְזֶבַח הַשְּׁלָמִים. (לח) אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה י"י אֶת מֹשֶׁה בְּהַר סִינָי בְּיוֹם צַוֺּתוֹ אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְהַקְרִיב אֶת קׇרְבְּנֵיהֶם לַי"י בְּמִדְבַּר סִינָי.

(37) This is the law of the burnt-offering, of the meal-offering, and of the sin-offering, and of the guilt-offering, and of the consecration-offering, and of the sacrifice of peace-offerings;
(38) which the Lord commanded Moses in mount Sinai, in the day that he commanded the children of Israel to present their offerings unto the Lord, in the wilderness of Sinai.

And while the laws transmitted in the bulk of Sefer Vayikra (Chapters 10-24) were likely transmitted from the Mishkan,3 the heading of the laws of Shemittah and Yovel in Chapter 25 reverts once again to Mt. Sinai:


וַיְדַבֵּר י"י אֶל מֹשֶׁה בְּהַר סִינַי לֵאמֹר.

And the Lord spoke unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying:

How should we understand this shifting back and forth between Mt. Sinai and the Ohel Moed?4

Conclusion of Which Unit?

Toward the end of Sefer Vayikra, Chapter 26 presents lengthy lists of blessings and curses which will befall the Children of Israel, depending on whether or not they observe Hashem's commandments.


(ג) אִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ וְאֶת מִצְוֺתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם. (ד) וְנָתַתִּי גִשְׁמֵיכֶם בְּעִתָּם וְנָתְנָה הָאָרֶץ יְבוּלָהּ וְעֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה יִתֵּן פִּרְיוֹ...

(יד) וְאִם לֹא תִשְׁמְעוּ לִי וְלֹא תַעֲשׂוּ אֵת כׇּל הַמִּצְוֺת הָאֵלֶּה. (טו) וְאִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי תִּמְאָסוּ וְאִם אֶת מִשְׁפָּטַי תִּגְעַל נַפְשְׁכֶם לְבִלְתִּי עֲשׂוֹת אֶת כׇּל מִצְוֺתַי לְהַפְרְכֶם אֶת בְּרִיתִי. (טז) אַף אֲנִי אֶעֱשֶׂה זֹּאת לָכֶם...

(3) If you walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them; (4) then I will give your rains in their season, and the land shall yield her produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit...
(14) But if you will not hearken unto Me, and will not do all these commandments; (15) and if ye shall reject My statutes, and if your soul abhor Mine ordinances, so that you will not do all My commandments, but break My covenant; (16) I also will do this unto you...

These verses speak of the observance of "כׇּל הַמִּצְוֺת" and might appear to refer to all of the commandments given in the Torah until this point.  However, the concluding verse of this chapter appears to limit the scope to only the commandments given on Mt. Sinai:


(מו) אֵלֶּה הַחֻקִּים וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִים וְהַתּוֹרֹת אֲשֶׁר נָתַן י"י בֵּינוֹ וּבֵין בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּהַר סִינַי בְּיַד מֹשֶׁה.

(46) These are the statutes and ordinances and laws, which the Lord made between Him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses.

Do the summation and the blessings and curses which precede it relate to only the commandments given on Mt. Sinai or also to the commandments given from Ohel Moed?  If Mt. Sinai, does it refer to the mitzvot given there in Sefer Shemot, Sefer Vayikra, or both?  Additionally, what is the distinction between the various categories of "הַחֻקִּים",‎ "וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִים",‎ and "וְהַתּוֹרֹת", and which precepts are included in each?

Relationship to the Covenants of Shemot 24 and Devarim 28

The blessings and curses of Vayikra 26 are not the only time the Torah speaks of a commitment to observe Torah laws and lists the rewards and punishment that are to result from observance or violation.  In particular, it is instructive to examine its relationship to two other texts in which a covenant is made over observance of the commandments:

  • Shemot 24 – In Shemot 24, a covenant is enacted in which the people declare their intent to observe Hashem's commandments.  Is this ceremony related to the blessings and curses in Vayikra 26?  If not, how long passed between the two?  Do they refer to the same or different sets of laws?  Finally, why does Shemot 24 seal the agreement with a covenant and Vayikra 26 with blessings and curses?   
  • Devarim 28Devarim 28, like Vayikra 26, contains an entire series of blessings and curses for observance or lack thereof. In Devarim 28, it is somewhat explicit that the chapter speaks of observance of the laws of the entire Torah.  What light might this shed on the scope of the mitzvot referred to in Vayikra 26?  Additionally, the summation of Devarim 28:69, "אֵלֶּה דִבְרֵי הַבְּרִית", refers to a covenant, while Vayikra 26:46 concludes with the words "אֵלֶּה הַחֻקִּים וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִים וְהַתּוֹרֹת" and makes no mention of a covenant.  Are Vayikra 26 and Devarim 28 parallel ceremonies or of completely different character from each other?5