Dvar Torah on the Parsha – Ki Tavo 5773 2013

The Portion of Ki Tavo has two main themes. It talks about the blessings which will be heaped on the Jewish people if they follow the laws of the Torah and it also warns, in what is known as the תוכחה, of the tragic consequences of disobeying the Torah. One particular verse stands out.

Moshe says to the people, “Hashem will confirm you for Himself as a holy people, as He swore to you” כִּי תִשְׁמֹר אֶת מִצְוֹת יְקֹוָק אֱלֹקֶיךָ וְהָלַכְתָּ בִּדְרָכָיו, “if you observe the commandments of Hashem your God and you go in his ways.” (Deut. 28,9) We don’t become a holy people of Hashem automatically. It is contingent on conforming to His ways.

The העמק דבר, the Biblical commentary of the Netziv, makes a very pertinent comment on this verse. A person who may desire to become holy may decide his best way is to set himself aside from worldly life, and so doing, avoid performing certain Mitzvot that relate to daily living that may interfere with his holy state. To such a person, the Netziv claims, Moshe speaks and says, if you want to be holy you must observe all the Mitzvot, whether they pertain to heavenly obligations of simply responsibilities to your fellow man.

In short, holiness in Judaism is not setting yourself above daily life and avoiding contact with others but rather living with people and acting towards them in the way the Torah prescribes.

Dvar Torah Parshat Ki Tavo 5772 2012

We are promised, if we keep the Mitzvot proscribed in the Torah then:
וּבָאוּ עָלֶיךָ כָּל הַבְּרָכוֹת הָאֵלֶּה וְהִשִּׂיגֻךָ, “All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you…” (Deut. 28,2) The promise is that all the blessings mentioned previously will descend upon the Jewish people.

One word in this verse begs to be explained. The Hebrew word וְהִשִּׂיגֻךָ, “and overtake you” seems to be superfluous. The implication here is very telling.

Often we are granted a piece of good fortune but do not recognize it as a blessing. We run away from it, as it were, or don’t appreciate it as a good thing. The Torah tells us that the blessing will nevertheless overtake us, meaning, it will remain with us and we will benefit from it. Eventually we will acknowledge it for its full value.

We usually recognize the unfortunate things that happen to us but we must be prepared and be able to identify and acknowledge the good as well.

Dvar Torah Parshat ki Tavo 5771 2011

When the farmer brought the first fruit to the Bet Hamikdash he was given a prescribed statement he must recite. What is surprising is that soon after the farmer started his recitation the Kohen interrupts him and takes the basket of fruit from him. Why the interruption in the middle of the farmer’s presentation?

When we review what the farmer is really saying we may understand why the intrusion. He starts by saying that he came to the land that Hashem promised us. Two things are implied in this statement. First he seems to be saying that he came, that is, on his own. Hashem had not brought him here. Secondly, since he says that it was promised to him, hence he implies that it is his now by right.

At this point the Kohen interrupts him and takes the basket of fruit and places it LIFNE MIZBACH HASHEM…“…he lays it before the Alter of Hashem…” (Deut. 26,4) Then the farmer continues with his narration. This time he is more humble and more appreciative.

He recounts how our forefathers were enslaved in Egypt and how, after we cried to Him, Hashem took us out of this miserable degrading circumstance and brought us to a land flowing with milk and honey. Now he brings his first fruit to Hashem. In this declaration the farmer is more modest and more appreciative. He recognizes that his blessings come from Hashem.

A person should always recognize that his blessings are partially his own doing but without the blessings of Hashem they would never materialize.

Dvar Torah Parshat Ki Tavo 5770 2010

When the farmer brought his first fruit to the Bet Hamikdash he recounted our ancient history. One of the things he said is: VAYARE’U OTANU HAMITZRIM, “The Egyptians dealt badly with us…” (Deut. 26,6) This means, of course, that the Egyptians mistreated us. The more correct grammatical expression would be VAYARE’U LANU, “they treated us badly”. Using the word OTANU instead of LANU implies that the Egyptians made us look bad by implying that we were the bad ones and were not acting properly. They made us appear as the perpetrators of evil.

In light of modern history and how the State of Israel is treated in world politics we can readily understand the distinction made here. The Egyptians tried to intimate that they were acting righteously and that the Israelites were not. They attempted to demonstrate that the Israelites were the aggressors and hence had to be dealt with.

In a similar fashion today, instead of recognizing honestly what is preventing peace in the Middle East, the nations of the world demonize Israel and try to demonstrate that it is Israel who threatens the peace of the region and is responsible for the world troubles.

Dvar Torah Parshat Ki Tavo 2009 5769

Moshe gives a vivid description of a ceremony that was to take place as soon as the Israelites crossed into the Holy Land. The tribes were to be divided into two groups. One was to stand on Har Grizim for the blessings of our people and the other on Har Eval for the curses that will befall our people if they abandon the Torah.

When one reads further in the torah we see a very perplexing phenomenon. When the actual recitation of the blessings and curses are mentioned, only the curses are given and not the blessings.

Perhaps the Torah is telling us a message about conduct. The fact that the tribes were divided into two groups was to tell us that when the Jewish people are divided and not united then the blessings are hard to come by. When Jews are united and stand up for each other, the unity brings greater good fortune to our people. It is the old adage, “united we stand, divided we fall.”

Dvar Torah Parshat Ki Tavo 2008 5768 דבר תורה פרשת כי תבא

In predicting the evil that will befall the Jewish people if they do not adhere to the Torah Moshe, among other things, says: VAHAYITA MEMASHESH BATZAHORAYIM KA’ASHER YEMASHESH HA’IVER BAHAFELLAH, “And you will grope at noon as the blind gropes in the dark…”.(Deut. 28,29)

Rabbi Yosi said: All my days I have been bothered by this passage. What difference does it make to the blind whether it is dark or noon? However, I once was walking in the thick darkness of the night and I came across a blind man who was walking with a torch in his hand. I said to him, “My son, what purpose does this torch serve you?” He answered me and said, “As long as I have the torch in my hand people can see me and save me from walking into pits or into thorn bushes.”

The message is clear. Not always do we understand the actions of others. We do need to give people credit and must assume that there is a reason for their actions. Often the explanation makes the action very understandable and is actually the correct thing to do.

We must not be too quick to judge others. If we understand them we can see that they are justified in what they are doing.

Dvar Torah Ki Tavo 2007 – 5767 דבר תורה כי תבוא

The farmer is instructed to bring the first fruits of his fields to the Bet Hamikdash and give them as an offering to Hashem. At the time he offers them he is to recite an entire passage in which he relates the history of the Jews and the travails Yaakov had when he lived with Lavan. We perform many Mitzvot and there were many occasions that the Jew had to bring offerings to the Bet Hamikdash. He is never told to recite this history. Why specifically with relation to the first fruits the farmer produces in his land does he have to make this declaration?

We know that Chazal were very concerned that everyone feel obligated to develop the Land of Israel. The famous story of Chazal is known to all about an elderly gentleman who was seen planting trees and was asked why he was doing so. Certainly, because of his age, he will not be around to enjoy the fruits of his labor. His answer was that he has to cultivate the land for others just as those who came before him did for him.

This was the problem that faced Yaakov when he lived with Lavan. He was not able to cultivate the Land of Israel. This is what Rashi meant when he explained what Yaakov said to his brother Esav when he returned to Israel. Yaakov says that he has oxen and donkeys. Rashi comments there that he explained to his brother that the blessing from his father was that he will have the good fortunes of the dew of the heavens and the fat of the land and he had neither. The point he was making was that living with Lavan he became rich but he had no share in developing the Land of Israel.

It is exactly at the time the farmer brings his first fruit as an offering he thanks Hashem for making it possible for him to fulfill the great Mitzvah of developing the land and not be like Yaakov was when he lived with Lavan.