Weekly Reading Insights

Ki Tavo 5763

Overview of the Weekly Reading: Ki Tavo

To be read on 16 Elul 5763 (Sep. 13)

Torah: Deut. 26:1-29:8;
Isaiah 60 (sixth of the seven "Haftorahs of Consolation")

Pirkei Avot: Chapter Three

Stats: Ki Tavo , 7th Reading out of 11 in Deuteronomy and 50th overall, contains 3 positive mitzvot and 3 prohibitive mitzvot. It is written on 233 lines in a Torah parchment scroll, 13 in overall length.

Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8) opens with the laws of bringing first fruits and tithes. The Jews are reminded that if they keep the commandments, G-d will reward them. The Jews are told that on the day they cross over the Jordan River into Israel, they should inscribe the Torah in 70 languages onto stones. The stones are to be brought to Mt. Eval and an altar is to be erected with sacrifices offered upon it. Certain tribes are to stand on Mt. Eval and some on Mt. Grizim. The Levites are to stand between the two mountains and announce the blessings and curses for fulfilling G-d's commandments or not. Moshe then makes a covenant between
G-d and the Jews, listing in detail the rewards for fulfilling G-d's will and the consequences for not doing so. Ki Tavo concludes with Moshe reminding the Jews of the miracles and victories wrought for them by G-d, and that by keeping this covenant, G-d will grant them success.


"You will be mad from the sight of your eyes which you will see."

Coveting everything one sees is indeed a terrible curse, for it is the root cause of all the other punishments that are mentioned in this Torah portion, eventually leading to "you will be only oppressed and crushed always."

(Ohr HaTorah)


"Because you would not serve the L-rd your G-d with joy and with gladness of heart... therefore, you will serve your enemies." (Deut. 29:47)

We see from this that joy is such an important part of the Jew's service of G-d that the harshest punishment of "you will serve your enemies" is not meted out for a deficiency in the service itself, but for worshipping G-d without joy and vitality. When the Jew is happy, G-d is happy, as it were, and even the harshest decrees are annulled -- analogous to an earthly king granting amnesty to his prisoners when he is in a cheerful mood.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

M: 50-63Ki Tavo)


Selected with permission and adapted from the three-volume English edition of Shney Luchot HaBrit -- the Sh'lah, as translated, condensed, and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1565-1630), known as the 'Sh'lah' - an acronym of the title, was born in Prague. A scholar of outstanding reputation, he served as chief Rabbi of Cracow, and more famously, of Frankfort (1610-1620). After his first wife passed away, he remarried and moved to Israel in 1621, where he became the first Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem. He later moved to Tiberias, where he is buried, near the tomb of the Rambam.

"And it will be when you come to the Land".
This paragraph is interpreted in the Midrash Hane-elam (part of the Zohar) as referring to the World to Come.
Rashi also points out that the passage contains our thanks to G-d who, in His kindness, has already saved us at the beginning of our national history when we were merely a single family. We must learn from it to give thanks to G-d for all our achievements whenever they occur.

"On this day, G-d, your Lord commands you".
Rashi explains that the commandments should appear to us as if they had only been made on that very day. Rashi adopts the same approach in a subsequent verse (27, 9): "Keep silence, and hear O Israel, this day you have become a people to the Lord your G-d." Rashi writes: "You should consider each day as the one on which you entered into the covenant with G-d." This is a very important rule, which, when practiced, helps us to perform G-d's commandments with eagerness, as one performs a task newly assigned. It helps not to treat Torah as something that we are so familiar with that we fall into the habit of neglecting its demands.
The Ari zal explains 28, 47: "because you did not serve the Lord your G-d in joy and with a glad heart when you enjoyed everything in abundance," in a similar vein. G-d teaches us that performance of His commandments must be accompanied by a greater joy than the joy one feels for all the material blessings G-d has bestowed on one. It is not enough merely to serve the Lord and obey His commandments. We must do so joyfully.

(adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Zefat on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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(W:50-63Ki Tavo )

The parasha begins with the words, "When you come to the land that the Lord your G-d has given you as a portion, and you inherit it and settle it". The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches that especially now, with Mashiach at our doorstep, a Jew cannot be satisfied with sitting in an ivory tower, preoccupied with personal accomplishments! A Jew must go out and change his or her part of the world and thereby affect the whole of Creation. The Jews completed their 40 year sojourn in the desert, where they were nurtured and protected, and then entered the Israel, where they had to take their talents and use them to transform the land. So too, with the redemption so close, we must utilize our powers for the good of others and especially for the good of the Holy Land!

This does not necessarily mean to pick up and move, but rather each of us has the power to make wherever we are into Israel, a place where more spiritual energy is felt. How are we to do this? Different people have different ways of going about dealing with an issue. Some people like to do things step by step, and some like to jump right in headfirst.

We actually see this variation concerning the first mitzvah mentioned in the parasha, to bring first fruits to the priest. The Talmud (Kedushin 37b) says that these are to be brought when the Jews completely "inherited and settled" Israel; the Midrash (Sifre) disagrees saying that the word "Vehaya", meaning, in this case, "when" means that immediately upon entering Israel the Jews were to bring first fruits grown there. Practically, we can't simultaneously fulfill both halachic opinions. Spiritually, however, we activate both opinions in our divine service.

As soon as a Jews wakes up in the morning, he immediately recites the "Modeh Ani" prayer, saying "Thank you, living King, that You have returned my soul to me..." to show that sometimes you have to just jump in and get started. Nevertheless, the order of the day afterwards is to get up, wash hands according to Jewish law, say Morning Blessings, put on tefillin, and recite morning prayers before starting our daily work. This shows how sometimes we have to move in an orderly step-by-step way. This is the practical lesson, that our work has both dimensions: immediate and progressive. In both ways, parashat Ki Tavo is a reminder to get moving!

Over the last 2,000 years, Jewish scholars have made slightly varying lists of distinguishing the 613 commandments. Maimonides lists "And you must walk in His ways" (Deut. 26:17) as a separate mitzvah requiring us to emulate G-d, i.e., just as G-d is kind so must we be kind, etc. This is very interesting because none of the other general commandments such as "Be holy' or "Keep my commandments" are counted by Maimonides. What is special here? The word "walk". Commandments must be done in a way of walking.
Sometimes when a person performs a commandment, he or she is left in the same place that he or she began, i.e., no change, no elevation. The command here is the requirement to "walk", implying progression. Performing this mitzvah should cause a Jew to leave his or her previous situation and move on to a higher place.

Close to the end of the parasha is the oft-quoted verse "... since you did not serve the Lord your G-d with happiness and a good heart from it all". (Ibid. 28:47) Rashi explains that as this verse follows a long line of curses, it refers to the Jewish people not having served G-d while their lives were easy, resulting in their being forced to serve amidst hardship. The Ari suggests an alternate interpretation: punishment for failing to serve G-d happily, i.e. that happiness is one of the requirements in performing the commandments. This is obviously a very tall order. Can it be that we truly deserve all of these punishments just because we did not serve G-d with joy?!

The Rebbe of Kotzk reads the verse differently: "Since you did not serve G-d with happiness". Not only was divine service neglected, but they neglected it happily! Any way you look at it, during this month of Elul, a word to the wise should be sufficient.

Rebbe Michael of Zlotshuv made an analogy to understand how to do teshuva (repentance) successfully: It is like a person who stumbled into a pit and was hurt; forever after, even after being healed from the injury, whenever this person would encounter an open pit, he or she would make certain to give it a wide berth. It is not enough just to do a positive action required of you; you have to also distance yourself from the place and situation that caused your downfall. Similarly, each of us must examine what are our personal spiritually dangerous situations and avoid them to the best of our ability.

May each of us be signed and sealed for a good and sweet year.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul Leiter

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