Parashat Ki Tavo

Friday, August 31, 2018 /20 Elul, 5778
Parashat Ki Tavo Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8

This week’s Torah portion is very difficult, but ends more engagingly.

Our parashah, called Ki Tavo, includes what is known as the Toch’ch’cha – the Reproach. In this section, the Torah includes over 50 verses of terrible curses and recriminations which will befall the Jewish people should we fail to heed God’s commands. These included the failure of rain and of our crops, our falling amid horrific siege before our enemies, severe pestilence and disease, hunger so terrible that parents are reduced to cannibalizing their children, and more.

With these awful curses, no wonder that it was not uncommon for shul-goers to avoid synagogue, or decline aliyot when the Toch’ch’chah was recited. Who would want to hear, or read, such awful texts?

Yet, immediately following this section (Deut. 28:15-68), there is a brief summary in which Moses reviews that which had been spoken. Interestingly, the précis commences with this little phrase, “Moses called out to the entire Jewish people…” (Deuteronomy 29:1)

“Entire” – what might be the meaning of the word, “entire?”

Following the drama and terror of the Reproach, one might naturally overlook this little word in this little introduction to the summary. Yet, the Or HaChayim, an 18th century Italian commentary written by Rabbi Chayim ben Attar, offers a pleasant message. Ben Attar writes, “Even though Moses had been addressing the whole Jewish people up until now, he gathered the women and the children as well as the proselytes to prepare them for renewed acceptance of the covenant which is the subject of the next Torah portion.

Today, total inclusion is normative. Yet, we understand that women, children and Jews-by-choice were commonly excluded from some Jewish practices in earlier times.

Ben Attar offers a classic nechemta – a consolation to soften a difficult text. He reminds the reader that the entire community has the opportunity to renew the covenant after the recitation of the curses. He stresses that Moses did not allow a single soul to be excluded from that renewal. And, he stresses the need for spiritual preparation – to turn from curses to blessings.

In these last days leading to Rosh Hashanah, we stand as did the community in that earlier day. Ben Attar’s nechemta finds ready ears among us. Irrespective of how was last year, we stand on the cusp of a spiritual renewal. Every one of us is included, and each of us may use these remaining days to prepare, ponder, reflect and renew.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Doug Kohn