By Rabbi Gary Charlestein
Parshat Ki Tavo
“Nations should walk by your light, kings by our shining radiance” — Isaiah informs us (60:3) that we — the Jewish people, through our actions, by our very elevated being, will serve as a model for the world.
This fitting challenge is attached in the Haftorah to the Torah portion of Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8), and it is well placed. For we are told, in the parsha, of the many blessings which will follow our obedience to God’s law and our tradition, as well as the terrible consequences of our straying from our raison d’etre.
We indeed have been blessed by the wisdom and insights of our tradition, found in our literature, and in our prayers, and found in our learning from one another. We are fortunate to live in a community of various shades of Jewish belief and practice, but one where we all support each other.
The instruction starts right at the beginning of our portion when the ritual of bringing the first fruits to the sanctuary is described. Of course, the farmer’s own efforts, his back-breaking labor were a strong part of the success of the growing season as, too, we can look at our own comforts and say, “Yes, I worked hard, and I made it.”
But that farmer and we also recognize that there are so many factors beyond our control — that there are so many forces that provide the opportunity and the basis for success. The rains, sun, the soil, our education, our parents, our friends and family from and for all of these we must take note and must give thanks.
The fact of gratitude saw the Judean farmer bringing from his grain and from his fruits, an offering of faith, an offering of thankfulness for being rewarded with a bountiful harvest. Such gratitude and recognition of the good is a hallmark of Jewish thought. This is why we are told to make a blessing whenever we enjoy an element of this world; be it food, be it the sight of a beautiful flower or a soaring mountain.
We are reminded in the liturgy of this “bikkurim” ritual, that we had been slaves, that we have been downtrodden, that we were delivered from oppression and given the opportunity to build freedom and Holiness.
That opportunity, thank God, is still very much with us. We have been blessed by living in the light of a renewed state of Israel, which beckons all of us to visit; to contribute to its growth and strength; to take pride in all of her achievements; and to glory in her magnificence.
While half of the Jewish world lives in the state of Israel, we are all free and hopefully able to spend time, serious time there. At any moment, there are more than 400 foreign young people, Americans and other non-citizens serving in the Israeli Army out of a sense of gratitude, of appreciation, of a desire to support the state.
Thus, for our time now in recognition of all that has been accomplished, despite the horrors and destruction of the Shoah, perhaps we can understand why we are called a “treasured people” as we are also called a “nation of priests”; for we must recognize the many blessings which are ours and enhance our community and the world by building a just and righteous society.
While this parsha contains a powerful outcry in preparation for entering the land, “Here Israel, today you have become the People of the Lord your God,” we can and should every day proclaim how grateful are we to be part of this eternal people, whose mission is to bring light and blessing to the world.
From the most basic warnings against murder and incest, we also see the nuanced reminder that we must not misdirect a blind person on his way, we must not subvert the rights of the stranger the fatherless and widow, we must not remove our neighbor’s landmark. These ever-present warnings remind us of our daily obligations as our remarkable history can tell us that from the darkest days can come the greatest of achievements.
A new year is weeks away. Take the time to read these Torah messages, sent out every week, for each of us to observe and to make part of our daily living. Prepare for the holidays by reviewing this past year as Moses now does with the people he is about to leave. Have a beautiful Shabbos and a significant period of readiness leading to Rosh Hashanah. Feel the gifts that are ours. …
May again and again the words of this week’s parsha (28:6) shower down on you and your family, “Blessed shall you be in your comings and blessed be in your goings” “blessed be you in the cities and blessed shall you be in the country.” And “May all these blessings come upon you” …
Rabbi Gary Charlestein is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary and served six years in the pulpit rabbinate. He is a member of Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley and teaches two weekly Talmud classes and a Zoom Lunch and Learn on the parsha. 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.