Ki Tavo 5766 – Gilayon #463

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Parshat Ki Tavo







(Devarim 28:12-13)


Those nations that you are

about to dispossess do indeed resort to soothsayers and augurs; to you,

however, the Lord your God has not assigned the like (Devarim 18:14) – as it says – The Lord will make you

the head, not the tail; you will always be at the top and never at the bottom.

That you shall have no false

judges among you, and all of you shall be heads to the Torah, as You say, a prophet who teaches lies is the tail (Isaiah 9). You will always be at the top

– you shall be in this world but briefly – not for all the days.

Another opinion: You will

always be at the top – when you want to ask about something you shall not

ask about that which is above; neither shall you ask about that which is below,

as the nations of the world ask, as it is said, your speech shall sound as a

ghost's from the ground (Isaiah 29); those

nations that you are about to dispossess… , that you shall inquire of it,

as Scripture has it, Now, should they say to you, "Inquire of the

ghosts and familiars that chirp and moan" (Isaiah

29) say to them "For a people may inquire of its divine beings –

of the dead on behalf of the living" (ibid)

– the living act on behalf of the dead, those moaners whose chief needs are not

fulfilled. Those nationsbut not you.

(TanhumaWarsaw edition – Shoftim 10)


You will always be at the

top – in all aspects humanity – in body, in spirit and morals, in the

life of the individual, of the family, and of the nation you shall reach the

highest excellence of every human aim. In no matter shall you be connected to

the disgraceful, the lowly, the wicked, the passing and meaningless.

(Rabbi S. R. Hirsch Devarim 28:13)


And you possess it and settle in it

On Culture, Sovereignty, and Social Order

Oshrat Shoham


you enter the land that the Lord your God is giving to you as a

heritage, and you possess it and settle in it, you shall take some of every

first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God

is giving you, put it in a basket and go to the place where

the Lord your God will choose to establish His name.

The parasha begins with the words ki

tavo [when you enter], a phrase that

appears in only one other place in Scripture, i.e., in the passage about the

king in Devarim 17:

When you

enter the land that the Lord your God is giving to you,

and you possess it and settle in it, and you say, "I

will set a king over me, as do all the nations about me." Be sure to set

over yourself a king chosen by the Lord your God.

True, several passages in Devarim

open with similar verbs: when He brings [yevi'akha];

for you enter [ba]. Vayikra

contains two additional passages with similar openings, but they are written in

the plural: the passage about leprosy of buildings begins, when

you [plural] come to the land of Canaan which I give you for a possession, and I place an affliction of leprosy

upon a house in the land you possess. The passage about orlah begins when you [plural] come to the land

and you plant all manner of fruit tree and you shall consider its fruits orlahNevertheless, in all of Scripture, only the

two aforementioned passages share the same exact opening, When

you enter.

It would seem that there is no real connection

between the two passages. They appear amongst the passages in which Moses

commands important and general commandments in preparation for entry into the

land, emphasizing the particular prohibitions and obligations that require special

attention. It is sufficient to take note of the many sections that open with

the verb "to enter," which deal chiefly with separation from the

peoples found in the land and from their customs.

However, I do not believe that the formulation of

the openings of the passages and their contents are accidental. The two

passages share more than the common aspects of time, person, and degree of

activity implied by the phrase when you enter (as opposed to its

variants: for you enter, when He brings you, or when you

[plural] enter).

Both passages relate to the period following the possession and settlement of the landand you possess it and settle in it, and their focus is

the place or person chosen by God. It appears that both passages treat

the period after the possession of the land, after its settlement, a time of

stabilization and establishment; after the war, after the first contact with

the peoples of the land and their customs, after the inheritance, the division

of the land into lots, and their settlement – When you come to the land… and

settle in it.

This period, which follows upon the quiet and

tranquility, a time of establishment and stabilization, is the period in which

the nation's behavioral and cultural patterns are formed. After the war for

existence and survival, after the building and settlement, the people turns it

attention to the shaping of its culture.

In this period, examination of the cultural

environment no longer consists of "stolen glances" or violent

encounters in battle charged with hate and the martial spirit.

The outward gaze is a deeper gaze involving the crystallization

of cultural identity within a larger space, a combination of past and present,

of tradition and reality in the contemporary existential and cultural space.

I believe that at this point the two passages and

two commandments arrive to suggest two methods for viewing and coping which we

can use to arrange the process of cultural formation. The simpler and more

direct path is found in the passage about the king:

and you say, "I will set a king over me, as do all the nations about me."

Here we have a clear process of looking outward and the desire – perhaps

childish – to adopt the customs of the surrounding peoples.

The method of coping is also simple: The people

are told they may set over yourself a king

while observing the moral restrictions attending that decision.

This is a familiar method for coping; it creates

synthesis instead of conflict. The need to adopt customs from the cultural

environment is recognized, but it must be tempered by a clear demarcation of

what makes the Israelite monarchy different from those that surround it. The

custom is adopted in practice from the broader cultural environment and

integrated into Jewish culture in accordance with the limits and values of

Jewish culture.

I would point out that in contrast to the

negative tone found in some of the commentators regarding the need for a king,

Scripture itself does not view this need negatively; it constructs a mechanism

that answers the need, and which, in practice, adopts the practice of the

broader cultural environment when necessary.

Of course, this model does pose a certain "danger";

we must distinguish between the monarchy and other, essentially idolatrous

practices, whose adoption – even partial adoption – is completely rejected by


The passage concerning the king suggests a

possible way of discriminating between those foreign cultural practices that

can be adopted and those from which we must distance ourselves, leaving the job

of choosing between the two to the culture-shapers of the time in question…

The passage dealing

with the first fruits suggests a deeper model,

since it touches the very heart of the cultural commonality with the

inhabitants of the land – agriculture. In the Mediterranean cultural space, agriculture

and fertility were seen in religious terms, as connected to divinity. The

festivals of harvest and first fruits were celebrated by the surrounding

peoples as part of that deeply religious attitude.

The commandment of the first fruits suggests a

much more difficult model for coping, much deeper and more dangerous than that

of the law of the king. Bringing first fruits to God is exactly the same act

that is performed by the surrounding cultures; the human-cultural need is not

only granted – it is fulfilled in nearly identical fashion. This coping strategy

depends on the "filter" of the heart – internal psychological efforts

and efforts of faith.

An Israelite can go out to his field and see the

first fruits, exactly as his gentile neighbor does. Both of them gather the

fruits for a ritual purpose, but the commandment of the first fruits demands an

internal, personal process of recognition of God – and not of the pagan gods of

the surrounding neighbors.

Here we find a very fine distinction; one might

say a "dangerous" distinction between the surrounding cultures and Israel's

culture-in-formation. The acts and rituals are similar and the timing

identical, but the intention, the faith and the inner worship all distinguish

the Israelite culture from that of its neighbors. Perhaps that is why the Torah

demands that we undertake a long communal journey, as the mishnah

in chapter three of Bikkurim puts it: "All of the

[inhabitants of the] towns of a county would gather in the county's city, and

would sleep in its plaza… the ox would walk before them… and the drum would

beat before them until they reached Jerusalem… "

The journey to the place where the Lord

your God will choose to establish His name, a journey not only in the

physical sense of a loud and boisterous parade, but also a journey aimed at

strengthening and affirming faith in a particular God as against the gods of

the surrounding peoples. It is a personal journey of faith that – in contrast

to the surrounding cultures – internalizes recognition of God and faith in Him.

That is why the bringing of the first fruits is

accompanied by the "Proclamation of the First Fruits." That

proclamation does not make due with its concluding verse alone, a verse which

probably would have been acceptable to the surrounding cultures: and now I

have brought the first fruits of the earth which You

have given me. Instead, it presents a detailed historical account that

affirms and declares faith in the God who has accompanied Israelite history

from its beginning. The Israelite cannot avoid adopting the attitude of the

surrounding cultures towards the soil, its fertility, and the related customs. However,

through an inner process he clarifies to himself and to those around him the exact

identity of the God who has given him the land and its fruits, towards whom

those customs are directed.

The model suggested by the passage regarding the

first fruits involves religious coping and the building-up of a personal

religious ability to understand and discern who God is, before whom the rite

and custom are performed, even if the latter are identical to those practiced

by the surrounding culture. It creates a personal ability to exploit those

practices – even if they are identical to those of the surrounding culture – for

the worship of God. This is a different and deeper model; it equips each

individual with strategies for coping with the surrounding culture, with all its

variations and customs.

The journey through the wilderness was isolated

from any immediate cultural contacts, leaving contemplation of the relationship

to the broader cultural environment temporarily unnecessary. The addresses

given by Moses on the eve of the entry to the land offered provisions for the

Israelites who would enter the land, just before their encounter with the

inhabitants of the land – an encounter involving many moral and religious

dangers. The Israelites were thus equipped not only with many methods of

self-defense and isolation, but also with strategies for shaping their culture

within the general cultural space following their conquest and possession of

the land. The Torah does not reject the adoption of cultural patterns from the

surroundings as long as they do not involve idolatry. However, it does set up

models for the adoption of the surrounding culture and for integration into the

cultural space, either through the adoption of necessary changes or by realigning

foreign cultural elements towards the service of God.

It seems proper that these models, which are

exemplified by the passages regarding the king and the first fruits, should

accompany us in the process of building our own culture, when we dwell safely

in our land. May we be granted to enjoy the blessing of and you shall

rejoice in all the bounty which the Lord your God has given you.

Oshrat Shoham is an attorney in

the office of the Jerusalem District Attorney.



The Promise of the

Land: End or Means

You are to write on them all the words of this

instruction… in order that you may enter the land – Rabbi Avraham said: For the Lord will help you

when the commandments become obligatory, for this is the first commandment to

be performed upon their entering the land. In my opinion, in order that you

may enter alludes to all the words of the Torah. That is to say, you shall

write on the stones all the words of this instruction immediately upon crossing

the Jordan in order to enter the land, because it is for

this Torah that you come there. Similarly, Your servant and your maid may rest as one like

yourself, in order that you bear in mind that you were a serf – your

servant and maid like you shall rest, so

that you remember that you were a serf. An alternate reason: write

upon them all the words of this Torah so that it be for you a reminder, so

that you will enter the land and conquer it, and inherit all those nations

thanks to your bearing in mind the Torah and observing all its commandments.


Devarim 27)


For this Torah you are coming into the land – this

is the rationale for the commandment of setting up the stones, for only by the

merit of Torah did we merit inheriting the land.

(Rabeinu Bahayey, ibid.)


The Divine promise is always bound up together with a

demand made of man. Perhaps it may be said that the fulfillment of every

mission is bound up with the fulfillment of the promise; the two are bound

together, without any possibility of separation.

(Y. Leibowitz:

Sheva Shanim shel Sihot al Parashat

HaShavu'a, p. 898)




Who Are Gathered beneath the Wings of the Divine

Presence are also the Children of Abraham


proselyte brings [first fruits] and makes the recitation, for it was said to

Abraham, I make you the father of a multitude of nations (Bereishit 17:5). He is the father of the all who enter under the

wings of the Divine Presence, and it was Abraham who first received the oath

that his sons would inherit the land…

(RaMBaM, Hilkhot Bikkurim




received the question of the master Ovadiah, the wise

and learned proselyte, may the Lord reward him for his

work, may a perfect recompense be bestowed upon him by the Lord of Israel,

under whose wings he has sought cover.

You ask

me if you, too, are allowed to say in the blessings and prayers you offer alone

or with the congregation: "Our God" and "God of our

fathers," "You who have sanctified us through your

commandments," "You who have separated us," "You who have

chosen us," "You who have inherited us," "You who have

brought us out of the land of Egypt," "You who have worked miracles

to our fathers," and more of this kind.


you may say all this in the prescribed order and not change it in the least. In

the same way as every Jew by birth says his blessings and prayers, you, too,

shall bless and pray alike, whether you are alone or pray in the congregation.

The reason for this is that Abraham our father taught the people, opened their

minds, and revealed to them the true faith and unity of God; he rejected the

idols and abolished their adoration; he brought many children under the wings

of the Divine Presence; he gave them counsel and advice, and ordered his sons

and the members of his household after him to keep the ways of the Lord

forever…Ever since then, whoever adopts Judaism and confesses the unity of

the Divine Name, as it is prescribed in the Torah, is counted among the

disciples of Abraham our Father, peace be with him. These men are Abraham's

household, and he it is who converted them to righteousness.

(From RaMBaM's letter to Ovadiah the Proselyte, translation from Twersky's

A Maimonides Reader)


What is the Difference between

a Blessing and a Curse?

How can I damn whom God has

not damned? (Bamidbar

23) When he commanded them regarding the curses and the blessings, he

mentioned those [people] as giving the blessing, as it says, these shall

stand to bless the people (Devarim 27), but he did not mention those [other people]

as giving the curse, for he said, and these shall stand on the curse

(loc cit). Furthermore, when they sinned and He said He would bring a curse

upon them, it is not written that He would bring the curse, but with

regard to the blessings [it is written] that He Himself would bless

them, for He said, and if you truly listen… and the Lord your God shall

set you above… the Lord shall command the blessing to you (Devarim 28). Regarding

the curses, it is written, and if you do not listen to the Lord's voice… and

[the curses] shall come upon you – on their own, but the Holy One

blessed be He brings the blessings Himself. That is why [Balaam said], how

can I damn whom God has not damned?

(Tanhuma (Warsaw edition) Balak 12)


And if you do not listen to

the voice of the Lord your God to be careful to observe all

of His commandments and laws that I command you today, all of these curses will

come upon you and catch up with you.

(Devarim 28: 15)


This does not mean that if you do

not observe all of the commandments without a single exception you will be

among those cursed by the covenant. Rather, the phrase to be careful to

observe explicates [the phrase] the voice of the Lord your God; the voice

of the Lord tells us to be careful to observe all of His

commandments [but taking care does not always imply perfect success].

(R. Yitzhak Shemuel Reggio,

ad loc)



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