Ki Tavo 5767 – Gilayon #512


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Parshat Ki Tavo

YOU WILL

GROPE AT MIDDAY, AS THE

BLIND MAN GROPES IN THE DARK, AND YOU WILL BE UNSUCCESSFUL

IN YOUR WAYS. YOU WILL BE ONLY OPPRESSED AND ROBBED ALL THE DAYS, AND NO ONE

WILL SAVE [YOU].

(Devarim

28:29)

 

You

will grope at midday

You will be seeking good advice

regarding the alleviation of your troubles but there will be no one amongst you

who speaks the truth, [you will be] like a blind man groping through

impenetrable darkness, no one to lead you along the way. And so, you will be

unsuccessful in your ways. You will be only oppressed and robbed all the days,

and no one will save [you].

(Keter

Yonatan Devarim ad loc)

 

R. Yossi said: My whole life I

have been troubled by this verse: You will grope at midday, as the blind man gropes in the dark

– why should a blind man care whether there is darkness or light? – [This

troubled me] until I was involved in a certain incident.

I was once walking in the

darkness in the middle of the night, and I saw a blind man walking along the

road with a torch in his hand. I asked him: "My son, what is the purpose

of that torch?" He told me: "As long as I hold this torch in my hand,

people see me and keep me safe from holes and thorns and thistles.

(Meggila

24b)

 

You will grope at midday – You will be so sorry and worried that you

will not even see light at midday.

The blind man in the darksome blind people take in a bit of light when the sun blazes in its

power, and so it says ba'afela [in the dark]. It is known that afela

is worse than mere darkness because light cannot relieve it.

(R.

Yitzhak Shemuel Reggio ad loc)

 

And it will be if you obey – A Conditional Promise

Yonatan Flusser

Dedicated

to the memory of my father and teacher, David Flusser

on

the seventh anniversary of his death.

Parashat

Ki Tavo was my father's Bar Mitzvah parasha.

Although

he had been educated in an assimilated Prague

home,

he

read the haftorah – without comprehension.

He

only managed to identify it many years later thanks to the phrase

"Oyniyos

Tarshish beroshoyna."

Two different

parashiyot of the Torah treat tokheha [the description of the nation's

punishments for its sins]: parashat Ki Tavo and parashat Behukotai. These

parashiyot offer detailed descriptions of the rewards and punishments that will

be deservedly visited upon the nation depending on whether it walks in God's

ways or rejects His laws and statutes. If we hearken to His voice, God's

blessing will influence every aspect of our lives: there will be peace in the

land, rain will fall at its appropriate time, and the earth shall yield its

bounty. If we do not hearken to His voice, we are to expect all of the

traumatic experiences of famine, war, and exile.

The

passage "Vehaya im shamo'a" ["And if you hearken"],

which we recite twice daily is a kind of concise icon of the tokhaha

passages and a salient reminder of them to us at the beginning and end of every

day. In those communities in which we get to hear the prayer-leader read the

passages of Kriyat Shema out loud, "media censorship" is

applied to this section, which is read in whispers, at best. The warning Beware,

lest your heart be misled… and the punishment, He will close off the

heavens, and there will be no rain, and the ground will not give its produce,

and you will perish quickly from upon the good land are left unheard. Do we

ensure in this way that the threat will not be carried out? To this we may add

one of the tangible dangers that we face today: the move from faith to

knowledge. Unambiguous faith that we are on the path to redemption may engender

the complacent attitude that everything is permitted to us. This complacency

can endanger our very existence. Scripture itself refers to the danger of

arrogance: Not because you are more numerous than any people did the Lord

desire you and choose you, for you are the least of all the peoples (Devarim 7:7): "This means that He desired them

because they do not aggrandize themselves" (MaHaRal of Prague, Hiddushei Aggadot

part 4 pg. 100). The choice of Israel

stems from God's love of His people and not from self-love.

Our parasha

contains another expression that is liable to lead us to false and deceptive

conclusions. The designation am segula [a "precious," "treasured"

or "special" people], which appears three times in Scripture, is also

not a commendation. It does not claim that we are better than the rest. Rather,

it is a demand made of us as a people to be an am segula from all the

peoples. In parashat Ki Tavo, the expression am segula does not appear

in reference to God's relationship to the People Israel, but rather to the

People Israel's relationship to God: And the Lord has selected you this day

to be His treasured people. RaMBaN explains: "God exalted you and made

you great by your accepting the Torah in order that you be his am segula

from all the nations and to observe all His commandments, for only to you of

all the nations will He give his Torah and command you [to perform] all of the

commandments that are pleasing to Him, and not to another nation, as is

written: He tells His words to Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to

Israel. He did not do so to any nation (Psalms 147:19-20)." This implies that not only does our being an am segula

fail to earn us any right or title, but rather it constitutes a challenge

towards us to walk in God' paths.

Our

commitment to be an am segula demands of us a unique, constant, and

reciprocal relationship with the Holy One blessed be He. At the end of Yeshayahu

Leibowitz's deep discussion of the covenant between Israel and its God he

arrives at the conclusion that the two instances of ha'amara ["selection"

or "affirmation"] in our parasha, i.e., You have selected the Lord

this day, to be your God (26:17) and the Lord

has selected you this day to be His treasured people (26:18) show us that God's choice of Israel does

not parallel Israel's choice of God; rather, it is identical with it. I suggest

that we may borrow a term from the natural sciences – "symbiosis" – to

describe the reciprocal relationship of symbiotic responsibility between the

Holy One blessed be He and the People Israel: "You chose God to observe

His laws, statutes, and commandments and to hearken to His voice – and God

chose you to observe all of His commandments." God did not choose Israel because Israel

chose God, rather Israel's

decision to choose God constitutes the substance of God's choice of Israel.

Israel's

choice of the Holy One blessed be He is the reward for this deed. The right to

worship Him is the recompense or "reinforcement" received by those

who serve God and observe His laws and commandments.

Many

educational methods are based on schemes of reward and punishment. One

sometimes gets the impression that we tend to forget the importance of rewards

and we end up engaged in punishment rather than in education; we tend to treat

the pupil as a laboratory animal. It is accepted practice in special education

to use concepts borrowed from the study of animal behavior, such as "reinforcements."

Reward is one means for developing the child's trust, and in the course of the

years we learn that "A commandment is its own reward" in everyday

life as well. The very performance of positive actions is the recompense or

profit we gain in everyday life; trust between a people and its God can be

built up along the same lines. The Holy One blessed be He accompanies the

people through its birth and later history, He directs and guides them, He

establishes limits while also granting the people the possibility of choice – the

choice of a path, the choice between good and evil. The "agreed framework"

has clear limits: on the one hand and all these blessings shall come to you

and on the other, and all these curses shall befall you. You, the People

Israel, shall determine your own future; I, the Holy One blessed be He allow

you the freedom to choose between these limits, but the responsibility is yours

and your alone. It is similar to the way a child chooses his path, knowing that

every choice has its price. This strengthening of the component of choice is

very similar to the choice offered by God to the People Israel in order that it

finds its way. The child's path is influenced by his human and social

environment; a people is influenced by the nations of the world and by its

relations with them. Like a child, the nation also requires limits, but inside

of those limits the nation – like the child – is granted freedom of choice. According

to new therapeutic methods, a person must be the one to determine the course of

his life and take responsibility for it through his deeds and beliefs. His

behavior does not only influence his own life; it also has consequences for

those around him. None of us has the right to cast off our responsibility and

place it upon another person or group. Every individual bears his own personal

responsibility alongside his responsibility as part of a nation whose future

will be determined by the choice between blessings and curses. To the extent

that many individuals in the nation take responsibility for their actions,

their way of life will have a positive influence upon the society as a whole and

upon the nation's future. This choice of choose life alongside the fulfillment

of the commandment to love the Lord your God, to hearken to His voice and to

cleave to Him are the conditions that guarantee our continued life and flourishing

in the land promised us on the condition that we keep our side of the covenant.

Yonatan

Flusser, past secretary and spokesman of Netivot Shalom, works in education.

 

Bringing of the First Fruits

and the Recitation of the First Fruits

And you shall

take of the first of every fruit of the earth As for the

reading on the occasion of the offering of the first fruits, it also is

conducive to the moral quality of humility, for it is carried out by him who

carries the basket on his shoulders. It contains an acknowledgment of God's

beneficence and bountifulness, so that man should know that it is a part of the

divine worship that man should remember states of distress at a time when he

prospers. This purpose is frequently affirmed in the Torah: And you shall

remember that you were a servant, and so on (Devarim 5:15;

16:12).

For there was a fear of the moral qualities that are generally acquired by all

those who are brought up in prosperity – I mean conceit, vanity, and neglect of

the correct opinions: When you have eaten your fill, and have built fine

houses to live in, and your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver

and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered, beware lest your

heart grow haughty and you forget the Lord your God Who took you out of the

land of Egypt… and you say to yourselves, "My own power and the might of

my own hand have won this wealth for me" (Devarim

8:12-17).

And it says: So Yeshurun grew fat and kicked – you grew fat and gross and

coarse – he forsook the God who made him and spurned the Rock of his support

(Devarim 32:15). It is because of this apprehension that the commandment has

been given to carry out a reading every year before Him, may He be exalted, and

in the presence of His Indwelling, on the occasion of the first fruits.

(RaMBaM, Guide of the Perplexed III:59, following Pines translation)

 

Look down

from your holy abode, from heaven… – The meaning is as follows: It is written the father of orphans, the

champion of widows, God, in His holy abode ("maon"). There are

those who pity orphans, but they [the orphans] are not to be found in his

house, but in an inferior house [the orphanage]. Not so God, Blessed Be He,

He raises them as sons in his "holy maon", and therefore

the Israelite who brings the bikkurim recites I have also given it to

the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow" …and

therefore Look down from your holy maon. The Sages said (Haggiga, Chapter II, 12b): "[One of the skies is] "Zevul,"

etc. and Michael offers sacrifices of Maon, etc… So we see that the site of

the orphans is higher than that of the sacrifices. And so say our Sages in

Tractate Sukka (p.

49b): "The doing of

charitable deeds is greater than all the sacrifices, as is written, To do

what is right and just is more desired by the Lord than sacrifice. (Proverbs 21:3)"

(Rabbi Meir

Simha of Dvinsk, Meshekh Hokhma, Devarim 26:15)

 

In bringing the first fruits, I myself serve witness that it was God who

gave me the land as a portion and a gift. That is why it says you shall take

some of every first [fruit]:

It does not say give of every first, but

rather take, in order to tell you that it is by virtue

of these first [fruits] which you bring to God's House, to give thanks and

honor to His Name, that you can take any fruit of the earth. You will merit all

fruits of the earth after you acknowledge that you bring the first ones from

your land which God has given to you. For that land is not called

"your land" until you bring the first [fruits]. Upon bringing them,

you will be able to take all of the fruits of the earth. This bringing is the

recitation mentioned in the verse, I acknowledge this day (Devarim 26:3).

(Keli Yakar on Devarim 26:1)

 

"You Shall Be Happy – You Shall Make Others

Happy" – Joy As a Spiritual and Social Challenge

R. Yehoshua of Sakhnin said in the name of R. Levi: In the

merit of two things Israel

purifies itself before the Omnipresent, in the merit of the Shabbat and in the

merit of tithes. From where [do we learn] the merit of Shabbat? If you

refrain from trampling the Shabbat (Isaiah

58:13), and what follows? Then I will set you aside the heights of

the earth (Ibid. 14). From where [do

we learn] the merit of tithes? You are to rejoice in all the good things

that the Lord your God has given you and your household, you and the Levite

and sojourner that is in your midst (Devarim

26:11)

 (Pesikta D'Rav Kahana, Mandelboim ed.,

Parasha 10)

 

You shall rejoice on your festival (Devarim 16:14) You find three references to

joy in regard to the [Sukkoth] festival: You shall rejoice on your festival (Devarim 16:14), And you shall be, oh so

joyful! (Ibid., ibid. 15), and And

you are to rejoice before the presence of the Lord your God for seven days (Vayikra 23:40). But with regard to Passover,

joy is not mentioned even once. Why not? Because on Passover, the grain crop is

standing in judgment, and no one knows if it will succeed this year or not,

therefore there is no mention of joy. An alternate explanation as to why joy is

not mentioned: because of the death of the Egyptians.                          

(Pesikta D'Rav Kahana

(Mandelboim), Addenda, Parasha 2)

 

How to Rejoice… When You Are Sad

If you do not feel happy, pretend.

Even if you are caught up in depression, try to smile, act

as if you are happy.

And true joy… will certainly come.

(From Sihot of R. Nahman of Breslav)

 

The Connection Between Song and Joy

Get used to singing a tune,

This will give you new life and will fill you with joy.

(Likkutei Etzot by R.

Nahman of Breslav)

 

And walk in His

ways:

"Clinging to God" Must not Justify Disregard for Ethical Commandments

The Lord will establish you as His holy people, as He swore

to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord and walk in his ways:

If you keep [them] in such a way that one who wishes to practice holiness

and clinging to God will not want to shun the observance of the commandments,

for sometimes they [the commandments] disturb the clinging [to God]. In any

case, it is necessary to observe the commandments, whether they be related to

Heaven or to relations between people; that is the meaning of walk in His

ways – just as He is merciful, so too, you should be merciful, etc…This

admonition was already made clear in the passage dealing with tzitzit,

that customs of holiness and piety should not detract from the observance of

commandments – even of commandments dealing with relations between

people…some commandments cannot be observed while one is in a state of

clinging [to God], including that of walk in His ways, which deals with

human concerns. Therefore one should break one's concentration from holiness in

order to act. In any case the Lord will establish you as His holy people,

and immediately after performing the deed you will again achieve the state of

holiness and clinging that you had attained earlier.

(The NeTziV Mi'Volozhin's Ha'Amek Davar)