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Torah Dialogue : Ki Tavo

09/02/2020 05:44:20 PM


Rabbi Edward Davis

SHABBAT SHALOM. Today is 16 Elul 5780.

KI TAVO    Deuteronomy 26:1
Compiled by Rabbi Edward Davis (RED)

1.    The first paragraph of this Parshah is dedicated to the law of Bikkurim, whereby the Jewish farmer brings his First Fruits to a Kohen at the Holy Temple. And he makes a declaration of national identity. He recounts how Yaakov our forefather was threatened (by Lavan) and descended to Egypt. His offspring were oppressed into slavery, and were redeemed and brought to Eretz Yisrael. This recitation was chosen by our Sages to form the central piece to be recited at the Seder table on Pesach. The recitation is very important, essential for the Jew to focus on his past and proudly state that Hashem chose him to be liberated and to conquer Canaan. At the Seder we are required to not just recite this portion, but to learn it and interpret it. The Talmud (Sotah) tells us that to say Shema and to pray Shemonah Esrei, we may say our prayers in English, for example; we are not required to say it in Hebrew. But the paragraph of national identity must be recited in Hebrew. (Similar to the Birkat HaKohanim, the Priestly Benediction, which also must be recited in Hebrew.) This stipulation in the Halachah demonstrates the elevated status of this paragraph. (RED)

2.     The oft-quoted line in the Declaration of National Identity is “Arami Oved Avi” and is rendered by Rashi as “An Aramean (Lavan) wanted to destroy my father.” Had he succeeded there never would have been a Jewish people. The Ibn Ezra renders the line as “When my  father (Yaakov) was born in Aram, he was destroyed (destitute and had nothing).” The Abravanel explains that Lavan the Aramean was one who was evil and caused Yosef to be sold to Egypt and eventually Yaakov was exiled in Egypt. In the Abravanel’s commentary on the Haggadah, he said that we have to thank Hashem for all the good He did for us. As we sit at the Seder with the Seder plate in front of us, we should feel as if we just brought the Bikkurim. The Haggadah was written during the time of the Roman occupation following the destruction of the second Holy Temple. Just as Hashem redeemed our ancestors from Egypt, so He will redeem us from our current Exile. We are in His hands, and He will decide when the Geula/Redemption will come and restore us to Eretz Yisrael with the next and eternal Holy Temple. (RED)

3.     “You will rejoice for all the good that Hashem has given you, you, your household, and the Levi and the convert...” (26:11). Rashi adds that the Levi is obligated to bring Bikkurim if he plants (fruit) in his Levitical cities. Rashi is puzzling. If a Levi purchases a farm in the tribal portion of Yehudah, the farm will revert back to the original owner during the Jubilee year. But until then, the Levi owned the land and is obligated to bring Bikkurim. So what is Rashi adding with his last clause “in the Levitical cities”? I suggest that it might occur to us that a Levitical city might have a special status, like Yerushalayim. Yerushalayim is a Jewish City that is exempted from certain laws. Biblical Leprosy cannot contaminate a Jewish home in Yerushalayim. If a murdered person is found near Yerushalayim, the law of Eglah Arufah does not apply to Yerushalayim. The Levitical cities can function as a City of Refuge. But Rashi is teaching us here that in this law of Bikkurim, these cities are not exempted from this Halachah. (RED)

4.     “Blessed are you in the field...” (28:3). In the Talmud (Bava Kamma 107a), Rabbi Yochanan said that the blessing comes when your field is divided into three parts; one for grain, one for olives, and one for grapes. The idea is not to place all your eggs in one basket. If there is a problem in the grain produce of that year, you have the olives and grapes for your income. When Queen Jezebel was determined to kill the prophets of Hashem, the prophet Ovadia hid fifty prophets in one cave and a different fifty prophets in another cave. (Sanhedrin 39b on the verse in Kings I, 18). Ovadia did this for fear that if Jezebel would discover one cave, then the other fifty prophets have a chance to survive. Rabbi Elazar said that Ovadia learned from the preparation Yaakov Avinu made for the reunion with his brother Esav. He divided his family into different camps to increase the chances of survival. Rabbi Yochanan used both sources to advise us economically, to better protect our investments.

5.     On the verse 28:10 “then all the people of the earth will see that the Name of Hashem is proclaimed over you, and they will revere you,” the Talmud (Menachot 38b) states that this will be when they see the Tephillin that are on your head. How will seeing that Tephillin cause such a reaction? These people will realize that the Jewish nation is blessed by Hashem; they will be influenced to revere us. Each nation in the world has a religion that they ascribe to, but they will come to realize that the Jewish people have an intimate relationship with the Almighty. This hasn’t happened yet, and probably won’t happen until the days of Mashiach. And maybe in those days, the Jewish men will again wear their Tephillin all day long as they did many years ago. (Note: The Talmud further states that we are allowed to cover the Tephillin on the arm, but we are not permitted to cover the Tephillin on the head. If you see a Yeshiva man wear his black hat and it is perched on the back of his head, this is the reason. They would wear Tephillin in the morning and wear their hat on their head in such a way that the hat would not cover his Tephillin box on his head.)

6.    Rashi points out that there are two Tochachahs/ Admonitions in the Torah. The first is at the end of Chumash Vayikra, in Parshat Bechukotai, and it is written in plural. This Tochachah in Ki Tavo was written in singular. What is the difference? According to the Ramban, the first Tochachah is about the destruction of the first Holy Temple in 586 BCE. The second one is about the destruction of the second Holy Temple that occurred in the year 70 CE. Our Sages tell us that the sin that Bnei Yisrael committed for the second Holy Temple was the sin of Baseless Hatred. Bnei Yisrael might have been observant of the Torah Mitzvot, but each person was isolated into himself, not caring at all about his neighbor. That is why it is fitting that this Admonition was written in the singular, for each individual Jew was wrapped up into himself!

7.     At the end of the Admonitions, Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael that Hashem will return you to Egypt... and there you will offer yourselves for sale as slaves... but there will be no buyer (28:68). This is the ultimate devastating experience awaiting Bnei Yisrael. Hashem will return them to where He found them. Compare this to the Rambam (Hil. Melachim 10:3). A Goy converted to Judaism and later decided that he no longer wanted to be Jewish. He cannot go back. If he refuses to maintain his new status, he is to be executed! That seems harsh. He did not sin (yet). Once a person rises and elevates himself to a lofty position, he cannot return to be a Goy. That is his sin. To throw away his lofty spiritual status is a capital crime. This is what the Torah is judging Bnei Yisrael on. To return to Egypt, after having received and embraced the Torah, there is no going back. You will be executed! There will not be even one buyer in Egypt to accept you.

ISAIAH   60:1

    This week's haftorah brings us to the concluding dimensions of Hashem's encompassing efforts to comfort the Jewish people.  The prophet Yeshaya shares with us a glimpse of the glorious era of Mashiach and reveals Hashem's unbelievable sensitivity and concern for His chosen nation.  Yeshaya begins, "Rise and project your light because the radiance of Hashem shines upon you"  (60:1).  The prophet's messages is that in the days of Mashiach the Jewish people will serve as a reflection of Hashem's light unto the nations of the world.  Yeshaya continues, "Lift your eyes and see them coming; your sons coming from afar and your daughters accompanied by the kings of the world"  (60:3-5). The cloud of darkness and confusion which continuously plagues society will finally be lifted and the entire world will flow into Jerusalem in streams to discover the truths of Hashem and His Torah.  Instead of the all too familiar scene of the Jewish people flowing out of their homeland into exile, a new flow will occur.  Not only will our oppressors permit us to return to Israel, they will even personally escort us back to our homeland.  And to complete this picture, nations will display sincere interest in the Jewish people's traditions and will flock to our homeland to discover our Jewish values and systems. The influx will be so overwhelming that we will wonder in amazement if we are merely imagining these sights or if, in truth, history has made a full turnabout.



Wed, October 28 2020 10 Cheshvan 5781