“Therefore observe faithfully all the terms of this covenant,
that you may succeed in all that you undertake.” (Deut. 29:8)
Parashat Ki Tavo, like many of the parashot (portions) in the book of D’varim (Deuteronomy) lists the blessings the Israelites will receive by following the Torah and the curses they will receive if they don’t. This message is repeated so insistently, it is easy to understand it as an all-or-nothing proposition. Life is never quite so simple, though, and Ki Tavo reminds us of that with a single word.
Ki Tavo states: “Hashkifa (look down) from Your holy abode, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the soil you have given us…” (Deut. 26:15) Now, every other time hashkifa appears in the Bible, it describes God’s evaluation of human behavior prior to determining a punishment. This is the only instance where hashkifa precedes a blessing. That is because of the context: in Ki Tavo, hashkifa follows instructions about the third-year tithe to support the poor, the widow, and the orphan (and the Levites, who have no land). Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator), uses this juxtaposition to make a theological statement: giving to the poor triggers God’s attribute of mercy, rather than God’s attribute of Justice. God prefers to bless rather than punish and always looks for ways to do so.
Ki Tavo, then, foreshadows a central message of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur: God gives us opportunities to trigger mercy, rather than justice. The specific question is whether or not we take advantage of them. The broader challenge is whether or not we offer the same generosity of spirit to those around us.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom