A large portion of this week's parsha is dedicated to the tochacha (chastisement). Ninety-eight curses in all are spelled out for those who fail to abide by Hashem's commandments. It is scary to read it and even scarier to know that these prophecies all came true when the curses materialized into a reality during the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdosh (see Ramban to Vayikra 26:16). The severity of middas ha'din is overwhelming and one must stop and ask, "What could possibly be the reason behind all these calamities?"
Rav Wolbe (Daas Shlomo) explains that the world was created with an option for wickedness and iniquity. Our goal is to remain righteous despite the many challenges, temptations and enticements offered by the various evil forces present in the world. When one strays from the proper course, the purpose of middas ha'din is to alert the transgressor that he has veered from the beaten path.
Dovid Hamelech declared, "The judgments of Hashem are true, altogether righteous" (Tehillim 19:10). Rav Wolbe explains that just as this declaration refers to the rulings and penalties found in the Torah, it applies as well to Hashem's judgments manifested through middas ha'din. The numerous persecutions and expulsions which the Jewish People have suffered over the past two and half millennia are actually the very secret of their survival (Rashi to Devarim 29:12).
Rav Wolbe related a most astounding conversation he once had. He was talking to man who was in Auschwitz and worked near the gas chambers for two years. This man had the terrible misfortune of witnessing complete transports of Jews being led to their deaths. He related that many of the Jews barely even knew that they were Jewish but every single Jew,without exception, cried out at the last second, "Shema Yisrael!" Jews who, had their lives continued peacefully, would have had no chance of earning a proper portion in the next world, due to middas ha'din earned themselves a ticket to Olam Habba in their last moments of life! While it does not explain all the atrocities that occurred, it gives us a whole new outlook on middas ha'din. It drives home the reality that we have no way of comprehending the depth of Heavenly calculations.
Although middas ha'din also strikes the other nations of the world, there is a fundamental difference between their punishments and the punishments meted out to the Jewish Nation. Other nations suffer from middas ha'din only after the fact. When they have already failed their purpose in creation and lost their right of survival, Hashem metes out a punishment that obliterates them from the face of the earth. In contrast, the Jewish Nation is castigated and disciplined before things get too out of hand. The result is that we are punished more than once, but this suffering is the key to our continuity.
The Yomim Ha'Noraim were given to us to prompt us to evaluate if we have veered from the proper path and enable us to straighten ourselves out should the need arise. This yearly occasion prevents the buildup of sin and enables us to start each year with a clean slate. Take a moment to review the various manifestations of middas ha'din this past year: the Har Nof massacre, the Sasson Family tragedy, the Arab hostilities worldwide to mention a few. These jolts might very well have been sent to prompt us to improve our davening, Shabbos observance or our relationships bein adom l'chaveiro.
Chazal tell us (Megillah 31b) that we read the curses in parshas Ki Savo before Rosh Hashana so that "the year and all its curses should end." Our heartfelt tefillah to Hashem is to please put an end to the tragedies - but allow their message to remain. We have an opportunity to clear the slate and start anew. Let us grab the opportunity and run with it before these holy days are behind us!