Parashat Ki Tavo – Erev Shabbat 20 September 2019
Week of 15-21 September 2019
Torah Portion:
Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8 Haftarah: Isaiah 60:1-22

In her fifth chapter on Ki Tavo, Nehama Leibowitz (Devarim, 282-8) examines these verses (28:4-6, 9): Blessed shall be the issue of your womb, the produce of your soil, and the offspring of your cattle, the calving of your herd and the lambing of your flock; Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl; Blessed shall you be in your comings and blessed shall you be in your goings… The LORD will establish you as His holy people, as He swore to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways.

The thoughts of several commentators, concerned with providing explanations as to why ‘comings’ are placed before ‘goings’ when the other way round was more usual, as in Psalm 121:8, are presented with due respect. Leibowitz, however, evidently preferred what she found in Ha’amek Davar or “Delve into the Matter”. This was written by Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (1816-1893), often known ‘The Netziv’: But the context itself, which treats of worldly wealth and comfort, of plenitude in home and vineyard, in field and fold, would tend to support the Midrash’s interpretation (Devarim Rabbah) that the text refers to “thy coming in for business and thy going out from business”. Ha’amek Davar elaborates on this Midrash and understands it symbolically to take in all worldly affairs. [Reb Berlin] finds the same idea in v.9…. he prefers to render ki tishmor, not conditionally…but as part of the blessing “that thou shalt keep.”

On the subject of keeping the LORD’s commandments, Reb Berlin writes:
A person who desires to be holy and other-worldly will be inclined to be reluctant to observe the practical precepts of Judaism since they might interfere with his religious devotion. Nevertheless all God’s commands must be kept whether they relate to relations with one’s fellowman or are ritual ones relating to Heaven alone….God will enable those who wish to commune with Him in holiness to achieve that level of sanctity even when engaged in keeping his everyday precepts. There are many such precepts….[and one] has to come down from the pinnacle of holiness…to observe them. But God promised that He will establish thee for a holy people and immediately after the deed you will re-attain holiness and communion.
This special Divine aid was granted to Abraham (Gen. 18, 3) who achieved communion with God at the time of the arrival of his guests.

This leads us to Leibowitz’s book on Bereshit (161-162), where we read that Abraham ”did not linger for a moment in the toils of mystic communion with his Creator, but ran to attend to the practical tasks of making welcome some tired and weary wanderers who required food, shelter and rest.” From his example we learn that “The deed of hospitality is greater than the welcoming of the Divine Presence.” In other words, “practical good deeds take precedence over any abstract spiritual enjoyment.”

For Reflection and Discussion: Esther de Waal (105) wrote about Benedictine spirituality: “What we can learn from the Rule is that the sense of God’s presence can be mediated through daily work and not destroyed by it.” She followed with a quote from Kahlil Gibran: “Work is love made visible.” Reflect on times you have found this to be true in your own life.

Bibliography: De Waal, Esther. Seeking God: The Way of St Benedict (2001); Leibowitz, Nehama. New Studies in Bereshit-Genesis; Studies in Devarim – Deuteronomy.

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