Ki Tavo 5770 – Gilayon #665


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Parshat Ki Tavo

You shall be blessed when you come,

and you shall be blessed when you depart.

(Devarim

28:6)

 

Blessed will

you be when you come, and blessed will you be when you depart: May your departure from the world be as free of sin as was

your entry into the world.

(Rashi ad

loc, Judaica Press translation)

 

Blessed will

you be when you come, and blessed will you be when you depart – To

and from battle, as in the verse, who will go out before them and who will

come before them.

(Hizkuni ad

loc)

 

Blessed will

you be when you come – [The passage] from Blessed will you be

in the town, etc. through when you depart contains blessings for a

man who works his land. Blessed are you when you come refers to the man

who works his land and who, in the morning, goes to his field and vineyard and

to inspect his flock and who returns in the evening. Sometimes the women are

also in the fields and the children and all their possessions are alone at home

all day long and He promised them that when they return home they will find

everything is well and that nothing bad had happened. This also includes the

times that they go to see God's countenance in Shiloh or Jerusalem, that God

promised them that no man will covet your land. It also applies to the

days of Hezekiah when they would leave their homes and go to yeshivot to learn,

that when they would return to their homes they would be blessed. Since this

blessing is vital and beloved, it was mentioned before the blessing of

departure. And you shall be blessed when you depart

says that when you leave your home to go out to the field you will be blessed,

that no member of the household will be ill and that nothing else bad will

occur, so that you will not be worried while out of the house. Similarly, when

you go on pilgrimage, all that is left at home will be blessed and without

grief. With this the first section is completed. It was fulfilled from the days

of Joshua until those of King Saul; during that period divine punishments were

infrequent. Those punishments are stipulated in the curses, they consist of

many items, and each item was fulfilled at a known time.

(Malbim ad loc)

 

Recollections

from My Days as an Aramean

Ariel

Rathaus

In memory of my mother and teacher

Bracha bat Yehudah David

Who died on the 11th of Elul, 5744

Despite

the Zionist axiom so popular among us – "It is not enough to remove the

People Israel from the Galut, we must also remove the Galut from the People

Israel" – Jewish tradition contains several central experiential texts

that can be fulfilled only if Israelites do no completely purge the Galut from

their hearts and memories. These include the Passover Seder, which commemorates

the Egyptian exile and the Exodus from Egypt and the commandment to dwell in

the sukkah, which commemorates our wanderings in the wilderness before entering

the Land of Israel.

Parashat

Ki Tavo begins with a detailed description of one of these historically-laden

ceremonies – the bringing of the first fruits to the priest in the Temple. One who received his parcel of territory in the Land and settled it takes the

first fruits of the soil, places them in a basket, and brings them to the

priest who sets the basket down before the altar. Then the one who brought the

fruits recites the passage of Mikra Bikurim (also known as Viyduy Bikurim):

Arami

oved avi [explained below], and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there with a small number of people, and there, he became a great,

mighty, and numerous nation. And the

Egyptians treated us cruelly and afflicted us, and they imposed hard labor upon

us. So we cried out to the Lord, God of our

fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our

oppression. And the Lord brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, with great awe, and with signs and

wonders. And He brought us to this place, and He

gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the

ground which you, O Lord, have given to me." (Devarim 26:5-10)

This is a kind of

miniature Passover Haggadah; in fact, these verses were incorporated into the

Haggadah and serve as one of its most basic and ancient sections, as we read in

Mishnah Pesahim 10:4: "He begins with derogation and ends with praise, and

explicates from Arami oved avi until he completes the entire

passage."

The Haggadah's early

editors took pains to carry out the Mishnah's instructions to

"explicate" these verses, and their reading of the opening verse

strays far from the plain meaning: "Go and learn: What did Laban the

Aramean want to do to our Father Jacob? Pharaoh only decreed [to kill] the

males, while Laban wanted to uproot everything, for it is said, Arami oved

avi, etc." According to this interpretation (which is already found in

Targum Onkelos and in Rashi's commentary on the verse), the word

"Aramean" is the subject of the sentence, and it refers to Laban the

Aramean (as he is called several times in the Torah). The word oved is

understood as a verb, meaning "sought to destroy," and avi [my

father] is the object of the sentence – it refers to Jacob, who was the object

of his father-in-law's hatred. Thus the verse recounts the first chapter in the

terrible history of anti-Semitism; it constitutes a kind of archetype for the

persecution that has threatened Jewish survival in every generation.

Thanks to the charm and

beauty of the Haggadah and the special festive nature of its recitation, this

drasha has a stronger hold upon us than does the plain meaning of the verse

itself. However, I believe that in this case the plain meaning of the verse is

much more fascinating and instructive than that of its drasha. According to the

plain reading, the subject of the sentence is avi [my father] and the

words Arami oved are the predicate. Who is the "father" who is

here called an "Aramean"? It seems that this is a reference to the

patriarchs (ShaDaL, R. Yithak Reggio),

or, more specifically, Abraham, who was exiled from Aram Naharaim (RaShBaM), or, according to majority opinion,

Jacob, who fled to Aram and stayed with Laban (Ibn

Ezra, Sforno, Hizkuni). These exegetes read the word oved as an

intransitive verb. Some say it means "was impoverished, without

money" (Ibn Ezra, Hizkuni), while

the majority render it as "wandering" (RaShBaM,

Sforno, Reggio, ShADaL). Thus, according to the majority of exegetes,

the verse means: My father Jacob was a wandering Aramean. This

interpretation is philologically reasonable and it certainly fits the context

of Mikra Bikurim. What of the question it naturally raises, i.e., why

does the Torah refer to one of the Patriarchs as an "Aramean"? That

was already addressed by Ibn Ezra, the originator of this line of

interpretation: " Let it not be asked how [Jacob] could be called an Aramean,

since similarly an Israelite is called an Ishmaelite, for that is

written."

Such things do happen,

and there is nothing to be surprised about. Ibn Ezra finds an obscure figure in

the Bible, "Yeter" or "Yitra," father of Amsa. Yeter was an

Israelite but he is called an Ishmaelite (see II

Samuel 17:25; I Chronicles 2:17). From this we learn that proper Jews

can sometimes be referred to by inappropriate appellations such as

"Ishmaelite" or "Aramean." Even so, the opening verse of Mikra

Bikurim remains surprising. Why does the Torah refer to the Patriarchs in

this fashion? "Aram" and "Aramean" bear clearly negative

connotations; they are used in the Torah to describe rivals and enemies – Laban

the Aramean and Balaam ben Beor who came from Petor Aram Naharaim to curse

you (Devarim 23:5). But there is

something to this usage. This unusual appellation and its strange presence in

this context offers a key for understanding the deeper meaning of Mikra Bikurim.

According to RaMBaM, the

commandment of Mikra Bikurim is meant to break our pride as landowners

precisely at the moment that land produces its first fruits; this restrains our

arrogance as lords of the land when we feel satisfied with ourselves, our

wealth, and our control over the natural environment and its resources. Mikra

Bikurim helps us develop humility and gratitude towards the Creator, since

"It is part of the service of God that a person remembers his times of

trouble and his matters of grief when God grants him bounty" (Guide of the Perplexed 3:39).

If we further develop

this notion – which is held in common and in a variety of versions by many of

Israel's sages who wanted to understand the rationale of the commandment of the

first fruits – we can say that the utterance in question – Arami oved avi

– gives the measure of the degree of humility required of an Israelite of that

class. In the harvest festival a man leaves his permanent home, full of bounty,

and enters the simple and rickety sukkah. This act is also a commemoration of

the historical past, a journey out from the Land flowing with milk and honey in

return to the wilderness. Mikra Bikurim similarly shatters our

egocentrism and reminds us of the historical past; it constitutes a symbolic encounter

with the ancient history of the People Israel, stretching back far before the

generation of the wilderness. It is a journey to the time when the people

descended to Egypt and later left it, and even earlier – to the time when we

were not yet called "Israel." It was Jacob, the first to known as

"Israel," who is here given the name of the stranger and enemy, the

"Aramean." The bringing of the first fruits demands a double humility,

humility both on the personal and national planes. One must mentally return to

the days when one was an Aramean, to the days of one's wandering. Not only did one

lack a hereditary parcel of land – one had yet to even form a people.

This is doubtlessly an

important and psychologically refreshing exercise; it shatters both pride and

the radically dichotomous view that sees Israel's relationship with the outer

world in terms of unavoidable enmity. It might be mentioned that the Haggadah's

interpretation of Arami oved avi strengthens this dichotomy; it presents

reality in sharp terms of "them" and "us": Laban the

Aramean wanted to do away with Jacob because in each and every generation

"they stand upon us to destroy us." The plain meaning of the verse

squarely contradicts this approach. We might say with greater precision that

the plain reading engages the drasha in fruitful dialectic dialogue: not only

does it not represent the struggle with the other as an eternal way of life, it

even alludes to empathy with the other. The Aramean, the other, is not

necessarily an enemy. If I poke around carefully in my historical memory, I

will discover that I am also the descendent of a wandering Aramean.

In order to reach a

balanced position on the issue of the relations between Israel and the nations, we must combine both of the contradictory interpretations given to

our verse. If we ignore the opinion of the compilers of the Haggadah – that in

each and every generation the People Israel faces bitter enemies – we will

certainly fail to understand our early and more recent history. However, if we

reject the interpretation which plays down the dichotomy and the gap between

Judaism and the world around it, we shall sin even more grievously: we will sin

against the future of the People Israel and against the possibility of

realizing our religious and national purpose in peace for the good of all mankind

and as a member in the family of nations.

The idea of Israel's

election does not justify complete separation from the world, as we can

understand from the words of R. Ovadiah Sforno in his comments on the words, to

be for Him an especially treasured people (Devarim

26:18): "In order that He gain through you that which He seeks to

gain through the human race, as He said, Let us make a man in our form and

image."

According to this great

exegete, an especially treasured people does not imply racial privilege,

but rather the realization of humanity's common potential through the

performance of the commandments.

Dr. Ariel

Rathaus is a literary scholar and translator. He teaches at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

 

The Proselyte Brings and Makes the Recitation

The 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 Bikurim 4:3)

 

I 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.

Yes, you may say all this in the prescribed order and not change it in

the least. In the same was as every Jew by birth says his blessing and prayer,

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)

 

Vayarei'u otanu

hamitzrim

And it says And the Egyptians treated us cruelly, etc. This means

that through human elements they caused the soul to be evil like themselves,

and that is [the meaning of] vayarei'u otanu [treated us cruelly,

literally, caused us to be bad]; it means they made us wicked like themselves,

for the stinking humor attracts the soul's will.

(Or HaHayim Devarim

26:6)

 

The meaning of vayarei'u

otanu hamitzrim: They made us wicked and ungrateful, so much so that

they became suspicious and said, he will also join our enemies, which was

never Israel's intention. The reason for this [suspicion] was Israel's sin, as is made clear in the passage of the Pact of the Cut Pieces [brit ben habetarim].

Too much tranquility led them to want to forget their name was Israel, and this also comes under vayarei'u otanu: they made us wicked towards God.

(NaTzIV: Ha'Amek Davar Devarim 26:6)

 

Explained well, then,

teaches that the words must be elucidated and understandable. From this they

learned that that copy of the Torah included translation so as to facilitate

comprehension by the nations of the world. Israel is far from the particularism

attributed it by others; from the outset it saw its mission as bringing

spiritual and moral salvation to all humanity. With the entry of the Torah into

the Land of Israel, future redemption of both Israel and all nations commenced.

(Rabbi S.R. Hirsch, Devarim 27:8)

 

Midrashei Tzafon – From the pen of our

member, Ronen Ahituv

And He brought

us to this place, and He gave us this land (26:9)

This place is the Temple. In reward

for our coming to this place He gave us this land (Yalkut

Shimoni 938).

Another view: Place – HaMakom – refers

to the Omnipresent, may He be blessed. In reward for our coming to the

Omnipresent He gave us this land, as it says: and you shall recite…before

the Lord your God. And it is said: To give you the land of Canaan, to be God for you (Vayikra 25:38). In reward

for My being God for you, I will give you the land of Canaan.

The drasha

"Another view" is a variation on the drasha of the Yalkut,

which treats the parallelism between the two parts of the verse. According to

that drasha, inheritance of the land does not depend upon the temple, but

rather upon our relationship with God. The drasha on Vayikra contradicts that

found in Ketuvot 110b on the same verse: "One should always dwell in the Land of Israel, even in a town that is mostly [populated by] idolaters; and one should not

live outside the Land even in a town [populated] mostly by Israelites. For

everyone who dwells in the Land of Israel is like someone who has a God, while

all those who live outside the Land are like someone who has no God, for it is

said: To give you the Land of Canaan, to be God for you. According to

Ketuvot, those who live outside the Land may lose their connection with God,

while according to our drasha – and the plain meaning of the verse – it is the

connection with God that makes life in the Land possible.

 

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