Parashat Ki Tavo Erev Shabbat 4 September 2020
Week of 30 August – 5 September 2020
Torah portion: Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8   Haftarah: Isaiah 60:1-22
Theme: God is the center of life

The book of Deuteronomy so named from the Greek, ‘deuteros nomos’ consists of the three final speeches that Moses delivered to the Israelites before they crossed the Jordan into the promised land. This book is also known as Devarim in Hebrew as ‘The Words’ of Moses, the author (Deut 1:1). It is referred to as the second Law because in it Moses recaps the Ten Commandments, the Laws and the covenant. Its central theme is God’s election and faithfulness to God’s promises. “In the first person, he (Moses) speaks his own unique being to and for the people. Though his relations with them remain fraught to the end, they are by now his people. Representing the traumatic history of Israel, the Moses figure will more largely come to symbolize Israel’s intellectual and spiritual energy.” (Zornberg 7)

Moses clearly stated that God will give prosperity as long as Israel is faithful to God’s teaching and in his discourse he fittingly speaks to ‘All Israel’ thereby emphasizing the nation’s unity. It is in being attentive to and living the ‘Shema Israel’ (Deut 6:4) that the Israelites will know their distinct identity and be able to live fully their covenantal relationship with God.

After their arrival and settling in the land, they are to take the first ripened fruits and present them to the Kohen in thanksgiving to God for the abundant harvest. This ritual was first mentioned in Exodus 23:19 and its symbolism was that everything was dedicated to the service of God. In offering the fruits, often referred to as the ‘basket ceremony’ the Kohen placed his hand under that of the owner and together they lifted the offering as the farmer said the prescribed prayer reminding them of their ancestry: “An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather. He descended to Egypt….you shall lay it (first fruits) of the ground that you have given me, O Hashem…..you and the Levite and the proselyte who is in your midst.” (26:5-11)  

Who is this Aramean? Rashi and most scholars believe it refers to the evil Laban who in every way tried to deceive Jacob even seeking his death. Actually the word Arami is connected to the word rami, which means cheater or liar. Laban indeed prospered greatly while Jacob worked for him and when he deceived him into marrying Leah instead of Rachel, Laban retorted, “What did you think that I’d marry off my younger daughter first?  We don’t do such a disrespectful thing in my country. You, Jacob took your older brother’s birthright. Here we are very just people; we are not like you.” (Ner Uziel 296) Even in his deceitful ways, Laban wanted to appear righteous.

Rabbi Nancy Wechsler-Azen accurately sums up this historic moment, “Entering the land in this way serves as a powerful ritualized bridge connecting the past with the present. The farmers are reminded of both their personal and historic suffering, as well as their ability to overcome difficulties by placing God at the center. Once articulated, they no longer need to carry symbols of enslavement on their persons, but rather, the potential of new life: first fruits.”  (Goldstein 373)

She also goes on to ponder and to ask, “How do women view this parashah since all the figures are male – the “fugitive father,” the farmer and the Kohen?  There is no mention of women, although it is understood that women are part of the ritual offering in a collective sense. In the light of this, women creatively use this same imagery and focus on fashioning their own basket, one that speaks of their lives. Everything they could offer – their aspirations, hopes, dreams, whatever and however they wished to honor God.  It included all of life’s lessons – the happy moments, the painful and those that transformed their lives. This ‘life basket’ beautifully expressed a creature’s humble offering to their Creator God

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Are we mindful of our past and its connection with the present? 2. Do we carry ‘symbols of enslavement’ on our persons?  

Bibliography: E. Goldstein, The Women’s Torah Commentary (Jewish Lights Publishing Woodstock, Vermount 2000),  Rabbi Uziel Milevsky,  Ner Uziel, Perspectives on the Parashah, (Targum Press, Nanuet, N.Y.2002),  A. Zornberg,  Moses, A Human Life, (Yale university Press, 2016)

This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared
by Rita Kammermayer, nds, BA, B.Ed, Masters of Pastoral Studies

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