“The priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down
in front of the altar of the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 26:4)
Parashat Ki Tavo opens with the ritual of offering bikkurim, the first fruits of the land. It continues with a list of the blessings the Israelites will receive by following the Torah and an even longer list of the curses they will receive if they don’t.
In between these two dramas, Ki Tavo quietly proffers what may be the single most important word in Jewish life: imagination. Moses and the Levitical priests command the Israelites, “…Hasket! Silence! Hear O, Israel! Today you have become the people of the Lord your God.” (Deut. 27:9) S’forno (~1470–~1550; Italian commentator and physician) translates hasket differently. He says it means to conjure up an image of God in your mind, meaning to imagine you are engaged in a conversation with God. S’forno assumes what you hear will be so compelling, compliance with the commandments is a given. But imagination is the prerequisite.
This single admonition highlights a reality of most of Deuteronomy: the Israelites who enter Canaan weren’t slaves in Egypt. So when Moses tells them to remember the Exodus, he’s really asking them to imagine it. And when Moses describes their future life in Canaan, again, he’s asking them to imagine. The Jewish past and the Jewish future live only in Israelite imagination.
Rabbi Chaim Soloveichik (1853 – 1918; Talmudist and founder of the Brisker school of study) follows S’forno’s interpretation and says imagining oneself in God’s presence is necessary for meaningful prayer. Indeed, the ability to imagine the transcendent realm (with or without God) is required to make any decisions about living your life in relationship to it. There is no spirituality without imagination.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom