At the end of this week’s Torah portion of Ki Savo, following the blessings and curses, Moshe makes an astonishing statement at the beginning of his final address to the Jewish people: “Moshe summoned all of Israel and said to them, ‘You have seen everything that Hashem did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land. The great trials that your eyes beheld, those great signs and wonders. But Hashem did not give you a heart to know, or eyes to see, or ears to hear until this day. I lead you for forty years in the Wilderness, your garments did not wear out from on you, and your shoe did not wear out from on your foot. Bread you did not eat and wine or intoxicants you did not drink, so that you will know that I am Hashem your G-D. Then you arrived at this place, and Sihon, king of Cheshbon, and Og, king of Bashan, went out toward us to battle, and we smite them” (Devarim 29:1-6).
What does it mean that “Hashem did not give you a heart to know… until this day?” Didn’t Hashem directly give them the Torah on Har Sinai 40 years before? He also gave them the greatest prophet, leader, and teacher in history, Moshe Rabbeinu, to help them through all the details and intricacies of the Torah. He had taught them how to observe the Torah for the past 40 years, as well as to transmit the Torah to the next generation. So why only now, on the last day of his life, is Moshe saying “Hashem did not give you a heart to know etc. until this day?”
The Sforno has a fascinating take on this issue. On pesukim 3 and 4 he explains, “‘But Hashem has not given you a heart to know.’ Even though He, the Exalted One, attempted through His teachings and wonders to give you a heart to know, as it says ‘That you may tell… that you may know that I am Hashem’ (Shemos 10:2), nonetheless this intended goal was not realized because of your bitterness. ‘And I led you.’ However, after you have seen the many kindnesses done on your behalf in the wilderness that you might know, and now that He brought you to the land of Sihon and Og where you have an inheritance in the land so that you can now establish in them the intended purpose of your settlement, it is proper that from now on you should apply your heart to know.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
It would seem according to the Sforno that Hashem did His part to give them the ability and tools to know in their heart how to observe His will; but because of their bitterness they could not accept it until now. But how could that be true? They saw tremendous miracles like the ten plagues in Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea, which Chazal attest that even the maidservants were on such high level of prophesy equal to Yechezkel ben Buzzi. Indeed, then they experienced the revelation at Sinai when the entire Jewish people in unison accepted the Torah directly from Hashem. How is it possible to say they didn’t have a heart to know until today; especially since they were learning and observing the Torah for the past 40 years in the desert?
We must say that the level of commitment that Hashem was expecting was not achieved until that day when they were placed in a situation that they would start inheriting the land destined for them to acquire, and have the ability to observe all the mitzvos, including those dependent on the land.
But the Sforno says this was only actualized after 40 years of kindness that Hashem showered on them. Without that kindness, the bitterness which impeded on their complete commitment would have stopped them from having the level of a knowing heart Hashem was expecting of them. And it wasn’t just one kindness that
resolved the bitterness in their heart, it took 40 years of kindness to dissolve that bitterness, a show of love and commitment on the part of Hashem. Only then were they fully ready to commit themselves to following the ways of Hashem and passing it on to the next generation.
There are times when a person wants to send a message or get through to someone else, wants to help them do the right thing and convince them of the right path, but with all their proofs and logic, and even displays of power and reliance, it might not be enough if the other individual has some psychological blockage that impedes him from changing his ways and following your direction, even if you are correct. However, we see from Hashem that by showing you care and are committed to the individual by being kind to him or her, not just once but on a consistent basis, then that can remove the blockage and they will start listening to you and commit to changing their ways and lifestyle, because now they see you really care about their wellbeing.
Showing commitment through kindness is a mean to get through to someone on an emotional level even if you have all the proof and logic that you are correct on an intellectual level.