By Rabbi Sigal Brier
Parshat Ki Tavo
Can you recall a time when you talked to God? Can you recollect where and when it was? Can you remember what you said?
Pause and think back to the time and place this talk occurred. Was it in formal or spontaneous prayer, in silence, in your thoughts, in a whisper or a loud shout? It’s OK if you can’t recall the details, the words, the time, the place. But can you recall the feeling?
Sit with it for a few minutes, even if it is uncomfortable. It may provide you with an insight into your relationship with God.
Why is this important?
In two weeks, we will stand at the threshold of a new year. During the pandemic, faced with many challenges, personal and societal, we will experience this holiday season very differently. Sitting in our homes and not coming to synagogue may bring us closer to our inner lives, spiritual lives and God. The spiritual aspect of life will shine forth more brightly through this holy time of year than ever before.
Relationships are complicated and being in a relationship with God is no different. It’s complicated. Regardless of where you are in your relationship with God, I hope you find this sharing helpful.
Ki Tavo, this week’s portion, begins with instructions. When you come to the Promised Land, collect and bring a thanksgiving offering to a designated place. You shall do so to acknowledge the journey of liberation and the care God provided for you until you arrived in the “land flowing with milk and honey.” You will affirm your choice that God is your God by following the laws and observing the commandments.
And God will affirm back to you that you have a treasured relationship. You are God’s um segulah, commonly translated to “chosen” or “treasured people.” It also means people with healing power; we are chosen to be agents of healing and mending in the world. Tikkun olam, mending the world, is intertwined with the assertion that we are in a special relationship with God.
Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, z’l, an important Israeli thought leader (1903-1994) teaches that the unique word in this portion, le’hamir, meaning “to affirm a choice and commit” (in the form he’emareta and he’amirecha in Deuteronomy 26:17-18) appears only once in Torah, in Ki Tavo, and sheds light on the relationship between God and the people. In his commentary, he asks, “Is there a relationship between the Israelites choosing God and God choosing the Israelites?”
Yes, he asserts, these are not separate. Leibowitz sees them as one integrated movement in this way: The Israelites’ choice to follow God’s path of mitzvot and laws is the reason the Israelites were chosen by God.
Through many generations of journeying the Jewish path, maintaining a sacred relationship with God, we sometimes forget the centrality of our choosing God and Judaism. We stand on the solid foundations of generations before us who chose, committed to Jewish life and nurtured the centrality of having a relationship with a God.
Although spirituality has not been a center of our Judaism in every generation because we focused on other aspects of Jewish life, it is still there waiting for us. Now may be the time to open that treasure.
At this time of heshbon hanefesh, the accounting of our souls, let’s look at how we have taken for granted and easily dismissed a spiritual tradition and a God we can worship. Worship in Jewish tradition connotes an attitude, a feeling and a doing. Worship is an inner stance of appreciation, reverence, love, devotion, respect and relating. As in any cherished and important relationship in our lives, relating to God is made of inner attitudes, feelings, communication and actions.
We are called to mend the world, le’taken olam, in the Aleinu. We end almost every service with this prayer and we bow and give thanks to God, to the path and to the privilege of having a rich tradition to guide our lives with depth and meaning.
May you find your heartfelt prayer, even if you are reluctant and currently feel disconnected from prayer and God; I hope you will give it a try. Try it even if you begin with some holy chutzpah and start your prayer this way: “God, what have you done for me lately?” Listen and see where it takes you.
Prayers may be directed to God, but the positive mark they leave will be in you.
L’shana tovah u’metukah.
Rabbi Sigal Brier is the rabbi at Temple Judea of Bucks County in Doylestown. The Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia is proud to provide diverse perspectives on Torah commentary for the Jewish Exponent. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the Board of Rabbis.