Torah Readings for Saturday, September 5, 2015
Ki Tavo (When you enter)26:1-29:6 Devarim (Deuteronomy)
Ki Tavo is the seventh sedrah in the book of Devarim or Deuteronomy. The sedrah takes its name from the second and third Hebrew words in the first sentence of the reading. “And it will be when you enter (Ki Tavo) the Land that the Lord, your God, gives you as an inheritance.…” Ki Tavo stands in stark contrast with the previous three sidrot. The torrent of laws slows to a trickle, with a mere half dozen. At one level the sedrah reads as a re-affirmation of the covenant made at Sinai. Now Moshe shifts to the consequences of obeying and disobeying the commandments. The sedrah divides into the following four parts:
Rituals To Be Performed in the Promised Land (26:1-15). Moshe provides the formulary to be followed at harvest time and when tithing.
Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal (27:1-26). Moshe describes the ritual that will be performed once the people have crossed the
. It will provide a concrete reminder of the
consequences of choosing to obey or disobey the commandments. The tribes will stand on the slopes of these
two mountains and hear the blessings and the curses. Jordan
The Blessings and The Curses (28:1-68). The first fourteen verses include a compilation of the Blessings that will come to the people for obeying the law. The balance of the chapter includes the Curses, or in Hebrew, the Tokhehah (Rebukes), which will befall the people for disobeying the commandments.
Reaffirmation of the Covenant (28:69-29:8). The tradition is to avoid ending on a negative note. So the sedrah continues with a reaffirmation of the covenant that was originally made at Sinai.
606. The obligation to recite a specific prayer upon bringing one’s first fruits to the sanctuary (26:1-10).
607. The obligation to make a certain declaration when the portions and tithes are paid (26:12-15).
608. The prohibition against eating the Second Tithe while in mourning (26:12-15).
609. The prohibition against eating the Second Tithe while ritually unclean (26:12-15).
610. The prohibition against spending any money exchanged for the Second Tithe on anything other than food and drink (26:12-15).
611. The commandment to emulate God’s behavior by walking in His ways (28:9).
Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin with edits by this author.
ElulDevarim continues to reinforce and set the stage for the penitential period that reaches its crescendo with the Days of Awe. As your read the portion on the Blessings and the Curses listen and you may hear echoes of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayer “who shall live and who shall die…who shall perish by fire and who by water…who shall rest and who shall wander….”
The Importance of the Promised Land and the Pain of ExileWe are commanded to bring the offerings to a central place once we have entered the Promised Land. But the Torah does not mention
The commands concerning the offerings of the first fruits represent one of the few times that the Torah actually contains the specific wording for a prayer. Many of you will recognize part of the formulation from the narrative in the Haggadah. Why do we make the recitation of Jacob’s experience with Laban and Jacob’s childrens’ experience with the Egyptians a part of the blessing we utter when we bring our first fruits to the Temple? According to Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, both of these episodes represented attempts to wipe the Israelites from the face of the earth. Both of these episodes took place outside of the Promised Land in areas where we settled with a certain degree of comfort. But these other places were neither our land nor our proper place of abode. The offering of the first fruit could only be brought once we were settled in our own land. In other words, we are thanking God not just for the fruits but for having brought us to the place where we could flourish both materially and spiritually.
The first fourteen verses of Chapter 28 are the Blessings. If you view Moshe’s speech as prophecy, then the rest of the chapter is best described as the Admonitions and not just the Curses. These are the rewards and the punishments for following and not following the commandments. The Blessings are tied to being in the Land. The Curses are tied to being in exile. In other words, Jews are best able to find physical safety and spiritual fulfillment when we are settled in our own land following the commandments. If you follow this logic, it is not enough for each person to observe the commandments. Everybody, the entire community, has to observe them. That is why there are so many admonitions about helping others to observe the commandments and about avoiding inappropriate secret behavior. In other words, what modern man calls Salvation is both a personal and a national experience. This is not intended as an argument for Zionism or making Aliyah. Devarim predated them both. While many of the early Zionists saw themselves as secularists, their beliefs were deeply rooted in our religious heritage. There are those who contend that Chapter 28 was written after the exile. This means the chapter is an attempt to explain the fate of the Israelites. Such an interpretation does not render this chapter valueless. Rather, it shows that the Jews had developed a unique view of history. The well-being of the people did not depend on caprice or whim. God was not, as Napoleon said, on the side of those with the biggest canons. Rather, national well-being was based on following a set of laws rooted in basic morality and social justice.
The Reason for Observing the CommandmentsWhy should we observe the commandments? This is one of those big philosophical questions that nag us all at some time or another. For once, the Torah provides us with a simple answer. We “observe and perform” because God tells us to do so (26:16). Of course, in the simplicity of the answer lies the complexity of the issue.
Observance of All the CommandmentsIf repetition signifies importance, then this must be a major concept. In 27:1 we find “Observe the entire commandment that I command you this day.” Again in 28:1 we read, “…to observe, to perform all of His commandments.…” The theme is repeated again in 28:9 and 28:45. According to some commentators, these and similar admonitions are not about breaking the commandments, but about rejecting one or more of them. There is a big difference between violation and nullification. The admonition to observe the entire commandment has produced many of the major commentaries created throughout Jewish history. In some cases, the text of the Torah is so spare that it is left to the sages to create the manner of observance. The best known examples are the commandments found in the three paragraphs of the Shema which gave rise to the mezuzah, the talit, teffillin and the system of Jewish education. Then there is the challenge of finding ways to observe commandments that seem inoperative. One example of this is the commandments tied to the
The CovenantMoshe continues to remind us that the Israelites have entered into a covenant (26:16-19). There is a reciprocal relationship between God and the Israelites. Neither side is allowed to give up on the relationship, which is what makes it different from all other relationships.
MountainsOnce again we see high places playing an important cultic role. In this case they are Mt.
The AltarThe first altar built in the Promised Land is to be built with “unhewn stones” (27:6). The admonition not to use an “iron tool” (27:5) will be repeated when Solomon builds the
SilenceBefore talking to the people about the blessings and the curses, Moshe cries out “Hasket u-Shema, Yisrael” or “Silence! Hear, O
Customs and CeremoniesDr. Jeffrey Wolf, speaking in the name of Rabbi Solovetchik, offers the following. At the end of the Torah reading, when the scroll is raised and held wide-open for the congregation to see, we are re-enacting the ceremony that took place between the mountains. This serves as a reminder that the Torah is a living document, not some set of ancient utterances of only quaint historic value.
AmenIn Hebrew, the word Amen is spelled with three letters: “aleph, mem, nun.” According to some the Hebrew word Amen is an acronym taken from the Hebrew expression “El Melech Ne’Eman” which literally means “God, King, Who is Trustworthy” or figuratively, “God is a faithful King.” This three-word formulary is recited before saying the Shema when one is praying without a minyan. The word Amen can be a noun (faithfulness), an adjective (true or faithful) or an adverb (certainly or truly). As a general rule, Amen is recited after all blessings, but a person does not say Amen when he or she is reciting the blessing. Amen is also said after each verse of the Kaddish, but the reader does not say Amen. This is one of the reasons that Kaddish is said with a minyan i.e., to ensure that there are responders to say Amen. This week’s sedrah contains one of the fourteen examples of the Amen formulary found in the TaNaCh. Upon hearing the words of the Levites (27:16-26), the Israelites are commanded to respond by saying “Amen.” According to Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, when people say Amen, they are endorsing the words they have just heard. They are affirming their belief in the truth of what has just been said. “Where ‘Amen’ follows a petitionary blessing or a prayer of supplication, it also carries the meaning of ‘so may it be’…. Anyone who hears another recite a blessing is required to respond with ‘Amen’ upon its conclusion….” This admonition about responding “Amen” has become important because anybody who does not know a prayer, but hears it and responds with “Amen” is said to have fulfilled the obligation of saying the prayer.
Joy out of SadnessEven in sorrow we can learn how to enjoy. In the words of the Admonitions we read, “Because you have not served the Lord your God in joy and gladness.…” (28:47). Rabbi Moshe Pinchas Weisblum points out that the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism, used these words to encourage a joyful approach to life and the performance of the mitzvoth. He further points out that in the sixth chapter of the Tanya, Rabbi Zalman, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, states, “that not only are joyous feelings necessary for service but bad feelings and sadness will prevent us from appropriate service to God. Feelings of sadness lead to depression and reluctance to perform good deeds.” These sentiments are common throughout Jewish thought as can be seen in the teachings of the Chyda, Rabbi Cahim Dovid Azulie, who was a great leader among Sephardic Jewry. As we approach the Days of Awe, it is quite easy to become intimidated by our own shortcomings. The message here is that we have no right to our feelings of doom and gloom. In fact, these feelings are actually self-defeating and will keep us from reaching the level we wish to attain.
Healing the UniverseOne way of doing this is to elevate the mundane - to take the ordinary activities of life and infuse them with a sense of the spiritual. You can do this with the recitation of berachot (berachah - sing.) or in English, benediction. In this sedrah, the Israelites are not just commanded to make an offering of the first fruits of their harvest; they are commanded to make a specific blessing. There is nothing more mundane than digging in the dirt which is the basis for all agricultural endeavors. Yet by reciting a blessing, by praising God for His beneficence, we have taken the hot, sweaty, dirty business of producing a crop and made it into a holy activity. There are innumerable berachot tied to a multiplicity of daily activities. Depending upon the situation, the wording will be different, but the intent will be the same.
Ki Tavo and SelichotWhy is the sedrah of Ki Tavo read on the Saturday morning prior to the recitation of Selichot? One explanation is offered by Reb Shlomo of Radmosk in his book Tiferes Shlomo and it centers on the Tochachah or Rebukes. According to this tzaddik, even if the Jewish people were guilty of the transgressions described in those passages, by reading the Rebukes, the Divine Judge would consider that the Children of Israel had already suffered them and that any punishment which had not been meted out would be struck from the Divine Ledger. In part, he bases this conclusion on the earlier cited passage that if one has read about the sacrifice, it is as if one has performed the sacrifice.
No Prayer for a LoanA Jew came to a tzaddik and asked him to offer up a prayer that would help him gain a loan from a local non-Jewish noble. The tzaddik refused because he did not want to be party to having his co-religionist suffer a measure of the Rebukes found in Devarim 28:43, 44. “The stranger in your midst shall rise above you…he shall be your creditor, but you shall not be his.…”
Communal Responsibilities Care for the WeakOnce again we are reminded that in God’s eyes our own well-being is tied to how well we to take care of our communal obligations and the powerless. We are reminded to give “to the Levite” (community responsibility) “the stranger, the fatherless and that the widow.” Judaism does not believe there is a moral good in poverty and does not have a problem with the accumulation of wealth. The challenge is to use that wealth in a manner that meets the high standards of the Torah. This is especially significant at this time of the year when we all, regardless of our wealth and status, appear before the Heavenly Host begging for forgiveness and a sweet year.
So will the Lord cause to rejoice: (i.e., “so will He make) your enemies (rejoice) over you, to annihilate you.” (But the Holy One, Blessed is He, Himself, does not rejoice. From here, we learn that the Holy One, Blessed is He, does not rejoice over the downfall of the wicked, for in our verse it does not say יָשׂוּשׂ (in the simple conjugation), “rejoice,” but rather יָשִׂישׂ in the causative conjugation, “cause to rejoice.” i.e., God will make others rejoice over your downfall, because you acted wickedly, while He Himself will not personally rejoice over your downfall. Nevertheless, when it comes to bestowing good upon the righteous, God Himself rejoices, as it is said: “just as the Lord rejoiced (שָׂשׂ) over you (to do good for you,” where the verb שָׂשׂ is in the simple conjugation, for God Himself rejoices here)). - (Meg. 10b) So will the Lord cause to rejoice: (i.e., “so will He make) your enemies (rejoice) over you, to annihilate you.” (But the Holy One, Blessed is He, Himself, does not rejoice. From here, we learn that the Holy One, Blessed is He, does not rejoice over the downfall of the wicked, for in our verse it does not say יָשׂוּשׂ (in the simple conjugation), “rejoice,” but rather יָשִׂישׂ in the causative conjugation, “cause to rejoice.” i.e., God will make others rejoice over your downfall, because you acted wickedly, while He Himself will not personally rejoice over your downfall. Nevertheless, when it comes to bestowing good upon the righteous, God Himself rejoices, as it is said: “just as the Lord rejoiced (שָׂשׂ) over you (to do good for you,” where the verb שָׂשׂ is in the simple conjugation, for God Himself rejoices here)). - (Meg. 10b) So will the Lord cause to rejoice: (i.e., “so will He make) your enemies (rejoice) over you, to annihilate you.” ([But the Holy One, Blessed is He, Himself, does not rejoice. From here, we learn that the Holy One, Blessed is He, does not rejoice over the downfall of the wicked, for in our verse it does not say יָשׂוּשׂ (in the simple conjugation), “rejoice,” but rather יָשִׂישׂ in the causative conjugation, “cause to rejoice.” i.e., God will make others rejoice over your downfall, because you acted wickedly, while He Himself will not personally rejoice over your downfall. Nevertheless, when it comes to bestowing good upon the righteous, God Himself rejoices, as it is said: “just as the Lord rejoiced (שָׂשׂ) over you (to do good for you,” where the verb שָׂשׂ is in the simple conjugation, for God Himself rejoices here)). - (Meg. 10b So will the Lord cause to rejoice: (i.e., “so will He make) your enemies (rejoice) over you, to annihilate you.” (But the Holy One, Blessed is He, Himself, does not rejoice. From here, we learn that the Holy One, Blessed is He, does not rejoice over the downfall of the wicked, for in our verse it does not say יָשׂוּשׂ (in the simple conjugation), “rejoice,” but rather יָשִׂישׂ in the causative conjugation, “cause to rejoice.” i.e., God will make others rejoice over your downfall, because you acted wickedly, while He Himself will not personally rejoice over your downfall. Nevertheless, when it comes to bestowing good upon the righteous, God Himself rejoices, as it is said: “just as the Lord rejoiced (שָׂשׂ) over you (to do good for you,” where the verb שָׂשׂ is in the simple conjugation, for God Himself rejoices here)). - (Meg. 10b A Problem of Translation
The modern English translation Chapter 28, verse 63 as found in Etz Chayim and other text reads, “And as the Lord once delighted in making you prosperous and many, so will the Lord now delight in causing you to perish and in wiping you out” What kind of Lord would take delight in causing the Jews to perish? What kind of Lord would take delight in wiping out the Jewish people, his Chosen People?” Thanks to the Artscroll Interlinear Translation and Rashi, we find that the problem is with the translators and not with the Torah or the Lord. “And it will that just as Hashem rejoiced over you to benefit you and to multiply you so Hashem will (make your enemies) rejoice over you to banish you and to destroy you.” (Artscroll Interlinear). In other words, God will not rejoice or take delight in our banishment or destruction. But as part of the humiliation that we will suffer, He will make it possible for our enemies to rejoice and delight in our banishment or destruction. As Rashi points out the Hebrew is in the “causative conjugation meaning “cause to rejoice.” God “does not rejoice in the downfall of the wicked” but He does rejoice in those who follow His commandments and therefore received His rewards.
Labor DayThis week Shabbat is Labor Day Shabbat, coming as it does on the Saturday before Labor Day. It reminds us of the emphasis that Judaism places on the dignity of labor. The commandment about observing Shabbat begins with the statement “Six days shalt thou labor” and Pirke Avot remind us that having a job is one of the three things which (if we occupy our time with) will keep us “free from sin.” The Torah is filled with laws concerning the treatment of workers including the need to pay them fairly and promptly. In the decades before WW I, there was a close connection between Jews and Labor Day. For example, in New York, it was a day of celebration for groups like the International Ladies Garment Union which had a large Jewish membership and many prominent Jewish leaders. It was a day on which they celebrated the progress they had made as well as a day on which they recommitted themselves to goals related to working in a safe, healthy environment as opposed to the sweatshop environment in which so many labored. Today would be a good time to remember people like Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor, David Dubinsky, President of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and Rose Schneiderman who like so many of her contemporaries was involved in a variety of social issues like getting the right to vote for women and coining the term “Bread and Roses” which was shorthand for saying that working women must have the physical sustenance for life but must be able to enjoy those things that elevate the human spirit. As we observe the Labor Day in the 21st century it would seem that the battles of the 20th century in which our Jewish forbearers were engaged have yet to be fully won.
SelichotNo sooner do we finish with Shabbat than we gather for the recitation for Selichot. For those of us who are confused by the apparent “floating” of these nighttime penitential utterances, the following might be of some use.
The following is a “neutral” description of this custom:
The Man/The Book: Chapter 60, in its entirety provides the text for the haftarah. The words are those of the unknown Second Isaiah who provided comfort and hope to the remnant of the Jewish people living in
Babylonia during the
exiles that followed the destruction of the . First Temple
The Message: The prophetic vision is grandiose, to say the least. Much of the reading deals with a triumphal return to
which will enjoy a re-birth of commercial and political might that will make it
even more magnificent than the Jerusalem
of old. The reading is filled with
images of divine light. “Arise! Shine! For
your light has arrived…” (60:1). “You
shall no longer have need of the sun for the light of day” because “the Lord
shall be unto you an eternal light…” (60:19). “Never again shall your sun set…for the Lord
shall be unto you an eternal light…”(60:20).
But when would the exile end? The
last verse answers the question, but the reader is not sure what it means. Some say it means that when the time comes
for deliverance, whenever that might be, God will make it happen quickly. Others say that the time of deliverance is at
hand and God is going to make it happen quickly. How much man can do to encourage the final
Redemption and how much is strictly a matter of Divine decision is a debate
that has divided commentators as great as Rashi and Radak, so do not look for
an answer from this Am Ha-aretz. Jerusalem
The Theme-Link: This is the sixth of the Seven Haftarot of Consolation. According to the traditionalists, the connection is with the calendar and not the sedrah. It is one more of the prophetic portions designed to provide comfort to the Jewish people following the tragedy of Tisha B’Av. At the same time the triumphal vision of Isaiah provides an antidote of joy to the depressing list of Rebukes featured in the sedrah. It continues with the theme that eventually the Israelites will find favor in God’s eye and return from Exile. Once again, the words of Isaiah make their way into Lechah Dodi. The haftarah begins with the famous Hebrew words, “Koome, Ohre” (Arise and Shine), and continues, “for your light has come.” These same words are found in reverse order in the second line of the sixth verse of the hymn sung to welcome the Sabbath Queen. Over the last several weeks, we have seen that the author of Lecha Dodi drew on the teachings of Isaiah. What is the connection between welcoming Shabbat and Isaiah? Second Isaiah is the prophet of the Redemption. According to some, Shabbat is supposed to be a foretaste of the Final Redemption. As the Jews welcome Shabbat into their lives each week, they hope that it will be the last Shabbat because the world will finally be redeemed.
A Tale of Two “Keys”: Last week we read the haftarah for Ki Taytzay which is ten verses long, making it the shortest haftarah of the year. This week we read the haftarah for Ki Tavo which is twenty-two verses long, making it one of the longer prophetic readings of the year. With all that is expected of Bar and Bat Mitzvah students, the key to easing their “burden” is to make sure that they chose the right “Ki.”
Copyright, September, 2015, Mitchell A. Levin