Ki Tavo 5771 – Gilayon #717


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Parshat Ki Tavo

In the morning you will say "Would

that it were evening"

And in the evening you will say "Would

that it were morning"

From your heart's fright with which you

will be afraid

And from the

sight of your eyes that you will see.

(Devarim

28:67)

 

And your life will dangle before you: This refers to

the danger from the enemies in whose midst they dwell; they will fear day and

night and not trust for their lives. For daily they will think that death and

bereavement will enter their windows and their palaces, so that "in the

morning you will say, 'Would that it were

evening.' And in the evening you will say, 'Would that it were

morning'". Reasons are given for both: if they say that their desire at

night is "Would that it were morning" – this is due to "your

heart's fright with which you are afraid" – meaning to say that they will

yearn in the hours of fog or morning – in order to shed the fear of frightening

sights which form in their imaginations and scare them in their dwellings. "And

in the morning they will say 'Would that it were evening" – "from the

sight of your eyes which you will see" – meaning that at sunrise they will

say "Would that it were evening", so that we could hide from those

who beat and kill us. And all this matter of fear and trepidation and quaking

does not describe [only] Jews, but also those who have left the faith and

worship other gods. For even though they receive wealth and

honor and standing among the nations of the world, and are nobles and ministers

in their nations for many years, yet the fear and trepidation do not leave

them, and always their lives dangle before them. For the nations will

always be their enemy, and the sword will forever lie

on their neck.

(Abarbanel, Devarim 28:66)

 

From your hearts fright, etc – even where

there is no [real cause for] fright, but only the fright of what your heart

imagines.

From the sight which your eyes

see

– Because you are in real danger.

 (Haamek Davar

Ibid., ibid.)

 

Would that it were evening – The Talmud

explains that this refers to "yesterday's evening", and the morning

is that of the previous day. But the plain meaning refers to the future, because this is the nature of people in trouble, they loath

the present and yearn for the future, perhaps their condition will improve. And why the repetition – both morning and evening? To tell

us that in vain will they in the morning yearn for evening, because when

evening comes they will return to yearn for morning.

(R' Yitzchak Shmuel

Reggio, ibid., ibid.)

 

Look down . . .  And bless . . .

Shlomo Fox

 With blessings and best wishes to

 my

sister Rachel and to Mordecai

 on the

occasions of their marriage!

Our parasha

begins with the commandments of Bikkurim – the

offering of the first fruits  and the biur

maasrot – disposal of tithes. It then tells of

the ceremony of inscribing the Torah on stones and their placement on Mt. Eval, and of the

blessing/curse ceremony above Shechem, on Mts. Eval and Grizim, detailing the

blessings and the curses.

We shall deal with two subjects

which may be learned from the parasha.

1. The importance of location.

In the commandment to bring the

first fruits we are told to bring the basket "to the place which God

shall choose"; later (in Prophets-Scriptures) we understand that the

reference is to Jerusalem.

The midrash teaches us that

the obligation to bring the first fruits falls only upon the landowner, i.e.,

ownership of a location is a prerequisite for the observance of this

commandment.

The parasha

then proceeds to describe the inscription of the Torah on the stones with lime,

and their erection on Mt.

Eval,

and then the ceremony of the blessings and curses on Mts. Grizim and Mt. Eval, mountains

that lie above Shechem. The Book of Joshua

concludes with the Shechem Covenant in

which Joshua reprimands the nation and again makes inheritance of the land

conditional upon the observance of the Covenant. What, then, is the

significance of this particular location?

It would seem that there is an

equilibrium of locations; Jerusalem

for Judea, and Shechem for Israel (Joseph). Tradition ties Jerusalem to the Akeida

– the Binding of Isaac – , whereas Shechem is related

to the lust of the Dina incident – the 'Akeida of

Dina – and the envy of the brothers as they sell Joseph – the "Akeida of Joseph". The ritual held in this particular

place obligates us to clarify what the location of the event is to signify. It

is clear that location is an important factor of the commandment,

both as regards the bringing of the first fruits and as regards learning the

ideal behavior at hearing the blessing and the curse.

2, The importance of the Word – The

Importance of the Act

"And all these

blessings/curses shall reach you…" We recall similar phrases at the

conclusion of the Book of Vayikra, in Parashat Bechukotei, and in Parashat Re'eh, in which God

tells us 'Before you' are the blessings and the curses, it is for you to

choose.

R' Haayim

ben Attar asks and answers (Ohr HaHayim, Devarim

28:27):

…and I find it proper to note,

why are these consolations following the curses not presented here in the order

in which the curses in Parashat Behukotei

are recorded, and also to explain the necessity of multiplying the curses and

not making do with the curses in Behukotei.

It seems that it was necessary

to multiply the curses because the curses in Parashat

Behukotei were directed to Israel in general, as

is indicated by the use of the plural from beginning to end. This opens

the possibility that if a portion of Israel improves their behavior, God

will not factor in the sinning segment – this is indicated by all the curses of

our parasha appearing in the singular.

It is important to differentiate

between the value of an individual and the value of a part of Israel even though often the totality of Israel is

referred to in the singular. For example, (ibid. v.23) "And the

heavens that are above your [in singular form] head etc," and "God

will bring upon you [singular form] a nation from afar" (v. 49). These phrases

apply to a portion of Israel

– even though they may be many, they are referred to in the singular for the

above-mentioned reason… Now we may understand why consolation is not attached

to them; consolation appears only in connection with curses applying to the

generality of Israel,

for He will never leave them to destroy them; He will remember His covenant

with their fathers, He will also remember the land.

This is not the case with

individuals – when they do evil, eternal fire will devour them. For so we find

that God commanded to destroy a city in Israel and to leave it an

everlasting rubble heap – the Ir Hanidachat.[an entire town

sentenced to total destruction because of idolatry], and needless to say one

found guilty and sentenced to death by a court. What consolation can he have

after death…"

From this commentary we can

understand that  the

power of the curse notwithstanding –  for

the generality of Israel

there is consolation.

This conclusion seems implicit

in the words of the Mishna quoted by Rashi in his commentary on the verse "Look down from

Your holy dwelling place from the heavens and bless Your people Israel and the

soil which You have given us as You swore to our fathers, a land flowing with

milk and honey" (Devarim 26:16): "Look

down from Your holy dwelling place" – We did that which you decreed, now

You do that which you have to do, as you said (Vayikra

26:3)

"If you go by my statutes… I shall give you rains in their seasons".

Said Rashi,

basing himself on the Mishnah (Maaser Sheni 5:13):

 Look down from Your holy

dwelling place from the heavens" We did that which You commanded us, do

You that which You promised us, "Look down from Your holy dwelling place

from the heavens and bless Your people Israel" – with sons and daughters; "and

the soil which You have given us" – with rain and dew and cattle

offspring; "as You swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and

honey" – in order to impart deliciousness to the fruits.

This derasha

explains why the commandment of Bikkurim

and biur maasrot

appear before the blessing and the curse, in the sense of "Precede

the illness with the cure". There is a relatively simple way to

observe and to demand the terms of the blessing. Yet more, included in the

observance of these commandments is concern for the other, for the Levite, for

the stranger, for the orphan and the widow.

The midrash (Tanhuma

(Buber) Parashat Naso,

Article 15)

teaches that there is a way to cause God's blessing to be present in the

congregation – in the Priestly Benediction. The Midrash

reads:

"So shall you bless" –

That which is written "Look down from Your holy

dwelling place from the heavens and bless Your people", and also David

said (Shmuel II, 7:29): "May it please you, therefore,

to bless Your servant's house, that it abide before You forever… May your servants house be blessed forever by your blessing."

Said the Congregation of Israel

before the Holy One, Blessed Be He: Master of the universe, You

tell the priests to bless us, we need but Your blessing "Look down from

your holy dwelling in heaven."

Replied the Holy One, Blessed Be

He: Even though I told the priest to bless you, I stand with them and bless you

– therefore the priest spread their palms, to say that the Holy One stands

behind us.

And so it is written: "There

He stands behind our wall, gazing through the window, peering through the lattice."

(Song

of Songs 2:9)

"Gazing through the window" – through the fingers of the priests; "peering

through the lattice" – when they spread their palms, therefore it says "Thus

shall you bless them."

The Priestly Benediction, in

conjunction with observance of the tithing commandments brings down God's

existence to our world, God is in our midst. The Priestly Benediction empowers

us to demand our due and to transform curse into blessing – and so we read in

the midrash (Shemot Rabba (Vilna), Parasha 41:1):

"When He concluded he gave

to Moshe" – thus began R' Tanhuma ben Abba (Daniel 9):

With You, O Lord, is the right,

and the shame is upon us" . . . Said R' Nehemiah: Even when we do right,

our actions look at us and we are ashamed, at no time do we demand forcibly,

but when we dispose of our tithes, as is written "When you finish

tithing" – what is written at the conclusion? "Look down from your

holy dwelling in heaven."

Said R; Alexandroni:

Great is the power of those who give tithes, for they transform the curse

into a blessing. Usually, when Torah employs the word "hashkifa" – 'look down' – it is a term

connoting sorrow, as is written, "And God looked down at the Egyptian

encampment", and so with Sodom, as is written (Bereishit 19) "And He looked down upon Sodom."

But here (in our parasha) this is not so."

If we fulfill our part, we may

demand! We may request without shame!

With all this, there is need for

clarification: Does this line of thinking open a window to hope in times of

calamity?

In his derashot

in the Warsaw Ghetto, Rav Kalman

Kalmish Shapira, the Rebbi of Piaseczno [Poland],

explains

how he saw the Holy One "looking down" upon him. He expounds upon the

words of Bavli (Sandhedrin

59b):

Rabbi Shimeon

b. Manassia said: Woe for the loss of a great

servant. For had not the serpent been cursed, every Israelite would have had

two valuable serpents, he would send one to the north and one to the south to

bring him costly gems, precious stones, and pearls. Moreover, one would have

had fastened a thong under its tail, with which it would bring forth earth for

his garden and wasteland. (soubriquet)

The Esh

Kodesh ("The Holy Fire". The name given to Rav Shapiro's collected sermons) asks: Why of all animals

was the serpent chosen to bring Adam precious stones?

He explains (according to the Yerushalmi, Peah, 1:1): Unlike

other animals which act out of self- interest, the serpent's actions are

dictated not by considerations of benefit, but by the command of God.

This being the case, we may

imply the following: When we see someone acting not out of self-interest, there

exists the potential for great good, but for this to happen, the curse must be

neutralized. It is only the curse which prevents his positive actions.

Therefore, says the Talmud, were it not for the curse, every man would have two

serpents to tend his needs.

The Esh

Kodesh elucidates the events of his day:

 According to this, when

we see, heaven forefend, that they torture us and torment us in matters which

do not in any way benefit the torturer and tormentor – affliction for its own

sake – the revelation of retribution [din] in unnatural garb, we know

from this that when we shall return and pray to God He will then deliver us

with salvation through unnatural means . . . and this is also the ability

of the Israelite person to strengthen himself midst these terrible

catastrophes, these unnatural misfortunes , unnatural punishments, then also

the strengthening is through unnatural means, for one cannot in natural terms

understand how one can regain strength; therefore strengthening one's self also

helps transform strict retribution into mercy [rachamim]…

…Everywhere the picture bodes

badly and here it is transformed into good, because strengthening one's self

will itself act to transform from bad to good and to bless Your

people Israel, and bless

Your nation Israel.

A year later (1941) he

homiletically elaborates on the verses of the Bikkurim

recitation (Devarim 26:6,7):

 And the Egyptians did

evil to us and abused us and set upon us hard labor. And we cried

out to the Lord God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our

abuse and our trouble and our oppression.

The moment it was written that

God listened, the verse details what God heard – our abuse, our trouble, and

our oppression, and, as we know from the Pesach Haggdah,

every word symbolizes another form of affliction. The Esh

Kodesh asks: "Why do the detailed evils not

appear at the beginning of the description where it says "and they did

evil"?

He replies:

The simple reason is that – as

our Sages (Shabbat

13)

said "Dead flesh in a living person does not feel the scalpel.: – We

feel only the trampling on all our bones, our world is dark, neither day nor

night, only confusion and bewilderment; it seems as though the entire world

lies upon us squeezing and oppressing us until, Heaven forefend, we break,    but we do not feel each individual pain in all

its force. Therefore, in "the Egyptians did evil to us" details of

the abuse are not listed, because Israel did not feel each evil decree

individually, but He, Blessed Be He, heard our voice and saw the details of

each distress, as our Sages [in the Haggadah] taught…

 and He had mercy and saved us.

I can hear the Rebbi of Piaseczno's method of text

explication infusing hope. He succeeded in translating the "Redemption

from Egypt"

into hope for redemption in his day. He translated that which his eyes

witnessed, the general suffering, the parasha's curses

which materialize one by one and, at first glance, indicate "concealment

of His face" – he still is able to see the presence of God's supervision

in the fact that the oppression is done purposelessly, without benefit; in this

the oppressors resemble the serpent, and this is the middat

hadin the quality of strict

retribution, and if it is indeed middat hadin, prayer and good deeds can convert it into middat harachamimthe

quality of mercy!

The importance of the location

and the importance of the word and the act, obligate man to clarify what is

dependant upon him, what is within him and within his power to do in order to

change his destiny.

Shlomo Fox teaches in

the Hebrew Union College

and in Kolot

 

 

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" – said

Rabbi Avraham: For the Lord will help you when

the mitzvoth become obligatory, for this is the first mitzvah upon

their entering the land. In my opinion, "in order that you may enter" alludes

to all the words of the Torah, this 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.

(Ramban,

Devarim 27)

 

For this Torah you are coming into the land –

this is the rationale for the mitzvah 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 with

presenting man with a demand. 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: Seven

Years Of Discussion Of The Weekly Parasha, p.

898)

 

The blessing is contingent upon our moral

standards

"And to set you most high above all the

nations…" – Said Rabbi Levi, "What is this "elyon" ["most

high"]? It is like this thumb [Trans. note: Also called "elyon"]. If you are meritorious, you will be above four

fingers, and if not, you will be beneath four fingers. "The Lord your God

will make you most high" – on condition; and if not, "the ger in your midst will rise high above you, higher and

higher." "Blessed be you in your coming-in," on condition –

on your coming into synagogues and houses of study. "And

blessed be you in your going-out" – from synagogues and houses of study.

"Blessed be you in the town, and blessed be you in the field." It

would have seemed logical to say "Blessed be you in the field and blessed

be you in the town," for with the produce one brings from the field is he

blessed in the town! But what is taught by "Blessed be you in the town,

and blessed be you in the field?" Should the opportunity of

performing a mitzvah present itself in the city, say not "I was commanded

only in the field, to set aside heave offerings and tithes outside [the town]".

Said The Holy One, Blessed Be He, "In the town, too, open your hand."

An alternative explanation: "Blessed be you in the town" – through

those mitzvot which you perform in your house in the

town, such as sukka, mezuza,

and parapet. "Blessed be you in the field" – such as lekket, shichcha, and peah. Another possible explanation: Let man not say, "Had

The Holy One, Blessed Be He, given me a field, I

would have given tithes from it. But now that I have no field, I give

nothing." Said The Holy One, Blessed Be He, "See what I wrote in my

Torah, 'Blessed be you in the town' – those who dwell

in the town; 'And blessed are you in the field' – those who have fields."

(Tanchuma,

Ki Tavo, 4)

 

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