Ki Tavo 5768 – Gilayon #567
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Parshat Ki Tavo
THE LORD WILL LEAD YOU AND YOUR KING WHOM YOU WILL HAVE ESTABLISHED OVER
YOU, TO A NATION UNKNOWN TO YOU OR YOUR FATHERS; AND THERE, YOU WILL SERVE
OTHER DEITIES [MADE] OF WOOD AND STONE.
And there you will
worship gods, man's handiwork
This is the greatest of
punishments; none of the torments that befall a man are harsh compared to this
evil and bitter disease in which the soul sinks into the depths of abomination.
He is inescapably caught up in the net of sin and the soul can know no greater
pain than when it recognizes its sin and rebellion, remaining unable to stand
up against the habit of transgression. This punishment accords with the Sages'
dictum: "The wages of transgression are – transgression." There is no
balm for such a soul until it gathers up all its strength to struggle and free
itself of the bonds of habit, as is written in the next verse, and you will
find Him, if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.
Yitzhak Shmuel Reggio, Devarim 4:28)
After you, following your bad
choice, have worshipped false gods, you shall be exiled among the nations and
worship other false gods, not of your choosing, but rather from coercion (Don
Yitzhak Abarbanel). It is well known that people get disgusted with things that
they are forced to do, that is why it says next, And from there you will
seek the Lord your God. And so we find that after they were exiled to
Babylon and forced to prostrate themselves before a golden idol that their
inclination towards the worship of false gods was broken and they ceased
whoring after other gods, except for a few people in the Second Temple period
who strayed after the Greek gods. And they did so not because they liked
worshipping false gods, but rather in order to find favor in the eyes of the
kings and princes.
my children, Nili and Amit
their entering the covenant of marriage
These are the
words of the covenant, which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the children
of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which he made with them in
covenant is entered into by partners; by parties sharing a common interest; by
the strong and the weak. A covenant is signed when there are weaknesses, when
there are weak points, breaks in the defenses. When there is a need for mutual
reconciliation. The covenant expresses reciprocal obligation; embrace,
dialogue, understanding, and mutual loyalty. Walking together towards common
goals. The parties to the covenant unite forces, property, and tools. The
covenant transforms the partial into a whole.
into a covenant with Abraham: On that day, the Lord formed a covenant
with Abram, saying, "To your seed I have given this land, from the river
of Egypt until the great river, the Euphrates river (Bereishit 15:18).
And again in the covenant at Horeb: and Israel encamped there
the mountain, saying, "So shall you say to the house of Jacob and tell the
And now, if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out
be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation'" (Shemot 19:1-2).
When the Israelites cross the Jordan they are
to renew the covenant with God, as is described in our parasha:
When you cross the Jordan, the following
Levites shall speak up, saying to every individual of Israel, in a loud voice
to bless the people As it is
found in Tractate Sotah (32a): Six tribes
ascended to the top of Mount Gerizim and [the other] six to the top of Mount
Ebal; the kohanim , the Levites and the [holy] ark stood below in the middle.
The Levites turned their faces towards Mount Gerizim and began with the
blessing: "Blessed be the man who does not make a graven or molten
image…," and these [the tribes on Mount Gerizim] and these [the
tribes on Mount Ebal] answered "Amen!" Then [the Levites] turned
their faces towards Mount Ebal and began with the curse, saying: "Cursed
be the man who makes any graven [or molten] image…," and these [the
tribes on Mount Gerizim] and these [the tribes on Mount Ebal] responded "Amen!…Thus[it would continue] in this manner for all of them [the blessings and curses]
until [the very last curse, namely (verse 26)]:
"Cursed be the one who does not uphold [the words of this Torah]."
(Judaica Press translation)
covenant was entered into from a position of weakness, from the place were the
parties to the covenant were not protected, the break in the fence. The
covenant grants the protection of each to the other. The covenant is a patch
upon the weak spot. Covenant is a link between its parties, between separate
bodies that are mutually linked by a contract.
covenant is formed at a place of weakness and transforms it into a point of
strength. The weak-point is fortified. The People Israel join a covenant with
the God of its land. The covenant strengthens and continues the covenant made
valley, a less protected place, the priests and Levites stand and make the
covenant between the parts of the people and their God. The covenant is made in
the central town of the Land's residents, the Canaanites. The place where the
covenant is made symbolizes the motivation behind the covenant: two mountains
linked by the valley that lies between them. A covenant made of part, Covenant
between the Pieces [Brit ben haBertarim]. The covenant of
circumcision. Please place your hand beneath my thigh – at the weak
ceremony renewing the covenant is performed as the Israelites' first deed upon
their entering the Land. Upon entering a new stage in the life of the nation,
they renew their covenant with God:
are the words of the covenant, which the Lord commanded Moses to make
with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which he
made with them in Horeb. (Devarim 28:69)
be he who does not uphold the words of this Torah, to fulfill them. And all the
people shall say, 'Amen!' (Devarim 27:26)
covenant obligates one party to obey all the words of the Torah and the other
party to protect the People Israel. This convocation symbolizes the convocation
at Sinai but at a higher stage – not in the desolate wilderness, an unknown and
irrelevant land, but rather in the homeland which is to give the people succor.
The Land which was abandoned when Jacob left it with seventy others and now
hundreds of years later the people return to it. With the renewal of its
settlement comes the renewal of the covenant. As with Horeb, here too there are
mountains and a valley or plain. The physical attributes parallel the spiritual
ones – the unification of the people of the hills and the valleys, of the
children of the matriarchs with the children of the maidservants. Like the
unity symbolized by the ephod, the ceremony symbolizes the unit of all the
tribes of Israel. The center of the Land of Israel lies between Mount Gerizim
and Mount Ebal. The place of unification is also the place of separation. Hundreds
of years later the Kingdom of Israel will be torn from the Kingdom of Judah in
this place where the covenant was made.
This is the covenant:
have selected the Lord this day, to be your God, and to walk in His ways, and
to observe His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and to obey Him. And
the Lord has selected you this day to be His treasured people, as He spoke to
you, and so that you shall observe all His commandments. (Devarim 26:17-18)
his book on Parashat haShavua (page 890), Yeshayahu Leibowitz cites a
surprising explanation of the covenant between God and Israel. In his Mikra
KiPshuto Ehrlich suggests that the he’emarta ["has selected
you" or "spoken of you"] of the covenant should be understood in
the light of the phrase asa ba ma'amar [literally: "performed a
word with her"] that is used in reference to a yabem [man who
enters into a levirate marriage] who takes in his yevama; it alludes to
sexual relations. That is to say: the covenant between God and Israel is
similar to the covenant between husband and wife. It is a covenant that is
renewed from time to time.
Onkelos translates the words et Hashem he’emarta [You have selected
the Lord] as hashem hatavta, and Hashem he’emirkha [the
Lord has selected you] as hashem hatevakh. He uses a word related to
the Hebrew hativa. Jastrow's dictionary states that word hatav
comes from the Arabic hatab, which means "betrothal." That
means that ha'amara refers to someone betrothing his beloved. The
covenant between God and Israel is a lover's covenant, each loves and honors
the other and wants to establish reciprocal relations in which God gives the
Torah and His Godly protection, and the People Israel return love to Him by
observing his commandments. It is a lovers' discourse. That is the intent of
the following midrash:
have selected the Lord this day… And the Lord has selected you this day… The Holy one blessed be He said to Israel:
You made Me one unit in the world and I shall make you one unit in the world. You
made me one unit in the world, for it is written, Hear O Israel, the Lord is
your God, the Lord is one (Deavrim 6). And I have
made you one unit in the world, for it is said, And who is like unto Israel,
one nation in the land (II Chronicles 17). (Hagigah 3a)
ancient times the betrothal and the wedding were separate from each other. So
too with the relationship between Israel and its God: the covenant of Horeb,
made in the desolate wilderness is separated from the covenant made with Israel
upon its entry into the Land of Canaan, a land teeming with false gods. The
first curse is, Cursed be the man who makes any graven or molten
image an abomination to the Lord, the handiwork of a craftsman and sets it up
in secret! And all the people shall respond, saying, 'Amen!' (Devarim 27:15). There are two covenants, the first made when the people were freed of
their yoke of slavery and the second upon their entry as a free nation into
their homeland. The covenant is renewed immediately after the Jordan is
crossed: Then Joshua built an altar to the Lord God of Israel on
the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the Law of Moses (Joshua 8:30).
undertaken in the hills of Shekhem was only the beginning; the relationship
between lover and bride would yet see many crises, ups and downs, as are known
to us from the books of the prophets, and as occurs with every couple that must
work on their relationship, to continue and sustain it, to endure by
communicating and engaging in dialogue. They do not turn their backs on each
other and relate to difficulties as to challenges which they must go through
together. As we read in the love poetry of the Song of Songs (4:8-9):
me from Lebanon, my bride, with me from Lebanon shall you come; you shall look
from the peak of Amanah, from the peak of Senir and Hermon, from the lions'
heart, my sister, [my] bride; you have captivated my heart with one of your
eyes, with one link of your necklaces.
Ben Brit (Son of the Covenant)
Readers Respond (to Devorah
Greinman's article in the Re'eh edition)
Devorah Greniman's article (Shabbat Shalom
number 564) offers a worthy
example of a relevant political interpretation of Torah law. She begins with
the prohibition against "spilling blood" and ends with an emotional
comment on the use of cluster-bombs in inhabited areas. Her citation of the
great scholar Jack Milgrom (referring to his article on "Blood" in
the Encyclopedia Judaica) was also of great importance. Milgrom points
out that the prohibition against eating blood is unique to Israel and is
without parallel in the other cultures of the ancient East. I will further
support these ideas with a quotation from RaMBaM which grants a
"social" commandment priority over a "religious"
commandment (and I purposefully cite it now on the eve of the High Holy Days).
In Hilkhot Rotzeyah 4:9,
RaMBaM places the prohibition against spilling blood at the pinnacle of the
hierarchy of commandments, even above the prohibition against idolatry:
"For even though there are sins more serious than bloodshed, none destroys
the inhabitation of the world as does bloodshed." That is to say that
murder is worse than idolatry, because it destroys human civilization. Furthermore:
"Even idolatry, and it is unnecessary to mention prohibited sexual
relations or Sabbath desecration, are not like bloodshed. For those sins are
transgressions of man against God, but bloodshed is a sin of man against his
fellow and anyone who has committed that sin is completely wicked." This
halakhah, which grants total priority to "social" commandments over
"religious" commandments, is fantastic, and apparently unique in our
literature (this complements Milgrom's claim).
Up to this point we are in
agreement, and from here on we are in disagreement. I fully support the stand
taken by Netivot Shalom against social injustice and bloodshed, but it is
precisely that Archimedean point that led me to the Right. I cannot acquiesce
to the Left's tolerance of the terrible bloodshed undertaken by Moslem society,
systematic bloodshed that is a way of life.
The Mideast conflict is between
two civilizations which are radically different from each other in regard to
two central issues. While Jewish society (this is a generalization, but a
justified one) abhors bloodshed (the "blood" mentioned by RaMBaM-Milgrom-Greniman),
Moslem society "sanctifies" blood. In addition, while Jewish society
takes responsibility for it actions, and even for sins that it did not actually
commit (apparently, a pathological consequence of chronic breast-beating over
sins: ashamnu bagadnu… – "We have incurred guilt, we have
betrayed… "), Moslem society never takes responsibility for anything,
and especially not for the tide of blood with which it has flooded our land and
the entire world. The Right protests, but the Left barely stammers.
In conclusion: it is good that Shabbat
Shalom raises the alarm regarding social injustices and rejects the
"sanctification" of blood, for that is the whole Torah. However, it
should reach an opposite political conclusion, and our violent neighbors, who inscribed
these negative values upon their banner, should not enjoy anyone's moral and
political support – certainly not the support of people of peace.
Your comrade and halfway
sympathizer (that is to say, a comrade who shares your moral sentiments, but
not their political application),
Amnon Shapira, Tirat Tzvi
Devorah Greniman, author of
the article, replies:
I am honored that Dr. Amnon
Shapira chose to relate to my article. That being said, I find it difficult to
understand why Dr. Shapira feels that I engaged in giving "a relevant
political interpretation of Torah law."
Relevant – yes – but political?
I did relate to events from the last war in Lebanon – the IDF's use of cluster
bombs in inhabited areas – but I did not take a stand regarding the justness or
usefulness of the war itself. Furthermore, I qualified my words with the
understanding that sometimes the use of such weapons must be considered in
order to protect the lives of our soldiers – a qualification that would seem to
sit well with Dr. Shapira's position. As a mother who currently has two sons
serving as combat soldiers, I do not take that factor lightly.
And so, Dr. Shapira agrees that
there is no place for disagreement over the fact that the Torah requires that
exceptional care be taken in everything involving bloodshed. If so, why is the
expression of this concern immediately identified with a leftist political
position? Is it because the blood in question is that of Arab civilians in time
of war, and not Jewish blood, which is always "thicker"? I think that
the clear position stated by Dr. Shapira on this issue does not lead to the
conclusion that in time of war one is allowed to strike at the enemy – civilian
and combatant – without taking any moral restraints into account. I naively
thought that followers of the Torah both of the "Right" and of the
"Left" would agree on precisely this issue.
Dr. Shapira goes on to claim
that Moslem society "sanctifies" blood [quotation marks are from the
original text – D.G.] while Jewish society abhors bloodshed, and that Moslem
society "never takes responsibility for anything" while Jewish
society "takes responsibility for it actions." Take notice – suddenly
we turn from the discussion of classical Jewish texts to generalizations
about Moslem and Jewish societies. I am not well acquainted with Islamic
literature, and so I cannot express an opinion on the positions Islam takes
generally as regards blood and bloodshed. As for society, that, I believe, is
to be judged by its own eyes and according to its own norms and conscience, and
not by the deeds and norms and conscience presumed by others. Our own society
is far from being free of bloodshed, as a quick glance at the daily newspapers
of any day will demonstrate. As I have tried to point out, the Torah does not
merely require us to take responsibility for bloodshed after the fact, but
rather to always take the greatest care in such matters – before the deed and
during the deed. By "stammering" something (to borrow Dr. Shapira's
expression) following the violent death of non-combatants and innocents, we
have not yet accomplished anything in the eyes of the Torah.
War is violent, and talk of
"purity if arms" is an oxymoron. Nevertheless, the fact that
apparently we cannot do without bloodshed at this time does not absolve us of
the obligation to take great care in such matters. This is not just another
factor to be considered among the whole constellation of factors, rather it is
the supreme factor, as Dr. Shapira has claimed, following RaMBaM. I hope that
we can both agree on that point.
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