Contributed by: R. Ezra Mizrahi
The parasha of the week, Ki Tavo, speaks of the missvah of Bikourim, the bringing of the first fruits produced in Israel to the Kohen. The parasha then turns to a ceremony of blessings and curses that will take place when the nation of Yisrael enter the land of Israel. Half the tribes will be perched on one mountain, while the other half will be perched on another mountain. The blessings will be recited by the Leviim on one mountain and the curses on the other mountain.
The Torah then records these blessings and curses, and we are privy to reading the most beautiful yet disturbing verses in the entire Torah:
"You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed." (Deuteronomy, 28:3-5)
Yet on the other side we read,
"Your sons and daughters will be given to another nation, and you will wear out your eyes watching for them day after day, powerless to lift a hand. A people that you do not know will eat what your land and labor produce, and you will have nothing but cruel oppression all your days. The sights you see will drive you mad." (Deuteronomy, 28:32-34)
"Because of the suffering that your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters Hashem your God has given you." (Deuteronomy, 28:53)
There is a verse in the curses section of the parasha, which seems strange: "Hashem will send you back in ships to Egypt on a journey I said you should never make again." (ibid, 68)
Why does the verse stress that Hashem will return Bnei Yisrael to Egypt in ships specifically? Why provide this seemingly insignificant detail?
The Rabbis tell us that specifying this detail connotes a more potent curse. Had the verse simply stated that Hashem would return Bnei Yisrael to Egypt, and not define by what means, we would assume that Bnei Yisrael would walk back to Egypt (the same way they left). If that is the case, the curse would only be targeting full grown men who actually would be able to make the trip. Now that the verse tells us that Bnei Yisrael would return in ships, the curse includes women, children, and the elderly.
The Hatam Sofer explains that returning in ships is an added insult to injury, to highlight the opposite of how Bnei Yisrael left Egypt, with the splitting of Yam Souf.
However, we can postulate a new reason for why the verse stresses "in ships." In the same vein as the Rabbis mentioned above have stated, stating "in ships" was meant to strengthen the curse. The only other time that the Hebrew word "oniya" or "ship" occurs in Torah is in the book of Genesis:
" Zevouloun will live by the seashore and become a haven for ships; his border will extend toward Sidon." (Genesis, 49:13)
Here Yaacob Avinou blesses his son Zevouloun, whose inheritance in Israel will be by the shore. Heavy traffic of ships will pass through this port, providing Zevouloun with a great source of blessing. The Torah here, in parashat Ki Tavo, is using a key word to express the horrific extent of the curses if we do not follow the way of Hashem. The ships of plenty will turn into ships of Jewish slaves. The very source of pleasure will turn into a source of severe pain and suffering.
With Hashem's help and constant growth in Torah with our Rabbanim, we will merit the blessings of this very parasha in an exponential fashion, while at the same time distancing ourselves from the curses of the parasha indefinitely.