Ki Tavo 5780

By: Dr. Jeffrey Buch

In this parsha, we begin with the instructions upon entering the promised land for the Israelites to give an offering of the first fruits harvested as an expression of their gratitude for all the blessings from the life creating, life sustaining higher power, we call Hashem.  Gratitude for our blessings engenders humility.  Humility is cultivated in the crucible of life’s blessings and curses.  In this process that can take up to 40 years in the crucible of lessons learned from wandering in the desert of life, we finally can gain the heart to know, the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

But why does this take 40 years?  What does this symbolize for us?  Is there something that we gain in life that is only achieved once we have lived to the age of 40?  And, what do we make of the visual imagery of the curses and blessings shouted by half of us on one mountain top back and forth to the other half of us on the opposing mountain top?  And, what of the Levites and Cohanim standing in the valley between us?

This imagery is rather startling.  Think of the seeming impossibility of 300,000 people on one mountain top rising 2,000 feet above a valley filled with priests numbering however many and an additional 300,000 people on the opposing mountain top maybe one mile or more across the valley.  Could they really hear each other calling out both blessings and curses to one another?  How did that sound reverberate within the valley filled with priests?  It truly staggers the mind if we take this event literally.  Did it really happen this way, or is this simply an image used to get across a very important point?

In Jewish tradition, I am tempted to continue asking and answering with purely questions, but I will resist that temptation and posit what you will hopefully deem a useful answer.  Imagine yourself as one of the priests in the midst of this surrealistic stage.  The blessings and curses echo back and forth over your heads.  You are already consumed by the important task you have to keep the Israelites morally and ethically and task-wise on track as they prepare to enter uncharted territory into a homeland they have been promised, that they will have to take by force, but is inhabited by peoples who will be physically and spiritually opposed to what you are bringing.  So, you must absorb and enforce the carrot and stick approach that is being shouted over your heads so that the Israelites can achieve their destiny.

Wow.  I need to step back for a second myself.  This gets a bit intense.  The Israelites were faced with an unprecedented and daunting task.  Was this part of a necessary process from exiting 40 years in the desert where we started as slaves to then become the invading and conquering force of an unknown land?  Was this part of Coach Moses’ final pep talk to the team under the auspices of team owner Hashem before taking the field in order to win the game?  And, what was that game we were playing again?  Was that to be G-d’s chosen people living in the promised land?  And, chosen for what?  Oh, I’ve got it, to be an example for the world of life lived properly, a Holy nation, a nation of priests.

Fortunately, most of us have learned to set our goals high, realizing we may never achieve them, but at the same time knowing that it is easier to achieve something of substance if we have raised the bar so high for ourselves that we might never reach it.  Did it really take me getting to at least age 40 wandering the desert of life to gain the humility so that I might have the heart to know, the eyes to see and the ears to hear?

Probably!  Shabbat Shalom!