Ki Tavo 5766 – Gilayon #463
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Parshat Ki Tavo
THE LORD WILL OPEN UP FOR YOU HIS
BOUNTEOUS STORE, THE HEAVENS, TO PROVIDE RAIN FOR YOUR LAND IN SEASON AND TO
BLESS ALL YOUR UNDERTAKINGS. YOU WILL BE CREDITOR TO MANY NATIONS, BUT DEBTOR
TO NONE. THE LORD WILL MAKE YOU THE HEAD, NOT THE TAIL; YOU WILL ALWAYS BE AT
THE TOP AND NEVER AT THE BOTTOM – IF ONLY YOU OBEY AND FAITHFULLY OBSERVE THE
COMMANDMENTS OF THE LORD YOUR GOD THAT I ENJOIN UPON YOU THIS DAY.
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 ) – 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 nations – but not you.
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
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:
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
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 orlah… Nevertheless, in all of Scripture, only the
two aforementioned passages share the same exact opening, When
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 land – and 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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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,
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