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Ki Tavo

This parasha includes the process of bringing the first fruits for sacrifice on entering the land, instructions on tithing and the setting up of 12 stones on Mount Ebal inscribed with the law. The portion concludes with a description of the recitation of the blessings and curses.

Another voice

Ki Tavo by Joyce Klein :: 5768

Joyce Klein is a playwright, director, storyteller and teacher. She has been working in theater and Jewish education for more than 30 years. Her plays have been produced in the US, Israel and the Former Soviet Union. Joyce made aliyah 18 years ago. She lives in Jerusalem and works in many places, performing, creating Living History events and Parsha Productions and conducting workshops on theater techniques in Jewish education.

A few years ago, during this season before Rosh Hashana, I traveled to Bali. It was a magical journey to a beautiful place. A friend and I traveled around the island, and spent a few days in Ubud, an artist's village in the hills.

Religion is an ever-present part of life in Bali, from colorful ceremonial processions down busy streets to stylized dance performances retelling legends of gods and ancestors. Each afternoon in Ubud, we witnessed an intriguing practice. At 4 pm, every Balinese – the owner of our hotel, shopkeepers in the market, artists in their stalls – would stop whatever he or she was doing, weave a simple basket out of a banana leaf, fill it with flowers, herbs and fruits and place it near the doorway to his or her place of business. These baskets were offerings to the god of prosperity. They were made carefully, beautifully and with devotion every single day.

As pagan and foreign as this practice was to me, I admired the deep intent and spiritual nature of it. I contemplated the meaningful way that the Balinese people use this daily obligation as an opportunity to express their religious feelings with the work of their hands. David Moss, noted artist and scholar, told me it was only after his own visit to Bali that he got a glimpse into the immense power of the merging of ritual, beauty and devotion that must have accompanied the practices in our ancient Temple.

In this week's parsha, Moshe is nearing the end of his last teachings to Israel. He has a lot to say about reward and punishment, threats and promises, cause and effect. But he begins by describing, in great detail, a series of ritual practices that the people are expected to do once they have settled in their land: the bringing of the first fruits, the distribution of the tithes, the series of ceremonies that are to accompany crossing over the Jordan: inscribing stone pillars, building an altar of unhewn stone, bringing sacrifices, chanting contrapuntally the blessings and curses that accompany mitzvot and sins.

The Children of Israel have already begun their complex relationship with the abstract nature of monotheism. They live in a world of pagan beliefs and practices and they are about to take possession of a land full of both. There have been failures in their struggle to maintain that relationship, and there will be more. The transition to acceptance of a different way of life and faith will be long and erratic; they will need all the help they can get.

Moshe, that consummate teacher (with a Divine mentor), knows his people well. Like all human beings, they seek experiences as well as ideas to help them make sense of the world. Some will learn more by doing, others by listening, but all will benefit from a rich array of opportunities to explore and express themselves as they learn to be a new kind of nation living on its own land.

Judaism is, and always has been, a religion of both actions and words. We may be the People of the Book – but we are also the people of the lulav and the tsedakah box. The Torah presents us with myriad ways to use both our bodies and our minds as members of the Jewish People.


More by Joyce Klein

Another voice by Laura Gorney

Opening with a series of commandments to enforce societal structures, Ki Tavo sets out the blessings for the People of Israel for following the law and a disconcerting litany of curses should they fail to do so.

It would be easy to interpret this as a classic 'carrot and stick', primitive religious diatribe, were it not for the explanatory sentence: "Because you did not serve the Lord your God with happiness and a full heart when you had an abundance of everything". So the curses result not from a failure to adhere to the laws, but from the lack of joy and commitment in doing so when times are good.

The implication is that it is in prosperous societies in particular that individuals may fail to commit to taking personal responsibility for society as a whole. Ki Tavo teaches that lack of commitment on an individual level can result in the collapse of community and society. As we draw near to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Ki Tavo provides us with a timely reminder of the dangers of complacency and the importance of individual action.


More by Laura Gorney

Other Divrei Torah on Ki Tavo

  • 5766 (Zvi Solomons)
  • 5766 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5767 (Clive Lawton)
  • 5767 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5769 (Clive Lawton)
  • 5769 (Michael Misrachi)
  • 5773 (Hannah Weisfeld)
  • 5774 (Steve Chervin)
  • 5774 (Edward Queen)