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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, meaning to say, because of the danger in which they live, to the point where they fear day and night, and have no confidence in their lives. For they will constantly think that death and bereavement have climbed through their windows and into their palaces, such that "In the morning you will say 'Were that it were evening', and in the evening you will say, "Were that it were morning". There is a reason for both: If their desire in the evening is "Were that it were morning', this is because of "Your heart's fright with which you will be afraid', meaning to say that during the hours of darkness or dawn, they will look forward to morning in order to remove from themselves the fear of the frightening sights which are born in their imaginations and scare them in their homes. And "In the morning you will say "Were that it were evening" - because of the sights which your will see", meaning that during the daylight hours they will pine for nightfall, that they may hide from those who oppress and kill them. And all that is said with reference to fear and cowardice is not said regarding Jews [alone], but also regarding those who left the faith and worship other gods. For even though they live in wealth and respect and standing among the nations of the world, and are worthies and ministers in their nations for many years, the fear and trepidation have never left them, their lives always dangle before them. This is because the nations will forever be their enemies, and throughout the day the sword rests on their neck.

(Abarbanel, ibid., ibid.)

 

Would that it were evening - The Talmud expounds "the previous evening", and similarly, the previous morning, but the plain sense of the passage implies the future, for this the nature of those in present danger, they despite the present and yearn for a future which may change their sorrowful plight. And the terms "evening" and "morning" are repeated in order to teach us that their morning yearning for evening is pointless, because in the evening they will return to pine for the morning.

(R. Yitzchak Shmuel Reggio, ibid., ibid.)

 

From your heart's fright etc. Even in a place where there is no [objective cause for] fear, but fear of what your heart imagines. And from the sight of your eyes which you will see. You will actually see, for you are in danger.

(Haamek Davar ibid. ibid.)


 

Regarding the right and the duty

Of moral defiance of heaven

Reuven Nimdar

It is difficult to think of a more painful and harsh parasha than Ki Tavo, with its passages of the Great Admonition (the Tokheha). The impressive ceremony of ratification of the oral covenant, in which half the nation stands on Mt. Gerizim, the mountain of the blessing, and the other half on Mt. Eval, the mountain of the curse - this dramatic, even cinematic, scene diminishes and pales in comparison with the literary scenes of terror depicted in the curses of the Great Admonition - just as do the beautiful blessings of the parasha: "Blessed will you be in the town, and blessed will you be in he field. Blessed the fruits of your womb and fruits of your soil and fruits of your beasts, the get of your herds and the offspring of your flock. Blessed your basket and your kneading pan. Blessed you will be when you come in and blessed you will be when you go out" (Devarim 28:3-6)

The sweeping hail of the terrible and awesome litany of plague is engraved deeply in the individual and collective consciousnesses, searing itself into them like a burn. There is something hypnotic in the detail of the mercilessness of the horrors and the dread which the furious god showers upon his terrified children - something paralyzing and incapacitating like standing before a violent parent who is in a murderous frenzy, cursing and threatening his offspring in his fury. How different this image of the father as reflected in the Admonition from that of the merciful father in whom the prayer books and High Holyday machzorim place their trust. The grisly and addictive descriptions of the horrors of the Admonition became, in the Jewish historic consciousness, a self-fulfilling prophecy. The depictions of the dreadful days of the siege and destruction are saturated with direct and indirect quotes from the Admonition. The collective awareness, stunned by the intensity of the catastrophe which befell us, made desperate attempts to bridge over the cognitive dissonance which it experienced and to position it within the world of Jewish meaning. The verses of the Tokheha provided an inexhaustible reservoir of images and quotes for this painful attempt at clarification. The Admonition's description of the hunger, the dread and the powerlessness are woven into the legends of the destruction and its various narratives - beginning the Armaean siege of Shomron (II Kings, 6:24-30), through the pictures of merciful mothers cooking and devouring their children during the Babylonian siege (Lamentations 4:6), and ending with the direct quotes from the Admonition interspersed in the Talmudic description of the Roman siege of Jerusalem (Bavli, Gittin 50a-b).

Jewish tradition attempted to cope, in various and strange ways, with the established ritual of reading of the parasha of Ki Tavo in public - with the requirement to repeat loudly (along with recitation of blessings referring to His Name and His kingship) the terrible curses included in it. It is customary until this day in many communities to read the verses of the Admonition sotto voce, hurriedly and in a whisper. Some congregations refrain, if possible, for assigning aliyot for this parasha; others give the undesirable aliya to the "unwanted" of the congregation - to stutterers, lunatics, deformed, and abject paupers. In some places extreme caution is employed in assigning the reading of this parasha, as though to ridicule the parasha and empty it of its tragic and prophetic influence and efficacy. Devora Baron's famous and touching story, "The Admonition Man" deals with an unfortunate indigent who is torn from his town and occupation and becomes a marginal member of the congregation and recipient of the questionable honor of being called to the Torah for the Admonition. Baron's "Admonition Man" embodies in his tragic and bleak biography all the ills of the exile and, in effect, all the curses appearing in the parasha which provides his terrible designation.

In order to cope with the theological-moral challenge presented by the God-image reflected in our parasha and with his difficult and violent relations with creation and the chosen people, many strategies evolved, mostly apologetic in nature. I should like to suggest here a different direction, one based not upon the terrified submission to divine whims, but, on the contrary, upon a courageous stand struggle to parry them, for the sake of the nation, the world, and the Lord Himself. This model is not as new or radical as it may seem. The first to exemplify this position was our father, Abraham, who argues with the Lord - in what seems to me to be a much more successful test of faith than was the Akeida [the binding of Isaac], uttering the immortal words: "Far be it from You to do such a thing, to put to death the innocent with the guilty, making innocent and guilty the same. Far be it from You! Will not the Judge of all the earth do justice?" (Genesis 18:25). Rabbinic literature, too, does not lack for instances of moral criticism of Heaven - the most widely-known of which is R. Yehoshua's not overly polite rebuke of God when the latter attempted to raise His voice and intervene in the famous halachic dispute regarding the ritual cleanliness of the oven of Aknai: "We pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice, for at Mt. Sinai You wrote in the Torah (Shemot 23) "After the majority must you incline" (Bava Metsia 59b).

In Hassidic folk literature there appears the captivating character of R. Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, who summons the Lord before a court because of His unfair treatment of His people. This activist, critical model, which does not accept as self-understood the divinity's unruly behavior and outbursts of fury, is very appropriate for the spirit of our age, and I feel that it is important to ponder the subject and study it as we listen to the horrifying words of the Great Admonition speedily whispered in Parashat Ki Tavo.

Reuven Nimdar, born in Yerushalayim (1964) currently resides in New York, where he teaches Judaism and Hebrew Literature. His first book "Haviv" was awarded the "Sefer HaBikkurim" prize by the Ministry of Science, culture and Sport for the year 2000. His latest work, "The House that Was Destroyed", which surprisingly integrates a modern plot based entirely Manhattan with a secondary plot which takes place in the Temple, narrated in Mishnaic idiom, was published recently by Z'mora Bitan.

 

 

"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 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 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 Kahanah, 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 Pessach, joy is mentioned not even once. Why not? Because on Pessach, 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.

(Psikta D'Rav Kahana (Mandelboim), Addenda, Parasha 2)

 

Converts Who Are Gathered beneath the Wings of the Divine Presence are also the Children of Abraham

I received queries from the master and teacher Ovadia, the enlightened and the understanding, a true convert, may God repay his actions and may his reward be complete from the Lord, God of Israel, under whose wings he came to find refuge.

Your question regarding the matter of blessing and prayers, when you pray alone or when you pray with the public, should you say: "Our God and God of our fathers", "Who sanctified us with His mitzvoth and commanded us", "Who set us aside", "Who chose us", and all similar instances.

You are to recite all as formulated, change nothing; just as every member of Israel prays, so are you to bless and pray, whether you pray in private or whether you are a sh'liach tzibbur - a cantor representing the congregation. The basis for this is that Avraham our Father taught the entire people, and enlightened them, and informed them of the true faith, and The Holy One, Blessed Be He, chose him, and he rebelled against idolatry, and he annulled its service, and he gathered many sons beneath the wings of the Shechina and he taught them and he instructed them, and he commanded his children and the members of his household after him to keep the way of the Lord... Therefore, whoever converts, until the end of all generations, and whoever unifies the name of The Holy One, Blessed Be He, as is written in the Torah, is considered a disciple of Avraham our Father, may he rest in peace, and they are all members of his household.

(From the Rambam's Response to Ovadia the Convert)

 

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 the 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)

 

God is Responsible for the Good; Hiding of God's Face is the Source of Evil in the World

These shall stand to bless the people - but by the curses it does not say these will stand to curse, because good things come actively from God, while the curses come automatically when His face is hidden. For the evil will not come from the mouth of the Exalted (Lamentations 3: 38). That is why it says these will stand on the curse, and not to curse. They merely prepare for the arrival of the curses, leaving it in question whether the curses will arrive or not, for they only come when the Face is covered. If so, the matter is still dependent upon the workings of the cosmos.

(Kli Yakar on Devarim 27:12)

 

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 18:14) - 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.

(Tanhuma - Warsaw edition - Shoftim 10)

 

You will always be at the top - in all aspects of 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 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, ad loc)

 

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 dark - some 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)

 

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