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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.”

(Deuteronomy 28:6)

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.  Of course, there’s also the seemingly obligatory list of blessings for following the Torah, and curses for not following.  Sandwiched in between all this activity is a reminder that if the Israelites remain faithful, God will establish them as “am kadosh” (a holy people; Deut. 26:19, 28:9).  This is different than the promise God makes back in the book of Exodus:  there, the Israelites will become “goy kadosh” (a holy nation; Exodus 19:6).

One of the principles of classic Biblical interpretation is that every word has a specific meaning and purpose.  The Torah is teaching something by substituting “people” for “nation.”   So what’s the difference?

Nations are defined primarily through space. That is, a nation is a group of people whose history, culture, and identity are rooted in a particular place.  A people, on the other hand, are connected by shared ideas and memories that transcend geography.   Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, (born 1912; a Reform rabbi and author of The Torah: A Modern Commentary) observes that in Egypt the Israelites are like any other nation.  The revelation at Mt. Sinai and forty years in the desert, though, provided them with a spiritual purpose, transforming them into a people.  Thousands of years later, the Balfour Declaration joins these two concepts together by supporting the idea of Palestine as a “national home for the Jewish people.”

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,

David

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