Fear can be a powerful motivator. As parents, we often use the fear of punishment to teach our children how to behave. In school, kids know that if they do the wrong thing, they'll get a detention. We all know that if we drive too fast or run a red light, we'll face a hefty fine. Fear can be compelling.
This week, Moshe leans into this educational philosophy. We have a (very) long list of curses that will happen to us should we not keep the Torah properly. Our rabbis tell us that the list was so impressive and terrifying that the Jews went pale and couldn't stand after hearing it. To forestall this impact, Moshe immediately told them not to worry, for even if Hashem threatened them with harsh punishments, nothing like that had happened so far, and it probably wouldn't. However, as my friend Rabbi Avarahm Stav points out, this begs the question of why issue such harsh warnings in the first place.
He answers that it is essential that we hear the intense list of potential punishments right before Rosh HaShana. We need to be aware of the consequences of our actions. And it's also crucial that we be able to put those punishments behind us. As the Rabbi's tell us in Massechet Megillah: "Let the year end with its curses." It is essential to start on a sound footing so that the coming year can be successful. This dichotomy lies at the heart of how we experience consequences. In that spirit, let's all pay attention in Shule this week as the curses are read, and then let's focus on putting them behind us and preparing for the best new year possible.