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

“This day, Adonai your God, commands you to perform these decrees and the statutes,
and you shall observe and perform them with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut. 26:16)

Parashat Ki Tavo continues the description of rituals to be performed once the Israelites make their way into the land of Canaan: the offering of first fruits, tithing, and erecting monuments with the words of the Torah. The purpose of these actions is to demonstrate, “You have affirmed (he-emarta) this day that The Lord is your God…” (Deut. 26:17) God then reciprocates: “And the Lord has affirmed (he-emircha) this day that you are, as He promised you, His treasured people…” (Deut. 26:18) and establishes the Israelites as “am kadosh” (a holy people; Deut. 26:19). It’s all very nice, except for one thing. He-emarta doesn’t mean affirmed. It means, “caused to speak,” literally. So what is going on here?

Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740-1810; an important leader of Polish Chassidism) relies upon a verse in Song of Songs to explain: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, “(S of S 1:2). In this verse, you’d expect the Hebrew for mouth to be piv. Instead, it is pihu. Reb Levi explains the anomaly by splitting the word in two: pi and hu: the first kiss comes from my mouth (pi), and the second kiss comes from God (hu). The love between God and the Jewish people is mutually reinforcing.

Reb Levi applies this imagery to he-emarta in Ki Tavo and says our words, like kisses, are expressions of love. And when we say those words to God, God responds with words that also are expressions of love. Our relationship with God is reciprocal: every expression of love triggers another expression of love. God is just waiting for is for us to open our mouths.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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