Torah portion deserves critical examination

BY DAVID A. RUBIN

I was disappointed by the Sept. 14, 2011 D’var Torah. Rabbi James Stone Goodman’s prose was certainly interesting, and it would be to the Jewish Light’s advantage to publish it more often, perhaps in a column dedicated to our local poets and writers.

Unfortunately though, the column did not shed much light on that week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo. And of all the Torah portions, I believe that Ki Tavo would be of interest to many readers of the Light for the following reasons.

The setting for Ki Tavo is that Moses is saying goodbye to the Jewish People after leading them out of Egypt, receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai and then teaching it to them all, and then leading the Children of Israel through the desert for 40 years. The Jewish People are about to enter the Land of Israel, but Moses, the only leader they have ever known, will not be going with them. This is Moses’ last chance to sum up all that has happened and give the Jewish People his final instructions before he is laid to rest by G-d on a lonely mountain overlooking, but not located in, the Promised Land.

The first thing he tells them – us – is that G-d has given the Land of Israel to us as an inheritance. After we cross into the Land and take possession of it, we must give thanks to G-d by bringing a basket of first fruits to the Holy Site that G-d will assign, and we will say the following words, “An Aramean would have destroyed my father and he descended to Egypt…he became a great nation…The Egyptians mistreated us…we cried out to G-d…He heard our voice and…took us out of Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm…and he gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey…”

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Sound familiar? Of course it does – we read it at our Passover Seder every year. In other words, one lesson of Ki Tavo is that our Haggadah is not simply a “story.” It is the litany that our ancestors were commanded to recite, and did recite, throughout our history as a Nation and as a People. And that litany – our litany – makes the direct connection between the Exodus from Egypt and the gift of the Land of Israel to us – the Jewish People. The reason we say what we do at the seder, is not only to remember the Exodus, it is also to remember the promise to us of the Land of Israel, and to serve, sadly, as our best effort to replicate the words we used when we worshipped at the Holy sites within Israel that our G-d chose for us and which were later lost to us.

And where did our ancestors worship in those days, prior to the contruction of the Temple in Jerusalem? We worshipped in Shiloh, near Nablus, at the base of Mt. Ebal and Mt. Grizim, where the Jewish People were told of G-d’s blessings and curses. Many scholars believe that the Altar found in this area was the very one used by our ancestors during this time period – the period of Joshua and for 200 years thereafter. Of course, knowledge and exploration of these sites are essential to our Jewish identity – these are our “roots.” Ironically though, these areas in the Shomron, Samaria, are designated to be a part of the future Palestine, a “Judenrein” land, where we learned this week, no Jew will be allowed to enter.

Lastly, Ki Tavo contains another important point that many Light readers may find surprising. Moses specifically teaches that it is not enough to follow every rule. In fact, a Jew that is careful to serve G-d with exactitude will nevertheless be cursed, unless he serves G-d with joy and gladness in his heart – filled with appreciation to G-d for all He has done for us. Tragically, so many Jewish people today feel bitter about their upbringing in homes where people slavishly followed the rules, but with no love or understanding, and as a chore to be gotten out of the way. This Torah portion tells us directly from the mouth of Moses our Master Teacher that if that was how our parents or grandparents approached Jewish worship, they had it wrong. Judaism of that bitter and empty kind, is exactly the opposite of what G-d expects of us.

Now more than ever, as the Palestinians wereprovided an audience at the United Nations for their statehood bid, it is important for every Jew to understand our ancestral and ongoing connection to all portions of Israel. And now that we are also in the days of the High Holy Days, perhaps the lessons of Ki Tavo may speak to those who feel compelled to soullessly “drag” themselves to synagogue, so that they may feel motivated to look around them and see the miracles that surround us every day, and feel grateful to our Creator. And then, perhaps out of that gratitude, we will all find in our hearts the joy and gladness G-d wants us to feel now, and throughout the coming year. And may that new found joy and gladness be for all of us, a blessing.

Local commentary

David A. Rubin is a local attorney.