Parashat Ki Tavo
September 5, 2015 – 21 Elul 5775
Annual (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8): Etz Hayim p. 1140; Hertz p. 859
Triennial (Deuteronomy 26:12-28:6): Etz Hayim p. 1142; Hertz p. 860
Haftarah (Isaiah 60:1-22): Etz Hayim p. 1161; Hertz p. 874
Prepared by Rabbi Adam Rosenbaum
the Promised Land will be required to bring some of their first fruits to the
priests and to declare their gratitude to God for the blessings bestowed
throughout history. They must also declare that they have tithed appropriately.
must literally put the commandments into stone.
A ceremony is
described in which the people must gather between two mountains and hear of
sins that take place in private, many of them sexual in nature.
commandments are fulfilled, Israel will be blessed in many ways. If they are
not, Israel will be punished in dozens of ways, leading to their return to
slavery in Egypt.
the people of the many miracles God performed during the years of wandering in
the wilderness, including the defeat of several peoples.
Theme #1: Peaks
After you have
crossed the Jordan, the following shall stand on Mount Gerizim when the
blessing for the people is spoken: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and
Benjamin. And for the curse, the following shall stand on Mount Ebal: Reuben,
Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. (Deuteronomy 27:12-13)
The text sets
the stage for a grand pronouncement of specific curses, an event that is to
take place inside the Promised Land.
apply to] those who say that it is not necessary to observe the commandments of
the Lord in practice, claiming that the important thing is that one should
understand their meaning and that one should be good “in one’s heart,” and
nothing more. -- Ketav Sofer
There are no
corresponding proclamations of “Blessed” [in the section of curses between the
mountains], nor, according to common sense, would it be reasonable to contrast
these verses with blessings, save for the last one; for just because a person
does not, for example, lie with his mother-in-law does not mean he is blessed.
-- Menahem Ben-Yashar, “The Covenant at Shechem”, from A Divinely Given
Torah in Our Day and Age, Volume I
Even if they had
accepted only the seven Noahide laws they would not have been driven out. --
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch
makes an argument for the need to follow Halakhah, stressing that Judaism (and
religion in general) is about far more than "just being a good
person." How do we respond to those who say that Jewish law, other than
its ethical maxims, is largely unnecessary? How does following Jewish law
enable us to act ethically? Are there times when we might act unethically in
the pursuit of following Jewish law?
that the proclamations on the mountain are weighted toward the negative because
avoiding many of the curses is not necessarily a great accomplishment. In a
sense, the structure of the curses discourages us from setting our personal
standards too low. What are the potential pitfalls of expecting too little of
ourselves? How do we know what "too little" is? Are we better off
setting our standards too high or too low?
claims that even though Halakhah sets many standards for our behavior and
actions, our lives will be sufficient if we follow some minimal requirements
expected of all people. Are these rules -- set forth by God to Noah in the
aftermath of the flood -- enough? Does Rabbi Hirsch's claim negate the need for
Halakhah? Or does it remind us that our pursuit of Halakhic ideals enable us to
live in an acceptable way, even if we don't reach those ideals?
Now, if you obey
the Lord your God, to observe faithfully all His commandments which I enjoin
upon you this day, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of
the earth. All these blessings shall come upon you and take effect, if you will
but heed the word of the Lord your God: Blessed shall you be in the city and
blessed shall you be in the country. (Deuteronomy 28:1-3)
list of curses in this portion is preceded by a briefer, but no less
significant, list of blessings.
observe their Judaism and perform its commandments within the walls of their
own homes, but are ashamed of their religion when they go out among people,
fearing that they might be called “fanatical,” “old-fashioned” and such.
Therefore Scripture says: “Only if you will not be ashamed to observe the
commandments even in the city, when you are among others, will you receive the
blessings.” In the same vein we read in the opening paragraph of the Shulhan
Arukh: “And he shall not be ashamed in the presence of those who deride him.”
-- Divrei Shaarei Hayyim
Do not imagine
that if you devote yourself wholly to the service of God, doing only the
minimum for your own domestic needs, that you will endanger your own security
from the designs of the surrounding nations. For they will be harbouring evil
against you and you will be ignorant of it. The text therefore reassures us
that “there shall come upon thee all these blessings when you hearken to the
Lord.” Even while you are engaged the whole time in hearkening to the Lord
doing His service, the blessings will protect you. -- Malbim
The promise of
blessings is followed by the caution “if you heed”. We are bidden to heed God
despite the blessings. -- Itture Torah
Hayyim reminds us that, for some of our ancestors, observing Judaism publicly
was somehow embarrassing or a barrier to social advancement (and not just
because of real or perceived threats of anti-Semitism). Are there circumstances
today when we might still feel this way? What aspects of Judaism might be
considered "embarrassing" in some circles? Is embarrassment a
reasonable excuse to hide our Jewish practice in today's diverse society?
the passage from the Passover Haggadah which states that every generation
contains people who wish to destroy us, and he advises us to continue on a
righteous path regardless of these amorphous dangers. Why is it sometimes
difficult for us to ignore our real or perceived critics? Why do we focus on
what they think of us, even if we have no idea what they think? Do we ever need
to adjust our understanding of Jewish law based on the possibility of external
understands that it may have been easy for our ancestors to rest on their
laurels once God blessed them. Often, once we've reached a level of personal
success, we stop challenging ourselves and become a lesser version of
ourselves. Why is it important for us to keep setting new goals to strive for?
How do we do this while also taking moments to appreciate and enjoy our
successes? Is this a difficult balance for most people?