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Parashat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)

“Blessed shall you be in your comings and blessed shall you be in your goings.” (Duet. 2:6)

Parashat Ki Tavo opens with the ritual of offering the first fruits of the land as a sacrifice.  It requires the reciting of specific verses (the only time where the Torah specifies explicitly what words must be said).  Those verses teach something important about how the Torah views God.

 The ritual starts with a declaration: “I acknowledge this day before the Lord your God that I have entered the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to assign us.” (Deut. 26:3) That makes sense, since farming is land-based.   But the next verse continues with a summary of Jewish history that begins with, “My father was a fugitive Aramean…” and ends with, “The Lord freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand…” (Deut. 26:5-8). It’s not so clear why this is included in a harvest thanksgiving ritual.

Jeffrey Tigay (Emeritus A.M. Ellis Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pennsylvania) explains that shifting the focus from God’s role in nature to God’s role in history is an innovation of the Torah.  The farmer easily understands God’s role in the land’s fertility; the verse reminds the farmer of the longer view of God’s role in shaping Israel’s destiny.  Max Kadushin (1895-1980; Conservative rabbi and key figure in the development of the Reconstructionist Movement) calls these kinds of prayers “meditative” rather than “phenomenal.”  Ki Tavo serves as a template for prayers like birkat hamazon (Blessing after Meals), which thank God for food, but also for God’s other acts in history.

The Jewish system of bracha, or blessing, helps us remember the sanctity of every moment, no matter how mundane.  Jewish liturgy puts those moments in a larger context:  each is the result of an accumulation of moments over time.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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